Everything is Free

Posted On November 20, 2011

It looked good on paper, but then so did Socialism. We all know how that turned out. And if you ask those who waved signs at the recent “Occupy” rallies, they’ll tell you that Capitalism doesn’t work either.

“I want people to have my pictures,” Billy told me.

A fine art photographer and friend, he shared with me his idea that instead of offering his prints for sale at the Farmers and Crafts Market, that we should tell people that everything is free. When he first mentioned this to me, there was a long silence. How was I going to pay off the debt I had accumulated in printing my books if I gave everything away? Granted, no one was buying them and I wrestled with the probability that people just didn’t read books anymore. Or most likely, books in paper form from an unknown author. Really, what did I have to lose? I agreed to Billy’s experiment.

Being of similar mind when it comes to spirituality, we both believe that if we were to carry this out, then the forty dollars it cost for the space would be available to us before we went to the market. That came through. However, the morning of the market, it was raining. We debated whether we should go, but then remembered we had faith that this idea would work, that people would want our art for free.

The canopy was erected in the rain, our space making a total of five instead of the usual twenty booths. I unpacked my books and we set up some of Billy’s pictures. I suggested we make a sign that read “Art Appreciation Day. Everything is Free. No strings attached. Two items per customer.” Billy penned the sign and as the precipitation waned, our first ‘customer’ was Vera from the booth next to ours.

“Why is everything free?” she asked.

“I want people to have my pictures, and Michele wants people to have her books,” Billy replied.

“No way. Free? Nobody gives their stuff away for free!”

Vera insisted that she give us something, so she put $10 on the table and took a picture of lilies. Billy and I looked at each other. We didn’t expect people to give us money, and hadn’t brought anything in which to place the money. Billy created a box from some mat board and wrote “Good Karma Box” on the side. We left it at the back of the booth on the table.

As the rain clouds moved off, people began to walk the street. Some came out of the restaurant adjacent to the parking lot where the market was held. Because I was cold sitting in the shade of the booth, I moved outside the canopy and began to watch the people who walked by. What I noticed was interesting.

Most of the people passed by our booth, but stopped to look at, and much of the time, purchase one or more pieces of jewelry. One booth offered handmade jewelry (a piece of art which includes all the things that art brings to us), and another resold mass-produced items imported from another country.  My comment later that day to Billy was that people wouldn’t pause to look at a picture of nature (I also noticed and commented similarly when we were at the zoo and saw how many people didn’t ‘look’ at the animals, or how many of them moved off immediately if the animal wasn’t ‘entertaining’ enough), something that could offer them peace or a connection to the universe, yet they would happily pay money for something that came out of a factory to adorn their physical body. There is so much about human nature that I have yet to understand.

Half the people didn’t even turn their heads to read the “Everything is Free” sign. I think this stems from nearly all of us having an aversion to salesmen and if we make the dreaded eye contact, then we’ll be sucked in and have to be mean in order to extricate ourselves from the clutches of the proprietor attempting to sell us something under the guise of fixing a problem we might have. Out of the half that looked at the booth, perhaps one-fourth read the sign, but kept walking. The other fourth stopped and talked to either Billy or myself about the truth of the sign.

“You can’t get nothing for free,” they said.

“Why is everything free?” they asked.

“What’s the catch?” they peered at us, waiting for the strings that they assumed they would need to entangle themselves with in order to ‘get’ something for ‘free’. Someone even laughed thinking there was a hidden camera somewhere and that they would find themselves on television or YouTube.

There were many people who looked through the pictures, complimenting, rightly so, Billy on his work. He shared stories of the pictures and encouraged people to dig through the bins and find something that they ‘liked’. In artist terms, this means ‘something that speaks to you’. We talked with  a lot of people, shook hands, and exchanged business cards. Three books found a new home, each signed to the happy owners, along with about twenty prints. Four of the five booth owners that day took a picture or two, or a picture and a book. In ‘exchange’, we were given cash, a necklace, and some hand lotion. There were some people who took pictures and didn’t feel the need to leave something in the Karma Box. That was fine. It never occurred to me that someone would take cash out of the box since it was sitting in the open, as most of the day, at least after the rain,  Billy and I were outside the booth because there were so many people inside looking at pictures and books.

If you have read any of my posts before, you know that I believe the muse for all artists is that creative intelligence that runs through everything in the universe. When I write, when Billy takes pictures, we feel that connection. Yes, his pictures are beautiful and some of them make you think which side is up and what it actually is a picture of, as well as inviting the viewer to observe a glimpse of the connection that he captured with his camera. My stories are adventurous page-turners, but they also ask the reader to visit their beliefs and opinions on social matters. Both of us create because we’re invited to do so, and we believe that what we offer can point others in a similar direction, perhaps giving them an opportunity to connect as well.

At the end of the day, we were both buoyant with the positive energy we gave when people took what we had to offer, as well as what we received from those same individuals. There was $81.25 in the Karma Box. Did we ‘sell’ anything? No. We offered people what we had, and they in turn offered what they thought our gift was worth. How many pictures or books do you think we would have ‘sold’ had we not decided to give everything away?

Billy and I, and I’m sure many others, know that the economy, and society as a whole, would greatly improve if people changed the way they thought about buying and selling things. Why not pay a handyman or landscaper a fair wage for the work they do? Why not place canned goods in a perennial bin to feed those who cannot feed themselves? Why do we pay more for the same things, yet no one is any better off than before? Why are there more homeless when there is so much abundance? Why do people hold onto their money, they skills, their ‘things’ when they could be shared? How much do each of us need? If we don’t look someone in the eye, either a fellow shopper in the frozen food aisle or an artist at a crafts fair, then do we perpetuate our isolation and therefore continue to ‘hang onto’ what we believe is important? How often to we exchange the warmth of connecting with another human for a few minutes to get further down the road or to home  or work a bit quicker?

I attended the Saturday market on my own, and after a reminder, told people that the prints and books were free. Two people took two prints each. The energy level was different. What occupied my thoughts after the market today wasn’t that people took what was free and didn’t offer anything in exchange. That wasn’t an expectation that I had. But instead, my conditioned, fear-based self thought how would groceries and feed for the animals would be bought if I continued to give everything away for free. The feed store owner, the oil companies, the hospital, and the dentist, don’t work for ‘free’. They don’t offer their skills or their products in exchange for what others might deem they are worth. Because of my responsible nature, I will pay taxes on the $81.25. It will then be reinvested in prints that Billy can continue to offer for free. It would be ideal if we could earn a living this way, people finding value in what we have to offer, a connection that perhaps they otherwise may not recognize. And because I, like most of us, am stuck in the capitalistic mentality, I fret over having enough. Is it lack of faith in people? In the universe? Leave a comment below if you agree or disagree with our thoughts on how society can be. If you’re interested in the books I gave away, you can view them at www.myjoyenterprises.com Billy’s work can be enjoyed at http://web.mac.com/billyrhoades/



Written by Michele Venne

Writer of immersive and intriguing stories.

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  1. Cindi

    What an experience in human interaction. It would be wonderful if we could all exchange items for what we feel they are worth and be fair about it. People that have a connection with the Universe would gladly offer something in exchange for your creative work, but then if they don’t should we feel that they are not in tune with what is right. What if they really have no money or anything to offer but would greatly benefit from the peace that the art would give them. there are so many things to consider when you have a mind such as mine that won’t shut up and just ‘let it be’. I am glad that you didn’t put that feeling out. Since we have a retail business we have ben trading goods for services for years and it is a great option to have especially the acupuncture treatments that have changed my life. I have toyed with the idea of trading my writing talents and have a difficult time doing that as I have given them away for free for so many years. The artist in us wants the observer to share in what we hold meaningful which can make it difficult to place a price on it. But artists have bills to pay also. I hope that this exercise in human interaction brings you comfort in knowing that you are spreading a peace to all who partake and the Universe will bring back to you what you need to survive.

    • michelevenne

      Yes, I agree, Cindi, that there is peace that Billy and I offer. He is adamant that this is the way he wants to always do it. If I’m in the “right” space, I can totally understand and put out that positive energy, and you’re right, the universe will see to it that we get what we need to survive. The ego part of me struggles with “why can’t they pay for it”, especially, as you said, artists have bills, too. It comes down to faith and breaking away from the “me” attitude and capitalistic society. I receive joy when I create, and as long as the ego is bound and gagged, there is joy in giving away what I have created. And joy (and relief) when unexpected money helps out.

  2. Lester Swope

    Hi Billy and Michelle,
    Wow what great work,astounding,wonderful. What a great idea,”Give it Away” That that is the greatest idea that ever entered the heart of mortal man. Jesus was the first to give his life away. and that is exactly what you are doing when you give time away it is in essence a part of your life that was used to capture that photo.
    20 years ago a Menoite man lived at Meadow Gap that worked for me and when I went to pay him he said what ever you want to give me.
    My son Jeff does the same with his work in Haiti and God is Blessing him in a great way.
    If you email me at plowdeep@comcast.net I will send you some photo’s of the work that his family is doing in Haiti for the least of and the poorest of orphans,many of them are disabled and have been disgarded. He is giving his life away because he is a follower of the man who gave his life away to those who hated and despised him.
    Did you ever read the book. ” Dr. Mellon of Haiti”? it’s great.
    I will be very glad to hear from you.
    When I am in Haiti I like to take photo’s of blossoms close up, there are many kinds.
    I am Lester Swope from Maddensville PA.
    Your art inspired me.
    I am a finatic of the creation and am awed by the Intricate work of my personal CREATOR. God Bless you and Michelle.

    • BillyRhoades

      Hi Lester, it’s been a long time and you came bearing good news! Kind of funny that you should come across a blog that Michele wrote, only to discover that the photographer in her blog was the scrawny boy from the adjacent farm that used to help bale hay.

      Thanks for all the kind words, I just try to use the skills I have been given to capture what I see and feel, share it with others and yes there is most definitely a part of me in every image. I’ve sat at market after market watching people, and for the most part seeing an overwhelming negative state of being.

      At first my intent was just to give to others, but we quickly realized that it opened up an opportunity for them to give also, resulting in both of us experiencing the joy of giving expecting nothing in return. We actually put the good karma box in the very back of the booth and it was partially obscured most of the time, some finding it on their own and directing others to it when they tried to hand us money for free images. I saw one woman put money in the box without taking any art.

      At this point what is given to the good karma box doesn’t cover the cost of what is given away and my hope is to use gallery sales from my artwork to fund giving different images away. This opens up an opportunity for collectors to give also, to those, who for many different reasons don’t have that little bit of joy, wonder and peace in their lives, possibly resulting in them finding their own connection.

    • michelevenne

      Hi Lester-
      I’m grateful for your response to my post! I am also encouraged by the work of your son and many others. Imagine the difference in the world if people are able to give with no expectation of return. If they are blessed later on, great. If not, then the deed of giving and the gift of receiving perhaps will allow the joy to spread between people. I am excited that you are inspired by Billy’s work. He inspires me, too! And it is wonderful to hear of another person following their muse and being creative. Thanks for sharing.


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