There is a great discussion going on over at Leif Peng’s blog, Today’s Inspiration for the last few posts, about what constitutes selling out as an illustrator and artist.
I thought I would take a different tack because this blog deals with illustration and gallery painting and the two don’t always overlap. First let me state that as a former illustrator and production artist, I see no difference in gallery painting and those other disciplines. So no, I don’t think artistic integrity has anything to do with working for clients or making money per se. I always thought it was laughable that easel painters who spent half their life writing grants begging for money from the NEA looked down on illustration.
I would like to broaden the discussion from Leif’s track, which focused mainly on doing work that was beneath the skill of the artist or overly art directed. While those things can be frustrating, I don’t think they pose any real moral dilemma.
When the economy is bad people seem to use situational ethics to justify bad behavior. Artists think because they need or want something they are justified using any means to accomplish it. I think artistic integrity also comes into play when someone asks you to paint something or use your art for something that goes against your moral principles for money. Here is an example of what I mean. I worked for almost twenty years in the games industry. In that time I worked on over fifty games as an artist. I never worked on any game like Grand Theft Auto or any game that had pornography in it. Now, I did work on fantasy and science fiction games that had violence and scantily clad women, so what is the difference? Well, I had a cutoff point and made a distinction between violence and what I considered exploitive violence. This caused me to turn down work on more than one occasion when I had been offered the job.
With gallery art, it is a little different, but no less clear for me. Artistic integrity means not copying someone else’s work or style for profit. It means not cheating in competitions. It means not claiming studio work as outdoor work if venues require it to be outdoor work. It means not cheating your galleries by pulling paintings and selling your work outside the gallery and not giving them a cut.
Of course there are gray areas like, what would you do if you were a Christian and an abortion clinic wanted to buy your work for their offices? Would you sell it to them? What if you needed to feed your family does that make it okay then? What if you were against the war and the government wanted to use your art to recruit men and women for the military, would you allow it? Would it make it okay if you take the job because you know someone else would if you don’t and then donate the money to a cause you believe in?
Art has and always will be used in the service of things. As artists I think we have a responsibility to not only uphold our commitments to our business partners, even when times are hard but also to our craft. This means to make moral choices about how our art is used. Do you agree?
Copyright Images are Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg and Harry Anderson
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