Second Realm

Eric P. Rhodes, Artist

Art in the Age of Commercialism


The Artist’s Dilemma

In the vast and varied world of art, a tension simmers beneath the surface, one that has been present for centuries and has only intensified in our modern, hyper-connected era. This tension is rooted in the age-old debate about the purpose and value of art, and it manifests in the form of inherent contradictions that many artists grapple with. Let’s dive into these contradictions and explore the balance between artistic integrity and the lure of the marketplace.

Art for Art’s Sake

At the heart of the artistic world lies a purist perspective: art for art’s sake. This viewpoint holds the belief that art should be created solely for its intrinsic value, untouched by external influences like market demands or prevailing trends. It’s a celebration of the artist’s unadulterated vision, free from any commercial considerations.

Desire for Market Benefits

However noble the “art for art’s sake” perspective may be, it becomes muddled when juxtaposed with an artist’s desire for the benefits that the marketplace offers. After all, who doesn’t want to be acknowledged and rewarded for their work? Yet, the art market, with its unpredictable whims and fancies, doesn’t always align with the principles of pure artistic expression.

Frustration with “Undeserving” Success

Adding to the complexity is the perception of “undeserving” success. It’s not uncommon for artists, especially those deeply committed to their craft, to feel a sting of resentment when they see others, whom they perceive as less talented or authentic, basking in the limelight. This sentiment is exacerbated when these artists prioritize artistic integrity over commercial appeal, only to find the market swayed by factors like trends, aggressive marketing, or even sheer luck.

The Trap of Logical Fallacies

In their quest for recognition, some artists resort to critiquing the very system they wish to succeed in. They might use logical fallacies, such as the “appeal to authority,” suggesting that a select few with the right art world experience and the right education should have the power to determine what’s valuable or successful. While it’s a valid concern, it becomes contradictory when these artists, in the same breath, express a desire to be recognized by these very authorities.

Exclusivity in Participation

A more divisive stance is the belief in exclusivity in participation. This inherently elitist viewpoint posits that there’s a “right” way to create or appreciate art, inadvertently gatekeeping the very essence of artistic expression. For example, the idea that influencers shouldn’t be artists or curators while non-influencers can is elitist. Given the subjective nature of art, where value varies from one individual to another, such a stance is counterproductive.

Striking a Balance: Idealism vs. Realism

The crux of the matter is the ongoing struggle between idealism and realism. Many artists embark on their journey with a purist “art for art’s sake” mindset. However, as they navigate through life, with its pressing realities and the innate human desire for recognition, these ideals are put to the test.

For artists caught in this whirlwind of emotions, it’s essential to remember that marketplace success doesn’t overshadow the intrinsic value of their work. Success is multifaceted, and its definition varies. It could mean commercial success for some, peer recognition for others, or simply personal satisfaction. The key is for each artist to define what success means to them and find their unique balance in the vast spectrum of art and commerce.