Unemployed Complain of Selling Out

*Response Date. Jan. 25, 2011. I have written a voluntary response to this post, which can be read HERE:

If an artist is creating art for art’s sake, without a focus on who is going to appreciate it, want to support it and ultimately buy or consume it, who is one creating for? Is the work of art for a potential audience or is it therapy for the artist? Is one focused on making a living from their art and craft or are they creating just for the pleasure it gives them? We have a word for self-pleasuring…

I never offer any guarantees of success with educational offerings. To do so, would be dishonest. Avoid those arts institutions that do promise such results. Art is highly subjective and the interest of the market in any particular form is only to be known from research around and entering into the market.

Most students of theatre will look around at their classmates and make assumptions about who will work after graduation and who will not. I have found that, almost without exception, the market ends up valuing something different than the collective thinking of the artist classmates. From personal experience and from considerable observation, I have found that you never really KNOW what the market is going to want and how they are going to respond to what you offer.

Our goal then becomes to increase our chances of market success, to do everything we can to support our odds and make educated, informed decisions that are based in logic.

One thing for sure…if you want your audience to expand, you must adjust what you create to their interests. In doing so, your act of creating becomes a dialog with your audience and you can make the argument that you are serving them. Then, as an artist, you are using your skills in a way that produces value, rather than just the value of your own interest. By tweaking our work, shifting our focus and responding to market demands, needs and gaps, we increase our odds of success.

There are those artists who create in a bubble and their work has lasting impact. Ex. Emily Dickinson’s work was found posthumously. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life and it was to his brother.

One could argue that these artistic figures were visionaries and helped shape how we perceive art today.

One could also say, however, that there are tons more artists who have excelled and realized their potential via purposeful and thoughtful pursuit (and with money in mind). Picasso understood the value of his paintings and no doubt felt motivated by those tags. Dali understood the value of his work. It is widely believed, that he may have duplicated series numbers, so as to be able to sell more prints for more money. Are Picasso and Dali sellouts? Meryl Streep is widely considered one of the greatest actresses of our era. If she opts to negotiate the terms of her contract (having profit motivation behind the practice), is Meryl a sell out? Are they somehow not artists? Ridiculous thought, right?

I think that, more often than not, it is not the audience who is viewing the artist as a sell out or not, but other artists. Next time you hear talk of selling out, ask yourself if the person talking about selling out is currently working. I think that, more often than not, it is the unemployed that speak of selling out.

Attending to a particular audience’s needs (or niche) and creating work to serve those needs increases the artists’ chances of making a living. That is not selling out. Rather, it is buying in. The artist that commits to serving other’s needs by offering value (with a price tag) is investing in their financial health. That way makes a heck of a lot more sense than the starving path, as having resources enables one to create more art…and to eat, which can lead to longer health and more years in which to create.

For the starving artist, who romanticizes their starvation by buying in to ideas about “selling out”, I ask this: “Are you necessary”? Does your community value and need your contribution? The starving artist may at this point say that their work will likely be valued when they are dead. To that, I say, “Serve the living”.

*I have written a voluntary response to this post, which can be read HERE: Response Date. Jan. 25, 2011.

Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway and Sleeping Hero Productions, LLC.

Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts is accepting applications Now. Applications may be found at www.austinconservatory.com


2 thoughts on “Unemployed Complain of Selling Out

  1. I applaud this post on so many levels. As a writer who makes a living writing advertising, I have spent plenty of time struggling with my identity as a writer. Or, rather, I have spent plenty of time in fantasies of being a “real writer.” One who publishes magazine articles and well-crafted essays, who works late into the night on a collection of short stories, or has most of a novel finished. So, while I’ve had some success with those types of endeavors, I’ve never been able to figure out how to make a living as that kind of writer. And I make a decent living writing advertising, while I write my short stories and essays on the side. Does that make me a sell out? At times I’ve thought so. At times I’ve let my fragile, little artist’s heart get broken by those facts of life. Thank you for this perspective. Identity crisis somewhat averted.

    • The choices you refer to do not make you a sellout. They make you an artist who uses their artistic skills to make a living. If you are not creating the work of art that you desire to create, then keep going. This is a marathon run, not a sprint.

      My writing this post is in response to the notion of selling out, which I think a lot of artists use very flippantly. However, despite its flippant use, such a labeling often has a profound effect on developing artists and they think that art and money should not collide (except for the famous…which they will likely be…in time).

      Artists who create for profit are not selling out. They are selling art.

      Thank you very much for your support!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s