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Does Money Affect Artistic Integrity?

If an artist makes art for money, is the art made for an audience or for themselves?

I always had a preconceived notion of what a starving artist is all about. Recently my perspective has changed a bit after pondering about arguments from tons of artists out there that want to be paid for their work. There’s nothing wrong with being paid for your art and I think it’s great that people get paid for their art but does this affect the artistic integrity of the artist’s work? Artists can be paid in a variety of ways so sometimes the circumstances of the exchange of money for the art plays a large part in determining the integrity of the work. We’ve seen in the past that many artists have been able to juggle money and art successfully. It’s definitely not for everyone though.

One of the Pop Art exhibits I saw years ago made me question whether the juggling act was possible. There have been many famous artists that have made tons of money from their art. Some were considered sell outs while others weren’t. In some cases it really depended on the artists approach to their audience. There are some artists that make art that just feels like pandering to their audience. This usually results in a bit of predictability. For example, there wasn’t much of a change in the artist’s new work compared to their previous work. Although this could be what the artist intended, only the artist truly knows for sure.

Artists make art for a variety of reasons. To be a successful artist doesn’t necessarily mean that their art becomes valuable. An artist's success should derive based on whether the artist got what they wanted out of their art. Did they portray what they wanted to portray? Was the message sent to the correct audience? For some artists, money and fame is the underlying goal of their work. In this case it’s hard to tell if the artist’s integrity has been compromised when this was ultimately their goal in the first place.

Even still, art that appeals to the masses doesn’t necessarily mean that it will make a ton of money. Art can easily be stolen by someone else and turned into a profit for the thief. An artist can target a niche audience and still sell their art for millions of dollars. It just depends on the audience.

So when artists ask to be paid, what are they really asking? Are they asking people how they can bend at will to fulfill the wishes of others so that they can be paid for their art? If this was the case I would say that it would still be difficult to tell if the artist’s integrity has been compromised. If their goal was to make money they have succeeded. If they’re looking for money just to eat they had to do what they had to do. Some artists aren’t starving and don’t push themselves to be rich and famous for their work. For these artists I question why they asked for the money to begin with. No matter what the intention was, the outcome of the situation will forever change the artist’s perspective and possibilities of their work.

Say the artist does bend at will and loses their artistic freedom to pander to their target audience. If the artists becomes very popular, at some point the target audience will start bowing to the artist and the artist will get the upper hand. The artist will then have true artistic freedom to deliver their messages to their target audience with little repercussion because of their reputation. Or will they? I’m sure years and years of complying and pandering to fulfill the needs of others has changed the artist’s perspectives. What they once envisioned in the past will never be the same after their life experiences.

There are a lot of things to take into consideration. Even today when I experience art I sometimes wonder about the artist’s true authenticity. Was there a message or meaning in the visual or aural piece that I’m experiencing? Is this truly the artist's intended vision? For the most part I can see artists truly trying but it’s hard when there’s so much that has already been done without seeming predictable. Some art today can seem manufactured and obvious because we’re witnesses to so much already.

So I come back to my preconceived notion of a starving artist. I used to think that a starving artist is a cliché. Everyone’s a starving artist. Now when I see a starving artist I have to look at their art and I mean all of it. Did they stay true to themselves to master their craft? Or did they delineate and follow trends and try to pander to sell their art? Even looking at all of their art, it’s hard to tell because everyone has their own life paths and situations. Our intentions change over time because of our life experiences. It’s hard to stay on the same path.

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