Seth Godin riffs on the idea that the mindset of the artist and that of the businesswoman (or man) can come together in harmony to amplify the reach of the artist’s work. And though Seth is referring to artists defined beyond the practice of creating fine arts*, I still pause at accepting that art and business can exist and yet the artist remain unimpinged.
Krs Parker, a hip-hop artist known as KRS-ONE / ‘Teacha’, posed the idea that once the artist engages in trying to amplify their work through the means of commerce, they change from being an artist to being a merchant of art. Once the transition occurs, the merchant faces the new and ongoing challenge of satisfying the growing demands from his/her customers (what was an audience now shifts to a consumer group).
What I take this transition to mean is that for an artist to move forward using “market-based solutions” as their platform, the change is like the vegetarian who now eats meat, which is to say that the artist becomes something fundamentally different from what they were.
This isn’t an argument for purity; its more a comment on a change of state that I believe renders the power of art subdued. Art’s amplification happens because it arrests those who encounter it and it is the audience to the art who amplify it in reaction. Following the artist/businessperson evolution as a way to broadcast art ultimately results in the artist being something other than an artist (and therefore there new art ceases to be that what it was – better or worse).
I recently walked thought the Art Institute of Chicago with the notion of art merchant vs. artist floating between my ears. What became apparent was how powerful the divide really is. Though many of the masters we celebrate are unquestionably gifted in their discipline, the essence of their work is massively impacted on when the source of their income at the time is put into the light. I think its difficult to refute that the idea that having to rely on being paid for art affects the artist sensibility – only very few of us will truly bite the hand that feeds, artist or not.
So to move back to Seth’s version of an artist, anybody trying to create “original, human and connected work” while being beholden to the revenue stream it creates is in danger of being something other than an artist – not necessarily bad, but something different.
*So we are not tripped up by the word artist, read Godin’s post on art and the people who create it – Art is what we call…