“Selling Out” as an Artist
We’ve all seen it before. You come across this great band that’s largely unknown. You think you’ve discovered a gold-mine, and in your excitement of this “discovery”, you’ve turned around and told all of your friends about the band. In turn, they start telling their friends and so on and so forth. The next minute, you’re watching a commercial on television and that “obscure” band which you so highly-prized is banging out a generic jingle for a car insurance commercial. In laymen’s terms, they’ve “sold out.”
The “sell-out” generally means that there was a sacrificial offering. It’s viewed that the band compromised their own artistic integrity by “watering down” their music in order to sell albums to the masses. Amongst the “indie” or “alternative” crowd, this is generally highly frowned-upon – except maybe in the rare instance that you happen to be The Cure. But as a whole, the psychological effect of “selling out” relates to taking something that feels personal, and spreading the love across the board rather thinly.
So as an artist or a creative person – where do you stand with your own values in this world – do you “sell out” (assuming that you can) or do you continue along your current path with no financial distractions? I’ve collaborated with plenty of phenomenal artists – some of which whose styles admittedly beat my own work hands-down (it’s quite a humbling experience.) More often than not, most of these artists have the financial backing (usually mom and dad) to support their efforts in taking one piece of art – and spending weeks if not months to polish that piece to perfection. Most ordinary people can’t afford to spend that amount of time to create a single piece, without the rest of the world falling down in and around them. Those “types” are almost definitely not going be able to perform the same quality of work on a live project from a client, unless that client has really deep pockets as well as some serious patience, or they happen to be the one in a billion ‘savants” living amongst this world. And from that experience, I’m reluctant to hire an artist whose portfolio looks “too good” – because usually something is amiss.
Unfortunately, unless you’re privileged to have land to grow your own crops on, you almost always have to rely on money. The whole financial issue is a catch-22 – it’s expected that an artist does what they do because they love their work for what it is, yet they’re also often expected from society to not want any financial gain, or in some cases, financial security. In my mind, this whole “integrity” versus “money” dichotomy is hypocritical and unrealistic. It shouldn’t be an “and” or “or” issue. The fact is, an artist needs to survive. They may hide their resources well, but almost invariably rely on some source to put a 23-cent package of Ramen Noodles on the table and a roof over their head. If they didn’t manage to scrape on by, they’d probably end up with a bottle of Colt 45 sitting under some bridge with a shopping cart. I can’t speak for you, but I don’t want to see this happen to anyone. There’s a certain level of pride, and a certain level of foolishness involved in weighing out those “pros” and “cons” in working for the proverbial “man.”
Someone that doesn’t know my own situation would probably assume – “he has a company” or “he’s doing well.” Well, that’s the first mistake. Don’t assume. I do well with all things considered, but even I need to pick up more business and clients or else I might find myself manning a fast-food counter. I’ve heard this assumption time and time again – and sometimes people with that perception think that I would be willing to give them a discount because “he must be rolling in the dough.” The fact is, that there always needs to be a compromise unless you’re truly willing to commit Seppuku. I know that I’m not willing to sacrifice my own life. There must always be a balance between being able to survive, yet be productive enough to “not make a mess.”
The whole flock of struggling artists seem to follow a pattern. It starts off with wanting to create because you enjoy the act of creation. It’s often followed by a sense of pride and integrity. Next generally comes “starvation phase” unless you’ve hit the lottery jackpot. Scrambling for self-preservation through fear of death often follows that. If they managed to get past those phases, the artist becomes a “commercial artist” because they know what it’s like to barely make ends meet – more often than not, this is the level an experienced artist tends to shoot for and if they are “lucky”, they will stay in this state of eternal bliss. If these levels do not completely dissolve and integrity doesn’t take you back to the starting line, you may in that very rare instance “get lucky” and hit that next level of financial security. From my own personal experiences with these other, “lucky” artists – there really is no such thing as “luck.” They’ve almost always busted their asses to get to where they’re at. I have yet to really encounter any artist that has been struck by “artistic lightning.” That has to be a 1 in a 100 million chance of happening.