Meta blog The Online Photographer noted that article which spawned several comments about the photographic artist, many of which wonder about the concept of selling out as an artist. Since Sugimoto & U2 bartered for trade-in-kind, it’s more like a simple agreement between business people who happen to be artists, imho. There’s nothing really to be sold out… Many folks on TOP stated my general view, which is that ‘selling out’ is an odd concept to begin with. ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ is a great idea, but those who make art also have to eat.
So, does that mean the only true artists are those who create only for themselves and don’t actually sell anything? For example, every kid who picks up a crayon is a true artist, while any commercial artist is a fraud and sell-out? Hardly. To my mind, selling out implies that the artist has given up their integrity in some way, in exchange for commercial gain. In this case, one has to make some kind of shift towards making money, which further implies that there was some kind of goal not to make money. Hmm… not many of us can afford to be in that boat.
When you look at it this way, then any artist who wants to succeed (or at least survive) financially by creating their art can not really be considered a sell-out. I guess you could make the case that an artist who orginally succeeded while producing art with no corporate or marketing input, but then changed in some fundamental way to enhance thier income is also a sell-out, but who’s to say? I agree that many artists become less interesting to me when their art changes to match pop consumption, at which point I may not give them any more of my money. But many others I never would have heard of if they hadn’t done something to catch my attention (e.g., the attention of a wider audience). That’s why I like to go back into an artist’s career, if possible, to see what they’ve done in the past. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes not.
Here’s the thing… commerce and art are always going to battle, so long as we use money. One the one hand, artists with talent should be encouraged to pursue and develop their talent, which usually takes money. They earn money by creating something people enjoy and are willing to pay for. There are two general paths – be amazingly interesting to a select few with obscene amounts of money, or be somewhat interesting to a very large number of people with moderate amounts of money. On the other hand, much of the consuming public doesn’t really have a clue about ‘art’ so much as ‘stuff I think I like’, and these people are subject to the mass-market advertising geniuses who promote image over content. Perhaps the folks that are promoted in this fashion are not really artists in a deep sense, but they are what the public is willing to pay for. These people are absolutely impossible to classify as sell-outs because they probably started with little or no integrity to begin with – just a desire to get rich and famous (yes, boy-bands, I’m looking straight at you and trying not to vomit).
As for Sugimoto, I really like his work, but will echo one comment I read that he’s a photographic artist, not a photographer. An important distinction, which I’d not really considered before. I could hardly call him a sell-out of any kind because he shoots and displays what he wants to see, and some people are willing to pay absurd amounts of money for some of it. As far as I know, he’s not been commissioned for his work, though he has sold some of it for commercial use. I do like that he noted to U2 that they were not allowed to alter or print over the image. Of interest is that he also previously allowed the same image to be used on another CD that was produced specifically to go along with his work in a gallery. Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree released that CD in a limited run of 1000 copies, and Deupree spoke up complaining about the use.
Now that the information is out about the work being duplicated, I wonder if Deupree will take advantage of the publicity to make money in some way? Would that make him the sell-out? [NB: Thanks to ‘EdM’ on the Amazon discussion board for posting the original link]