Wednesday, 11 December 2013

How Artists Sell Their Work

For a creative person one of the most difficult things is to monetise your work. Firstly there is an inherent practical difficulty involved in actually finding people who will pay you enough to do the thing that you love that you can make a living doing it. Beyond that, there is an inherent conflict between art and commerce.

Pretty much everyone would much rather be an author or a sculptor or a film maker than they would work in a call centre taking abuse from people much stupider than them. Unfortunately, there are very simple financial realities that mean most of us are very unlikely to achieve that dream. If even 1% of us were published authors there would not be anywhere near enough readers in the world to make the number of books published commercially viable.

The dream of becoming a financially successful artist – in any field - is made even harder to achieve if you aren’t willing to compromise your vision – at least to a certain extent – in the interests of commerciality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s very easy for people to fall in love with their work and become blind to its flaws. What a writer or artist might think of as a commercial compromise may often, in fact, be a straightforward improvement to their work. A good example is True Romance, which originally ended in Quentin Tarantino's script with the death of Clarence, Christian Slater’s character; this would have been a needlessly downbeat ending to a pretty light and upbeat sunny film.

Similarly, someone may produce truly great work whilst working for somebody else. Don’t forget Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel under commission.

However there comes a point when commerce gets in the way of art. Where lowest common denominator considerations edge out any inch of nuance or depth to a piece of art. There was a time when we used to blame American teenagers for the dumbing down of film. Now the foreign market is considered the biggest culprit. Everything has to be easily translated and culturally understandable to audiences all around the world. Established properties are considered preferable to new intellectual properties, as they are a known quantity and easier to market. There have been 7 X-Men films in fifteen years? No matter, let’s make some more!

Then finally, comes the snapping point. What if you’re working for idiots? People whose every artistic instinct is wrong? People have no clue what they’re doing but who hold the purse strings and can therefore force you to dance to their tune? Many people, for the sake of politeness, or through a misguided belief that they can overcome these problems and remain true to their artistic vision, plough on under such circumstances for far too long.

It’s understandable. So many of us have dreams of being an artist that we will suffer almost endless indignities in pursuit of our dreams. However, for the sake of the work, and for your own pride, there comes a time when you have to say “Fuck it!”

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