Some people forget that a creative person can be a business person too. The best business people are the most creative. There is such a stigma with a creative person taking on a business career that the term “selling out” gets thrown into the mix far too often. If a photographer begins making money off of their art, that is often considered selling out. If an artist paints a painting for a client, that could be selling out. There are so many different situations in which those words are summoned, but I want to argue that in most cases, they shouldn’t be.
Something that is implied with the words “selling out” is that an artist is no longer creating art if they are making money. This is part of the reason why so many people are obsessed with differentiating photography from other types of art, and it is the reason why some are hesitant to call photography art. Yes, there are photographers out there who create solely for other people, the way some people work a 9-5 job that they don’t enjoy. However, this does not make up the majority of photographers I would reckon.
I look at this argument from a fine art standpoint. What I do is largely considered art not because of the work produced but because of the label on it: Fine Art. It has art in the title, it sounds pretty pretentious, and we associate that type of art as hanging on gallery walls. I rarely have a problem with people saying that I sell out because I create personal work on a regular basis. I have had the occasional email saying things like “You are clearly selling out because you teach workshops” or “You’re selling out because you did that shoot for that magazine once”. These are some points I want to address, not to make a point to those emailers, but to make a larger point for anyone who thinks it isn’t okay to make money from your art.
Everyday people get out of school and find themselves in the real world. Nine times out of ten, if a person is so successful as to find a job or start a business and then make money from that venture, they are given a hearty pat on the back. We as a society congratulate them for taking their knowledge and applying that to a real-world scenario. There are few jobs out there that prevent us from seeing the positive side of making money. We all need money, and finding a way to make ends meet is an induction into the adulthood hall of fame. There is a thin line here, however, when passion and business collide.
The word “artist” has such a stigma attached to it. It is often seen as a very positive thing, a very unattainable thing…something transient that is reserved for those people who happen to have enough creative juice and umph to simply create. However, there is a catch-22. Someone is not very often categorized as an Artist until they begin making money from their work. At that point, when money is exchanged, people also want to stop calling the artist an Artist because of the fact that they just made money off of their passion. See my point here? What a crazy world this is…
The misconception comes from assuming that making money off of art means that you are not creating from passion anymore. I consider myself fortunate to be a fine art photographer, which means I don’t deal with this a lot. I create for myself and then hope that people enjoy it enough to purchase it. The end goal is two-fold. I create for myself, that is #1. I create for others, that is #2. The difference between selling out lies right here, between #1 and #2. If #2 were to go away, would you still create? If the answer is “no”, then yes, you are probably selling out. If you always create for yourself because it is your passion, and you are also smart enough to make money off of that, the answer is no.
A fashion photographer, senior portrait photographer, sports photographer, etc…is no different. Yes, these are all types of commercial photographers, but “commercial” doesn’t mean that they are creating solely for other people. A fashion photographer’s goal is to make clothes look good, a wedding photographer’s job is to capture memories…but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t creating for themselves too. They simply have to consider the opinions of others while creating. All photography can be considered art, it just depends on the artist.
Some of the most well known photographers living today are well known because they have made a brand for themselves. They were smart enough to understand the business end of things as well as the creative. And in doing so, there is often no creative compromise. We can create all the same, whether we make money or not. And if anything, making some extra cash allows us to create even more, and to dream even bigger.
There are examples all over the place of well respected photographers who have taken business to a whole new level, the kind of level that is to be admired. Some names come to mind that I’m sure most of us know, like Jeremy Cowart or Chase Jarvis. They are both examples of creative people. If you follow them for about 5 minutes on twitter it will be obvious how much passion they have for their craft. What will be equally as obvious is how incredibly intelligent they are for business. Photographers like Jeremy and Chase are branding themselves everyday and carrying with them the key to monetary success while also holding close their passion for art.
Art and business are not mutually exclusive. There is a big muddy pool where the two mingle together, blend and blur. If I were to show you the picture below and say “I created this with passion”, you would probably consider it art. If I presented the same piece and said “I created this for a magazine” then suddenly the art aspect is lost. The line is blurred even more if I were to say “I created this and then it got put on a magazine cover”. A lot of the “selling out” conversation lies in how something is presented. I present the same picture to you twice with two different stories on why it was created, and suddenly your perception about it changes. If I present it with no text at all, what do you think? That is for you to decide.
In the end, there is no way to stop the often derogatory phrase “selling out” from spreading around to different artists, but there is a way to help ease the minds of those who are outraged at the idea of an artist making money off of their art. Understanding that there is business in art and there is art in business is a good starting point, so fellas, welcome to the conversation.