Artistic Integrity


Armand Cabrera
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

20 thoughts on “Artistic Integrity

  1. Interesting post and I will add more… Gurney mentioned that query a few posts back…it got lots of action….. Ben Franklin commented on this …. should he print something he found detrimental?


  2. Frank,

    I was hoping you would comment, though we have never met, I see you as someone who seems to have a strong sense of faith and I assume a strong moral compass. I would love to hear how you handle working for clients that maybe challenge your beliefs.
    Denying people medical care or not printing opposing or detrimental views are valid but different discussions. I would like to try and keep it to choices we make working as artists for now.

  3. Fascinating thoughts. My belief is that if one wants to have happiness in their life, the closer they live to their values such as truth and fairness in dealings with others (this assumes they have given thought to the values and are not just "Thou shalt not" tapes that are never examined) the greater the happiness and peace they will experience. For me in my actions, the things I do tend to have more black and white and would experience the same distaste for the actions you mentioned. What others do is gray. I believe there is an Indian saying something about walking in another's moccasin for a mile. It is hard when the actions do harm another such as depriving the gallery owner. Perhaps I should dislike the actions and not the person. Again a fascinating subject.

  4. Honor,
    Thanks for the comments. I'm sure people have a different sense of what is right or wrong, we can only do what we think is right for ourselves but I do have an opinion about it. Some types of actions would prevent me from forming any kind of relationship with people whos morality differs too much from mine.

  5. I believe it is important to have
    an understanding of scripture.
    Gods word is the The Holy Bible!
    (I probably already ruffled some feathers..)
    Give to Ceaser the things that are Ceasers.
    Give to God the things that are Gods.
    There will always be difficulty in this world, it's the price we pay.
    I could quote scripture some more,
    but I don't want to cast pearls before swine..
    I'm not calling you or anyone swine, I just don't know if this is
    the right place to address this issue.
    I'm also cautious about mass #s
    of people following anything.
    The ani christ is not against Christ, he is a phony christ. Or one that promotes himself as Christ
    and isn't.
    Jesus said to watch for it.
    That's why it's important to read
    the word. Ask for guidence.
    Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
    Have faith, get faith if you don't
    have it.
    Your faith (You) is what God loves.
    I've gone on to long already. If I
    don't click "publish this" I may delete this. This is how I feel.

  6. Okay…I am back and although the team I was rooting for did not win it was a good game.

    Artistic integrity is a great subject and many of the points you made , if not all ,I agree with. I like what you said in terms of being ethical in our business dealings as artists with our partners.

    I can't tell you how many jobs I have refused to do because they did not square with my worldview while I was an illustrator.

    AS far as a client purchasing my art and doing what they want with it. I would say that both parties have to agree that their visions coincide. Otherwise the relationship is doomed. Again, we are all to familiar when the mighty dollar influences the decision made by one of the parties. What is the price that will buy you in order to change your mind?

    On the other hand, many people of differing visions will undoubtly buy our work and show it off. As illustrators we are used to charging usage fees . I suppose each party has to decide if they can let their conscience live with that.

    I was with a group of "artists " tonight and I can always sense that because I have come out of an illustration background they don't feel I am an artist. Of course they have been indoctrinated into some idealistic quasi philosophical view that artistic integrity means hollowing out a TV set and adding beer cans inside the hull to make a social statement.

    But each of us has to live with our efforts and feel that what we do adds to the human condition. If we steal others ideas eventually we will be found out.

    I do have a problem Armand with some of our younger artists gaining instant success apeing some other artists style. If I suck as an painter, it will be because I was a poor Frank Ordaz and not a great imitator of … fill in the blank.

    I can live with that.

  7. Great discussion here.
    It pleases me to hear these topics being discussed.
    We could be talking about artists who have cast in their lot with true originators but I think I see what you mean. To profit from that does present a moral question that deals directly with integrity.
    Self justification is the slippery slope I think. Out of that come motive or maybe vica versa.
    The Hudson River School painters used somewhat similar methods of creating pictures, with dazzling lighting effects and endless detail, seeking to present the wild landscape to the viewer. As painters, we know that Thomas Cole began the movement. But to someone who has never been shown that, they could easily pick Frederick Church or one of many others.
    I personally dont think that the Hudson River School movement could have been carried by one artist and so many were necessary to capture the beauty. Were these artists the same? No. Different styles yet the same theme of "As above, so below," or "On earth as it is in heaven."
    I see something in the Hudson River School that I most certainly am convinced of in my own work. And it is this theme, The light came, The darkness fled and The light prevailed. My way of conveying that to a viewer is much different that the originators that I learned it from.
    So,the question becomes are they claiming to be part of a movement or to be originators of a style? What is their motive?
    Copying styles and pawning them off as your own is wrong but I dont think making the most of an idea or movement is.
    The idea and the people who share it make many colleagues.
    Bringing our own sensibilities to bear upon an idea broadens it.
    Isn't it interesting how those who copy styles seem to make it more narrow?

  8. Now that I have said all of that. I want to also say how grateful I am to people such as Stapleton Kearns (a true mentor), James Gurney and yourself who present principle knowledge to the artist and let them do as they will with those principles.
    I can build my entire life as an artist on principle because principle is a rock like foundation.
    Style is what is built on principle.
    To build on style is to build on materials that are weaker than it's principle foundation.
    I will take principle over style any day.
    Thank you for providing that to me and to your readers.

  9. It is a conundrum, isn't it?

    Reminds me of one time I was exhibiting at the DragonCon in Atlantic City. One day was a portfolio day and my husband took my portfolio in for viewing. The comments he got was "Tell her she needs to paint boobs and guns". LOL – eventually I decided that those conventions were not for me because it was not a good place for a christian to be. Most of the artists were good people, just trying to make a living but the type of people that are drawn to those conventions are into some really bad stuff.

  10. I should add that it has taken me years of soul searching to come to the conclusion that the ability to create art is a gift from God. So it would be wrong to use this gift for something that does not honor the giver.

  11. Frank,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your experience and point of view. I am glad to know that good work and a strong moral compass does not stop you from being successful. I see it with other artists like Tom Blackshear,and in the past, Harry Anderson and Tom Lovell. Knowing you can be successful and walk the walk is important when artists are starting out and I think we need all the examples we can get so young artists can be themselves and not compromise.

  12. Greg,

    I agree working in a genre like realism or abstract expressionism is not hijacking someones style. When you copy someones work for money or fame instead of doing your own work you lose something of yourself that is hard to recover.

  13. Mary,

    Conventions are hard to take after awhile, even for someone like me who isn't very religious. The top one percent of the artists were great, but then they were hanging next to horrible stuff. I quit going about 17 years ago.

    I don't know how you avoid boobs and guns anymore though, you can't turn on the tv without seeing cleavage on the evening news.

  14. Bill,

    I don't know what to say to you, since I don't really know what your point was relative to my post on artistic integrity. I'll say this, I don't think you need organized religion or the bible to live as a moral person. Having said that, I am glad you have a moral compass to guide you and I wish more people did.

  15. I agree that you don't need organized religion or the Bible to be a moral person. There are many atheists that are good, moral people – BUT why not go to the source of morality and read for yourself what and why more is required.

  16. Well, there are a lot of assumptions in your statement, you don't have to be an atheist to not believe in the bible. And some people don't believe the bible is the source of anything except Judaism and Christianity. This post is on artistic integrity and as long as people want to comment on that I will continue to post their thoughts, anything else is inappropriate to the discussion, thanks.

  17. Armand, yes I agree that copying someone elses work for money or fame is definitely wrong. A very timely and relavant subject. I like hearing your opinions.

  18. Mary,

    No offense taken, I think bringing in religious views as part of your experience dealing with artistic integrity are important and worth sharing. I just want to stay on topic and not start an argument here about whose faith is the correct one.

  19. Armand, I ment well with my comment.
    With the conversation on artistic integrity, and seeing the art work posted, I guess God & country came to mind.
    The first painting,(Normans) shows
    what happens when "moral" people
    disagree with other "moral" people and one throws tomatos and the other has to escort..
    The second shows "Uncle Sam" saying I want you. Why? Because we
    need to defend ourselves against others that seem to have a different morality than our own.
    Third picture shows Christ knocking on "the corporate door" and that is what sparked me to comment.
    When we think we are doing the right things in life, as most peolpe do, we may still not see the
    big picture.
    The big picture, (in my opinion)
    is that there is a higher power in the mix.
    If, by faith you follow a higher power, who can stand against you?
    Since our country was founded on
    faith as such, best to stay the course. We are a blessed nation.
    My fight is not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities.
    If you feel you have morality without faith, what is that?
    Your conscience is God given. It's what seperates us from animals.
    I'm not a religous person. So I'm not going to advertise any "churches"
    I am however an inspired, or spirited person looking for trueth
    in all the muckity muck of today.
    As I stated from the beginning,
    scripture is Gods word. God is trueth. It will help to get up and out of "stuff"
    It's powerful medicine my friend!
    So I think this is realitive to your post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.