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Commercialism and 'selling out'

Related: applied and commercial arts - economics - authorial intention - fame - mainstream - patrons, funding and sponsors - popular - populism

Contrast: artistic integrity - alternative culture - outsider - underground - subculture - tortured artists - high art - fine art

Conventional wisdom holds that genius is underappreciated in its own time; one might compare Vincent Van Gogh, who struggled for recognition during his life but is now a household word, with his contemporary Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose paintings and reproductions enjoyed immense popularity, but has since faded into relative obscurity. Gérôme has been variously accused of pandering to Orientalist fantasies and essentially peddling highbrow pornography (in essence, painting commercially motivated material instead of "high art"); no one would accuse Van Gogh of pandering to his audience.

In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998) - Tyler Cowen
[FR] [DE] [UK] [...]

"In Praise of Commercial Culture" is Cowen's attempt to demonstrate that capitalism and economic growth promote, rather than squelch, individual creativity through artistic expression. In it, he provides a detailed history of the origin and development of markets for literature, painting, sculpture, and music. Throughout the book, he focuses on both pecuniary and non-pecuniary incentives that markets create for individuals to challenge prevailing artistic sentiments -- Michael D. Mallinger via Amazon.com

"The hard part for us avant-garde post-modern artists is deciding whether or not to embrace commercialism. Do we allow our work to be hyped and exploited by a market that's simply hungry for the next new thing? Do we participate in a system that turns high art into low art so it's better suited for mass consumption?

Of course, when an artist goes commercial, he makes a mockery of his status as an outsider and free thinker. He buys into the crass and shallow values art should transcend. He trades the integrity of his art for riches and fame.

Oh, what the heck. I'll do it." --Calvin and Hobbes in Dinosaurs in Rocket Ships Series

A comparison of Jean-Léon Gérôme and Vincent Van Gogh

Jean-Léon Gérôme was very famous during his lifetime. He made what are now considered kitschy paintings which sold well. Van Gogh wasn't known at all during his lifetime. He made paintings that did not strive for conventional beauty. Yet Van Gogh is remembered and Gérôme not. Why?

Compare these two paintings which date from the same year: Quaerens Quem Devoret by Jean-Léon Gérôme and Starry Night over the Rhone by Van Gogh.

Quaerens Quem Devoret (1888) - Jean-Léon Gérôme
image sourced here.

Starry Night over the Rhone (1888) - Van Gogh
Oil on canvas; 72,5 x 92 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Commercialism and 'selling out'

The Who Sell Out (1967) - The Who [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Selling out is a common slang phrase. Broadly speaking, it refers to the compromising of one's integrity in exchange for money or other personal gain. It is commonly associated with attempts to increase mass appeal or acceptability to mainstream society. A person who does this is labelled a sellout.

Many people see nothing wrong with tailoring a product to the tastes of its audience, or with taking practical and financial considerations into account when making art. And, in regard to theater shows, musicals, etc, a "sell out" show is simply a show so popular that all tickets are sold out, and is generally considered as a milestone in terms of success. Selling out may be then gaining success at the cost of credibility. Though generally associated with the entertainment industry, regular individuals who similarly compromise their ideals (e.g. a Bohemian individual who suddenly switches to a socially conservative lifestyle) could also be considered sellouts. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sell_out [Mar 2006]

Critics may accuse an artist of excess commercialism (colloquially, selling out) if they believe that he has compromised the quality of his work for monetary gain. An independent band that signs a contract with a major record label; a novelist recruited by a major publishing effort; a comic artist who begins merchandising his work may all be accused (depending on the circumstances) of selling out.

Examples are aplenty: one might compare Jim Davis, who built a commercial empire around merchandising his comic strip Garfield; the cartoon cat's image appears on everything from Post-it notes to plush dolls, to Bill Watterson, who steadfastly refused to permit any products (save for books of his strips) to be marketed with the characters from Calvin and Hobbes. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercialism [Jun 2005]

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