I have read about two artists recently making news. Both have demonstrated some commercial success in the business world, and both have found ways to market their artwork in a way that appeals to a broad audience.
One of these artists I admire for his artistry and his methods of commercializing his images. The other makes me want to yell “bleh!” because of both his artistic and business practices.
George Rodrique, painter of the iconic Blue Dog paintings that have become a part of pop culture, is the artist I admire. His images became widely popular by Absolute Vodka in 1992. He has been in the news recently because a thief brazenly walked into his gallery and stole two of his paintings.
The paintings have since been recovered, however, as of this writing, the thief has not been caught.
Thomas Kinkade, self proclaimed “Painter of Light”, is the artist who has earned my disdain. Aside from the fact that he was recently arrested for drunk driving and has been under fire for his business practices, I find his artwork pithy and formulaic.
Kinkade’s business methods have been called predatory, taking advantage of people who are drawn to his overt sentimentality and exploitation of Christian faith. His artwork has been dismissed as kitsch by most people in artistic circles.
I find both of these artists’ stories interesting as I explore the world of business and the world of art – two worlds that are separate, but do necessarily converge at times. Sometimes the convergence creates compatibility, sometimes not.
Both Rodrique’s and Kinkade’s artworks appeal to a broad audience. They both have a “man/woman on the street appeal”. Aside from their business practices, I find one’s artwork to be valid (Rodrique), but the other not (Kinkade). Is this because of my own tastes, or is it because there is an inherent validity to one artist’s work that is not there for the other artist?
Every man or woman who goes into business for him or herself must contend with a number of issues and concerns. You have to develop a legitmate business model and you must subscribe to ethical practices to stay in business. I am struggling with these issues as I work on developing my own business.
Not that ethics and legitimacy are a struggle for me – I am simply learning about disciplines that are completely foreign to me.
Artists, however, have other struggles unique to their creative role in society that are layered into the dilemmas of being in business.
Most artists are compelled to create from a need for self expression and a desire to develop new images, designs and forms. Although we want to sell our work, our motivations for creating are deeper than simply endeavoring towards commercial success. In addition to making a product for sale, we are creating artworks that have purpose beyond their commercial value.
Artists who create purely for the sake of appeasing popular demand and lose their other purposes for creation are generally dismissed as “selling out” by the artistic public.
Rodrique paints the same blue dog over and over again. Some might say that represents a pandering to an audience for commercial rather creative purposes. I would disagree. I see a difference in each painting – differences in color choices, composition and background – that make each one unique and special. A joy in the creative process is evident in each work.
Although his images are reproduced on various products, Rodrique’s work always seems to have credibility to me.
The average person can buy Rodrique’s art on commercial products once his creative process is complete. Or the connoisseur can buy an original for $30,000.
Kinkade, however, paints paintings that seem to be shallow throwbacks to 18th Century romantic paintings that have been done over, and over and over again. There is no unique subject matter and the style is limited and formulaic.
I want to be like George, even if it means someone could come and steal a painting off my wall.
What do you think? What are your thoughts about artists mixing creative and commercial motivations?
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