Debate: Is Selling & Marketing Your Art Akin to Prostitution? – RedDotBlog

Marketing art

In my article Artists, Are you Consistent? I have asserted that an artist whose work is more consistent is more likely to experience sales and gallery success. While most of you agreed with or at least understood where I was coming from, several have expressed opposing views.

I welcome the conversation and enjoy hearing the alternative perspectives. One comment in particular sums up an attitude that I run into frequently:

Everyone can buy into the commodification of the soul if they like. Money and sales are great if you are looking for a way to rationalize your impractical choice for a career. Of course, having food on the table is a perk to creative prostitution. But everytime, I will choose being true to myself, my personal creative journey and not the journey prescribed by salesmen and so-called “art lovers”.

We all need to go deep into ourselves, search, experiment, and if we find the toe on a body of work that captivates us, then we need to operate by doing what our intuition tells us to do.


Exhaust one concept, one style if that is what you need to do. Or let the chaos take you. Whatever the case, let’s resist the urge to buy into the gallery desire to turn us all into a recognizeable commodity where our talents are diluted, sold into slavery, or worse, custom tailored to fit into the category of “safe investment” for a gallery patron.

Staying True to Artistic Vision

Obviously, this reader has a strong opinion about remaining true to his vision and maintaining his integrity by refusing to bend to the demands of the market – in this case my call for continuity of work. However, though Mario clearly disagrees with my post, I actually agree with much of his underlying sentiment.

I have found that most art buyers purchase art because they have made an emotional connection to the work. They felt something when they saw the work and the artist seemed to speak directly to them through the art. I firmly believe that an artist can only communicate at this level if they are creating what they are passionate about – that they believe in. This is especially important to develop a long-term following for your work.

I would simply argue that there is value in cultivating your passion into a consistent body of work.

I can understand, however, the concern that the moment you start to think about “the market” and about selling and marketing your art, you may begin to compromise your artistic integrity. As a gallery owner, I see my role as creating a buffer between the artist and the market. This way the artist can focus on creating his/her very best work. While I will have conversations with artists about the marketplace and sales, I don’t ever recollect trying to dictate subject matter or style to the artists with whom I work. Whenever I’m asked by an artist if I have any requests for subject matter, I respond, “Whatever most excites you.”

Not Mutually Exclusive

Where my opinion diverges from Mario’s is in the attitude that it is somehow impossible for an artist to make a living by creating good art. And that “having food on the table is a perk to creative prostitution.”

Yes, many artists have sacrificed and suffered to create art that was ahead of its time. But many of those artists have eventually enjoyed financial success. Their ultimate monetary success doesn’t diminish the artistic success of their work. I will grant that there have been many great artists (think Van Gogh) who never experienced success in their lifetime and some not so great artists who sold very well (think . . . okay, perhaps I shouldn’t go there).

I maintain that creating great art and selling and marketing that art needn’t be mutually exclusive. This is especially true now, when it is possible to reach a diverse market through galleries and online.

What Do You Think?

What do you think – is marketing art prostitution?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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