Finding Adventure...

Art versus Commerce

Heard an interview on an XM station with a country artist and songwriter a few minutes ago. Sadly, I have no idea who it was because I didn't stick around that long and jumped in during the middle, but the lady had a nice way of putting the struggle that artists face when trying to make a living at art. Three simple words: Art versus commerce.

What she was referring to was the fact that artists must often try to decide between doing something they find rewarding and doing something they think others will find rewarding enough to purchase. Fortunately for me I have no artistic ability so I don't have any such struggles, but I can sympathize with those that do.

But this leads me to a small rant, and that is the association here between art versus commerce and government spending on art. Government spending on art? That's right, the government buys art, and in increasingly large dollar amounts. Many cities now have ordinances requiring all large building projects include some percentage in their budgets for art. Like in Charlotte, NC, they apparently had to spend some percentage of the money that went to the new light rail system on art. That system cost quite a bit of money, so they had to spend quite a bit on art. Problem here is there's no process for how to find good art. But what's worse than that is that even if there is a process, it's likely to never be met with much popular appeal. Why? Because while most people like spending some amount of money on art they like, most people also don't like being forced to spend money on art even if it DID happen to be something they like. And I think most people see government spending on art as forced spending of THEIR hard earned tax dollars on something they probably wouldn't ever buy themselves.

So what is one to do? Not allow the government to spend money on art? Seems like a bit of a stretch there since one could consider any architecture style past "brutally basic" to be a form of art. Plus we need to be able to decorate our governor's mansions and have some pictures on the wall in our government buildings. But at the same time, I wonder about policies that force artwork into places where it probably just isn't going to be very welcome, like along a rail line. Nice landscaping is one thing, but trying to please most people with a big expensive piece of artwork is a recipe for disaster, I think.

Outside of the rant, I just found the art versus commerce line to be a very interesting one. Artists are obviously welcome to just do what they like and worry about money in some other way. And many artists not only choose but quite enjoy trying to find something that the masses will love enough to buy. There's nothing inherently wrong about either tact. It is fun to try to decode particular artists motives sometimes, however. The term "sell out" comes to mind...
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