The Hard Sell

Being an artist is a vocation - a path that one has the need to travel despite its challenges. 

Those who wish to pursue a career in art become commercial artists and are primarily concerned with the client's or commissioner's requirements rather than the deliberations of aesthetics, meaning, self examination, or social reflection and commentary.

Considerations about the client/commissioner play a significant role in the commercial artist’s development and in their choice and manner of expression. As a result, commercial artists enjoy a limited palette as compared with that of vocational artists who experience a more precarious way of life, but are free to pursue their vision. Some artists manage to switch between the commercial and vocational role, but I am unable to. The distractions of commercial art pull me away too far from the place I most belong. 

"The Hard Sell" is a strategy of direct, forceful or aggressive salesmanship or advertising. For the artist the phrase “Hard Sell” packs a different punch as selling is often the last thing on their mind during the creative process. For them it is hard to sell what has, by its nature and intension, nothing whatsoever to do with commerce... I speak here of the artist as a person who creates (the painter, sculptor, composer etc.) rather than the “music artist” who is not usually the originator, but rather the performer. Music artists are often very much concerned with their commercial prominance. Singer songwriters are often torn between their desire for commercial success and their creative instinct to produce more innovative material that is usually considered less marketable. The same may be true whatever the artist's medium - choreography, play-writing, painting etc. 

The Art Gallery

Those who have read my writings in the past will know I have long since pondered on the relationship between art and commerce, and I published a web site called The Profit of Art which presents my thoughts about the value and importance of non-commercial art:

When I talk of “art” here I am referring to all art forms: the visual arts, dance, film, music and literature etc. 

People who visit a place like the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim in New York need to have disposable income to enter. This immediately reduces the audience demographic as compared with the open door policy of the majority of Smithsonian institutions in Washington D.C. which have free entry - that said, the visitor here still needs to travel and stay in easy reach before they can enjoy what's on offer. Whenever money is involved, the relationship of art and those who experience it, together with its accessibility, changes... 

When people pay and travel to enter a gallery they assess the value of their investment with their experience - is it worth the money? For many who cannot afford it, the question never even arises. My personal preference is for galleries to be independent, more common place, and that they accept donations in addition to receiving state support (not to demand payment for entry). 

Art markets and institutions justify their entrance fee because the works on display are validated as "good" by art administrators and curators who have acquired the status of art-experts and opinion makers by a career within the art market (profit and non-profit). New works are often purchased at very high prices, and unfortunately this results in "good" all too often equating with the dollar value placed on a work - a highly subjective and fickle standard. 

We humans are generally social animals - we tend to be persuaded by the actions or advice of the majority or authority. If enough people nod their head at the value of a work of art, or an elite recommend or pay large sums of money for art, people come to believe the work must be good. I therefore ask you consider the reasons why art is chosen for galleries in addition to an artwork's aesthetic or conceptual qualities. An artwork might enjoy effective representation from an agent or be the subject of institutional support. Art might be chosen for its political position, current and fashionable trends might be an important factor in its selection, or an established artist’s work might be shown for contextual or historical reasons. In other words, there are many factors why art will find itself displayed in a gallery, and it is wise to consider these as you experience artwork if it fails to connect with you. 

The majority of people involved in creating art who are often presented as having high status are commercial artists, whether they be overtly so (those who work for advertising agencies or achieve market success), or less obviously so (those who produce content to generate money). Damien Hurst is for example a very successful commercial artist and self promoter. He, like many in the field of "contemporary fine art", produces products that are sold in commercial galleries (shops that sell art). The relationship between the commercial artist and art market (art dealers, exclusive publications, commissioners, galleries, and art institutions) has in my view reduced the impact, relevance, and quality of art that engages with the majority. The vocational artist's work is of far more interest as it is less likely to be clouded by the agendas of institutional status, personal ambition and material gain. 

Art that is presented in galleries makes up a tiny amount of the creative output produced by artists. For the artist who is genuinely interested in communicating their experience of the world, the market is a distraction that threatens the integrity of their work and lessons its potential. I am not suggesting art galleries are not worth visiting - they are and I love a great deal of what I have discovered in these places. I am however suggesting we exercise caution in assuming all good art resides in these places.

My Personal Commitment

For those who wish to view, read, or listen to my work I have decided to offer it freely from this time forward. 

EyeInvent allows members to download images for their personal use - membership is free. I plan to improve the site so members will be able to download larger versions of my photographs and artwork. As there are well over 2,000 images it will take some time before I complete this process. Those who wish to use my images for commercial gain may still do so at this time but a charge will apply. For my music, I plan to maintain my presence at ReverbNation and offer my music apps for mobile devices (iPhone and Android). The site and apps provide free access to listen to my music. My future writings will be published in the public domain and available from my personal web site

I will maintain my rights as the originator of my work, however my images, music and words will be accessible without the requirement to pay for them. I continue to ponder on how artists might best fulfil their creative potential, and in so doing make the great works of the future available to as broad an audience as possible so we may be enriched by them. Art allows us to reflect on the world, to see our place in it, to engage with it's beauty and challenges. Art in my view should be accessible to all, not just to those who can afford it. 

Mike de Sousa
Artist, Composer, Writer

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