This is a thinking I encounter often and I believe this line of thought is misguided and silly.
Why do we, as a culture, hold artists to a different standard than everyone else? Why do we expect artists to not think about profiting from their labor and, instead, think only about the work? We artists want to survive, yes?
Artists want to make a living and should.
Is Picasso less of an artist because he understood the value of his paintings and painted with price tags as part of his motivation? Of course not.
Is Robert Deniro a sell out because he accepts millions of dollars for his work? What a silly thought.
Art for arts sake has its place.
But here is another perspective:
Creating art with an audience in mind (creating value for them) and attending to their needs can lead to money.
Perhaps artists, who buy into the ridiculously romanticized image of the starving artist, deserve to starve. If they do not see value in their work, why should anyone else? We each reap what we sew.
In our consumer culture, we spend money on “things”, which is one way we communicate a perceived value. Value is very subjective and this is our way (as humans) of communicating value in a tangible way.
Artists have numerous possible functions and contributions of value to offer their communities. Artists can serve as vehicles for escapism, as a conscience of a people (holding the mirror up, so to speak), as political agitators, as “fools” (the wisest of the archetypal characters—the one that has cast off any care towards social judgment). Artists have the power to inspire, to promote change (of all sorts) and to reflect the “oddness” that is being alive.
In my mind, artists are not only valuable members of their communities, but necessary.
Thing about this: When we dig up cultures of old, what do we use to give us insight into these long dead generations of past? We look at their art.
Just because it is popular to think in such silly terms as “artists selling out”, does not mean that we, as artists, have to subscribe to this line of thought.
We reap what we sew.