Home Is Where The Art Is

If you are an artist, a lover of art then I hope that I can inspire you to do what you love.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Commercial Artist or Fine Artist? You Decide.

Why doesn't anybody buy my paintings of children being beheaded and chased by Demons of the Underworld in this quaint gallery in a seaside town?

I think that's as good a question as any. Can you be a commercial artist and a fine artist? What exactly is the difference?

One produces work specifically to sell, one produces work they hope will sell to someone, somewhere at some point. Is that the difference?
One works with a specific audience in mind, the other works because they are driven to do it. Is that the difference?

What are the driving forces behind the work? Money? Passion? Necessity? I know that I am deliberately asking and not answering lots of questions. These are questions that I am asked really often.

Can you be true to your artistic self whilst pursuing commercial gain? Do you have to sell out? Should you develop an alter ego whose work you tout that caters for a more commercial market?

The thing is we all have to eat, pay mortgages, rent, bills etc. What is more important to you, being recognised as a mover and a shaker in the art world? Or regurgitating several variations on a theme that conform to an accessible aesthetic and a regular income? That is not undersell the latter because the skill involved in that particular formula is not to be sniffed at.
Can you do both?

These are all questions that I think should be up for discussion. People get disappointed when they don't sell much work at an exhibition (understandably so I hasten to add). I have been there and done that. But let me bring you back to the opening line of this particular blog. Would you want that picture in your lounge if it did in fact exist? I'm not so sure, but is there an audience for that kind of art? Of course there is. But this brings us back to an earlier blog, do your homework and find where you think your potential best audience might be. I would possibly suggest a 'Weirdo Convention' for that particular image.

Artists have asked me in the past what I thought they could paint that would sell. You can imagine that I have absolutely no response to this. I think that I may have mentioned before that I feel that we respond to art subconsciously as well as consciously. I believe people engage with the passion, enthusiasm behind the work. That must count for something.

Does this mean that artists have to make decision? The jury is out as far as I am concerned. Personally, I make art that I feel driven to make and I hope that people like it enough to buy it. Which they have and do. Do I make a living from it? NO! But I do however make a living from art so I feel that I am very lucky to do so.

I am posing all of these question in the hope of starting some discussions about this as I think it could be useful and informative. Feel free to comment.


  1. Thanks for this Sharon. In my view none of these questions can be answered until the quality and presentation of the work is as it should be to be considered professional.
    I would also say that it is still a difficult time economically and therefore a smaller buying public makes for more discerning critics and less sales. Hence, a challenging time for artists which translates to more time in the office and less time in the studio.
    Also there's nothing less convincing than a commercially driven fine artist some times. No one wants to live with a piece of art that has been sold as an investment or a piece you'll grow into or wears its influences in a way that comes too close to being derivative.
    Subjectivity is always a difficult component too, so perhaps artists need to find gallerys they feel comfortable with and who are responsive to the work. Otherwise, it can be easy to lose morale when the person representing your work is not fully convinced of it.
    I agree that we respond to art subconsciously as well as consciously. Often it is subconsciously first and then we attempt to rationalise and understand why afterwards. This can take time and for many this can be a challenge, but one needing resolution before making a purchase. I look at my own work and take time to resolve exactly when and why it is right by my standards. Therefore, I cannot expect everyone to instantly like it, get it or subsequently buy it. This is the awkward go away and think about it moment.
    As you point out, it is wise to supplement your income in some way as an artist so as to guard the integrity of your practise until sales start happening. If you can do this within the arts you are doing well.
    Not easy, but possible. Quality of life is a major reward component if a holiday is looking unlikely again this year!
    Thanks again Sharon, these are the perennial questions and I look forward to the thoughts and experiences of others.
    Jason M

  2. My oh my! What a difficult debate. I paint for a living. I also undertake a substantial number of commissions for people of which they have a huge input. I am sure they choose me not based on price, but on the fact they like my other work. I am driven to sell, and often pieces I have done which I particularly like take somewhat longer to sell. As you say, it is down to the audience to decide no matter what I think.
    I have said to you in person that I really don't want an attic full of my own paintings gathering dust in the hope that one day someone might take a fancy to one or two.
    And yes, it sometimes drives me mad that I am repeating a theme again and again, but like everyone else I have bills to pay, and food to buy, and the occasional break in mind. And sometimes I am lucky enough to break the mould a bit (rebel) and do something different. however, if that too sells well, I feel it necessary to repeat the theme to earn money.
    I have had a variety of careers and this is and was my first love, and to have the privilege of not having to supplement my income with part time work is a joy, and I will put up with the pitfalls of being somewhat 'commercial' for the love of art.
    I am ever hopeful that one day I will paint something which has sooooo much commercial mileage that I can sell the copyright for a vast amount, and semi retire LOL. I was going to add that then I will paint things that I like without an audience in mind- but it occurs to me that i already do that to a certain degree :-)