Artistic Integrity

By Armand Cabrera


As an artist I love the process of painting. I’ve always taken an illustrative approach to my painting in that I painted anything people would hire me to paint. Commissions were a partnership entered into with the idea someone was hiring me to give them my vision of the agreed upon subject. The client’s participation stopped at the edge of the canvas and the rest was up to me. They had right of first refusal on the work but they didn’t have the right to stand over me and guide my decisions as I painted like puppet masters pulling the strings for every aspect of the art, from subject to style of execution.

Even as an illustrator or production artist I expect to be hired for my knowledge not just my wrist. I am not for hire to render someone else’s vision; it has to be a collaboration or it’s not worth my time and effort. In the last few years people seem genuinely shocked by my stance. I guess the downturn took more than money out of the economy it also took many artists self-respect with it.

I am not talking about large projects that require multiple artists to complete them like television series’, movies or games. In those instances the project style requires consistency. I’m talking about smaller projects like ad campaigns, illustration assignments or gallery work that is completed by a single artist.

I believe if you hire an artist you have a responsibility to be familiar with their work. If you want to have a painting in a certain style of a living artist, then hire that artist. Don’t hire someone to be a stand in for that artist. If you can’t afford the original artist then then hire an artist whose work you can afford but let them paint it in their own style.

I think it is our responsibility as artists and illustrators to buck this trend. Who wants to be known as the guy who paints like (fill in the blank) only at a cheaper rate? Do you even have a career if all you are is a wrist for hire by people who can’t draw and paint?

Do you agree or disagree?

10 thoughts on “Artistic Integrity

  1. Hi Armand,

    I have been reading your blog posts. While I don't have your experience, I can relate and understand what you write about. I guess, what I want to say is thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge.

  2. i would agree with you: there is nothing more stifling than someone dictating aspects of how the painting is expected to be. a recent commission convinced me that the final decisions of composition etc should be with the painter… part of the job description.

  3. I disagree. I think it is perfectly legitimate for you to feel that way and for you to do business that way. However I don't think someone who has made a different choice lacks integrity. The key is to make the expectations of the relationship clear from the start so that both parties know how the relationship will work.

  4. I can speak to that from the point of view of one who has done it. I made a living for years painting murals, signs, illustrations etc often micromanaged and being asked to copy a preexisting work or at least mimic another person's style.
    You can make a living this way, but you can't make a name for yourself. If some other guy can also do it cheaper there is never anything to draw a customer specifically to you.
    People either want the cheapest work available or something unique. If you are an imitation then, by definition, you're not unique and there's always someone cheaper.
    So I only started to become a name when I quit all that and produced work of my own. It's more fun this way but frankly I could still be making more money if I went out and offered to undercut all the other muralists doing Disney cartoons in kid's rooms. I'm just tired of that game.

  5. Anon,
    While I agree with you that the level of control can be up to the parties involved and each artist must decide what that level is. Where do you draw the line if not at your style?

    Explain to me what your idea of artisitic integrity is if in your book its okay to nt allow the artist any input or to copy another living artists style a just market yourself as a cheaper version of that artist.

  6. I like your blog. To answer the question: The first few dozen times I encountered the concept of being hired as a wrist and not an individual, I learned plenty. Mostly about compromising my dignity and still doing good work because I had to earn money or be homeless. I don't think there's anything terribly wrong with that for a young artist—in certain ways it's like the adage about 'everyone should be a waiter for a while to know what it's like". It certainly clarifies what one wants to get out of life. The armies of unscrupulous people watching for the chance to short-change a talented artist are always on the lookout, and one has to learn to cope with it somehow. Those people don't change and don't go away. The other side of the coin has it's dents too. Unfortunately a remarkable hand and eye don't always make the character of an artist. I'm surprised when I encounter it—I always except a layer of idealism or sensitivity, or something that I think goes naturally hand in hand with that kind of talent, and it's startling when you see it missing. Was it squashed out? Tossed aside? Never there? It's a pity, but it shows the complexity of people, as well as the subjectivity of "art" itself. From experience, I know they will justify their actions with a deadly logic that's hard to combat—it's a different way of thinking. Or lack of thinking, maybe. I don't know. I know which kind of artist I want to be, and I instinctively put my hand up when I encounter the other kind. They don't change or go away either. In these times people are determined to get something for less, so we definitely, the ones to whom these things matter at least, have to be as unified as possible and take the high road all the time.

  7. Doug,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I am not a rich man and I have struggled to make ends meet as an artist in the past; but there are things I won’t do as an artist for money. If I was faced with losing my home or some other catastrophic event I would seek work outside of the arts doing whatever I could to get by. I have done this plenty of times in my life. I didn’t even start making a living as an artist until I was 35, before that I worked in construction trades and electronics to pay my bills. I’m a little surprised more people don’t think copying other artists work is a problem since all the professional artists who guided me when I started out were adamant about defining your style and not being a cut rate clone. I’m curious if these people who don’t think copying other artists style even have a line artistically they won’t cross no matter what they are offered.

  8. I'm grateful you said 'thoughtful' reply instead of 'longwinded' 🙂 Thanks–I agree with you a billion percent. Same here–just last three years or so been making it solely on the paintings; I think a mistake people might make is going solo too soon, before they have an idea of who they want to be, and with a determination to make it stick. Maybe it's lack of scruples or just desperation, or they have five kids, or they just don't care, or they think no one notices. And let's face, at some of the juried shows, big and small, right in the middle of the 'fine art world' being a cut rate clone is often encouraged…:(:( Thankfully, I really think hard work is still the real answer, and it can take a serious artist where they want to go.

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