Art vs. Commerce

I go between commerce being a way for artists to exist producing their art to feeling like art is minimalized when it has to fit into the commercial world.

I wonder would Michelangelo have produced the Sistine Chapel if he didn’t need to make money? Would Alexander McQueen have lived longer if the pressure of having to produce multiple lines for Gucci and his own commercial line weren’t present? I think if he could have just kept producing HIS shows he’d still be with us.

In the fourteenth century, painters and sculptures were employed by the church. As kingdoms began to gain more influence, artisan guilds were formed. Music was a sign of prestige in the court. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century hundreds of singers, instrumentalists and several composers were employed for everyday entertainment as well as royal and political spectacle.* When bankers and merchants became the wealthy, they too wanted to have their standing in society advanced with the acquisition of art.

Painters, sculptures, potters, blacksmiths, weavers were needed to make every day useful objects. Craftspeople were valued. I wonder if “craft” became diminished when mass production of everyday objects became the norm?

Is garage band, youtube, tiktok, instagram the modern version of mass produced music, so that the employment of individual artist isn’t valued?

So many of my performer friends have a “cover”, something that they do to earn a living and they play on the side—often for free, because they don’t care about making money from performing. I have friends who play for political events and churches for free, because that is their donation. (I still think they should get paid and then donate their pay to keep alive the fact that musicians are worthy of earning a living for playing.) Performing (except for the few super stars) has become a privilege for the ones playing rather than a value to those who listen.

As I delve into script writing, there is so much more than just writing a good story. Every seminar that I’ve attended talks about financing the film: the business that needs to be done to show that the film will be profitable so that you can get producers to finance the making of the film. It is thinking about the commerce before the art is made. Getting known directors and actors associated with your film will help get the finances needed to make the film. So, cultivating relationships is as much a part of the business of film-making as the pure creative story is.

I’ve heard so often that investors do not just buy the painting, but the personality of the artist. Do financially successful artists work on creating a persona as much as creating the art?

I think the myth about the troubled artist is just that a myth. It’s the need to earn a living and have money to produce work that is the culprit.

Then again I remember a talk I had with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen who was the beneficiary of a country that supported artists “from birth to death.” He thought that in that system you get a high quality of the medium, but no superstars. “The risk to fail will push you to greater heights of success.”

Not being in a system like that I don’t know if I can agree with him. It is a case of the grass is greener on the other side! Which is greener: more exceptional artists or more well fed ones?