The profession of an artist should come with a disclaimer ‘do well, but not too well’. Artists appear to tread a thin, permeable tight-rope labelled ‘public-image’ in ways sometimes unique to creative professions. Shuffling between two extremes: the ‘starving artist’ who carries on tirelessly for days without food, water or company, only to emerge into the light once their work complete; and the promotional polymath who produces work and sells it in what appears an effortless symbiosis.

Julian Trevelyan, 'Marakesh' 1973
Julian Trevelyan
Marakesh 1973
Intaglio print on paper
image: 352 x 483 mm
Presented by Waddington Galleries through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975© The estate of Julian Trevelyan

In the recently premiered musical feature film Art Is… written and directed by British film-maker Barry Bliss, Lulu, a talented young artist struggles to cope with the pressures leading up to her first solo exhibition. His protagonist tackles the dual difficulties of navigating the creative process and frustration with their environment:

Lulu…would be a painter struggling with her life and work, but unlike her predecessors she would, in her own fashion, be more successful…addressing the very real fear of dilution of one’s own vision in the face of commercial success.

Fighting-off the fear of its own dissolution, additional funding for the film was acquired through the crowdsourcing funding platform Indiegogo. Intrinsic to the story of art history, from Renaissance Europe to feudal Japan, is the patronage system. From Leonardo da Vinci to William Shakespeare, kings, popes and aristocracies have supported artists. Is it a problem that art consists of ideas but can also be a commodity which is bought and sold?

For Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt the idea is the most important part of the work rather than the objects that make it as stated in his 1967 text Paragraphs on Conceptual Art:

When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair… Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable.

Minimal artists Dan Flavin and Donald Judd respectively used mass produced objects and basic structures as materials to get closer to what they called ‘the essence of art’ in a move away from the gesturual, identifying marks of Abstract Expressionism. Bristol-born street artist Banksy continues to uphold his anonymity and create graffiti art around the world and yet the walls his works are painted on are now being protected and sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Is there something to do this appearance of simplicity that when combined with financial success feels inauthentic and phoney?

Is being a commercial success the death knell for your artistic ability? Is selling art and an art in itself? Can you choose between art and living the life of an artist? In the age of crowdsourced-funding and the internet, does the ‘starving artist’ exist anymore? Discuss.


Selling art doesn't affect the status of the artist or the work, the fact that a sale increases its impact may help to enhance the aims of the work and the artist or may drown out the artistic aspects of the piece by its sheer financial oddity. The overall effect is neutral.

Thanks Martin for your comment. The idea that either way, whether enhancing or drowning out, the overall effect is neutral is an intriguing one. Is there any leeway before an overall neutralising effect kicks in?

On Facebook Michael McCarthy commented:

"Commerce tends to corrupt everything it touches. On the other hand, artists need to eat. Maybe we need to think outside the straitjacket of capitalist assumptions (and romantic myths about starving artists doing the best work)."

@masakepic tweeted:

"There are echelons within the art world, I see the angle of this Q, but it also perpetuates an unhealthy status for artists......artists who are still expected to work for free in many cases. #tatedebate"

If the fee raised by a sale is enough to confer a measure of celebrity on the artist then the balance begins to be energised but neutral overall. From an artists point of view a fee ensures the buyer is going to look after the work, and the greater the fee the more they look after it, so a high price can be justified even to the point that it is no longer needed to keep the artist active or even runs the risk of encouraging the artist to rest on their laurels. Even famous artists can find gifts being neglected by friends.

Is selling art, selling out?

No more so than starving ensures or guarantees consistent depth of expression and unwavering precedent breaking brilliance. Is what inspires creative endeavors fixed and ridged or constantly in flux? Depends on the Artist and so too does the answer to the question that in turn depends on specifics.

Are there instances of Artist selling out, sure. Are there also instances of Museums, Curators, Art Critics, Historians, and finally Collectors selling out? In those instances is the symbiotic relationship immoral? Where the interdependency requires the later group maintain a steady flow of cultural or semi-cultural product to sustain their followings, who as always thrive on embellished and even fantastic myths to ensure an enhanced denial of their own mortality through voyeuristically crossing an existential bridge to flirt outside the confines of the commonplace.

The ethical breach if and when there is one depends on what any one party claim to actually be doing.

I think the art selling is a good business if it doesn't hamper the business and Morales and ethics, said that one must be aware of the nostalgia associated with it.

ive been checking out english artist michael fitzgerald at saatchi online