Personal Essay

Should Artists Sell Their Art

What a foolish question. Of course, artists have to sell their works in order to make a living – you know, pay the bills, feed the family, and have some fun in life. However, marketing a product, be it art or automobiles, can have a major influence on how you perceive the product and yourself. A potential customer’s opinion may influence the artist. For instance, would you change your design, content or attitude to please a customer if it meant making a sale or making more money?

A very popular American artist, who will go unnamed, has, in my opinion, designed his paintings with the masses’ mediocre taste in mind – and he has done very well . . . financially, because all of his paintings have the same comfortable glow to them. Most of the artists I have talked to about this popular artist feel the same as I do – they are disgusted.  I remember one of my university art professors saying, “The minute you conceive an artistic image with the purpose of selling it, you have compromised your talent.” Ouch!

What is the difference, then, between that kind of artist and a “true” artist? Or are any of us true artists? For that matter, what is true art? Is art for art’s sake the ultimate in creative expression? These are questions that should concern every artist.

By its very nature, visual art must be seen. Going a step further, being seen, a piece of visual art communicates something to the viewer. If we bury a piece of art in a hole in the ground so that it is never seen, some of its value is lost. Or is it? The piece hasn’t changed because it isn’t seen. However, think of the grace of Michelangelo’s “David” or the turbulent “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. These works have had a profound effect on all of us. What would have been the loss to all of us if they had been hidden away and never seen?

Should there be a difference between creating a piece of art that is conceived only to express unique and private emotions without other viewers in mind, and a piece that is created to communicate the artist’s feelings to others? The artist must look into his deepest motivations to answer that question. The best criteria for artistic creation should not be what will sell, but what the artist feels – whether it communicates or not.

However, the very nature of art almost demands that someone other than the artist experience it. What kind of influence the potential customer or viewer (listener) has on the artist’s creation is crucial to the test of an artist’s integrity, and even, perhaps, talent.

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