If you have never been called a “sell-out” then a couple things may have happened 1. people aren’t really being honest to your face or, 2. you aren’t making that much money. There is a rare faction of creatives that manage to drive head first into the world of profitability without having to confirm to the demands of buyers, agents, clients and the like. So many more of us have to make a pivotal decision. Every creative professional must choose between making the work that feeds your soul versus what feeds your belly.
It is a simple thing to decide for many, they have no problem exploiting every opportunity on the way to the top, it may not even occur as a choice but a matter of survival. Capturing big clients or doing work that is more commercially accessible can lead to quick and early gains that define a type of success that many artists aspire to have. When you grow up in an environment where there are little resources creativity may be your saving grace. Be it the street artist that gets spotted by a gallery owner or someone who stumbles upon grandma’s secret recipe book, we all have a skill, product, or method that makes us valuable on the market.
Transitioning from a place devoid of resource to being thrust in to a place with an abundance of them can be a wild ride many will not refuse. But nothing is free and these large financial gains come with prices of their own. Maybe it is the chef that is made in to a celebrity, going from spending time cooking their favorite foods to book signings and TV appearances all because a need to sell more and more product, no longer a chef but instead becoming a “personality”. Our inspiration to create may not end with us creating to make our livelihood, the more people we bring on to help us along the way, the more conditions are placed on our time and work. Especially if there is momentum, the bandwagon can grow quickly and for the individual it becomes harder and harder to steer the ship.
Another breed of artist though is the one that declines the fame and fortune to pursuit a creative life on their own terms. This individual is idealist, steadfast in their resolve to make the work they want to make even if it means they have to struggle along the way. What can seem noble and driven by principle can also be a product of the ego. Our ideals are and extension of ourselves and if we are unwilling to compromise them it may mean we will have a lot of difficulty. Integrity and stubbornness go hand in hand. This artist takes pride in the struggle.
Let it not be viewed as all struggle though, there is a privilege that goes along with the life of the artist with integrity. It is someone that can stand to endure the pain of hard times that come with unchanging views about their work or it is someone who already has enough financial backing to sustain themselves until things take off. This path comes with freedom to create when and where a person wants. Resources, albeit limited, are used wholly at the discretion of the artist. The only person whose opinion matters is the person that has created the work. Not a gallerist, or a distributor, or executive, just the creator themselves.
We have to ask ourselves what we are creating for at the end of the day. If our work is simply a means to an end, a job, then to pursuit more and higher paying work is a great goal. If however the goal is to express freely, then all obstacles to free expression should be removed.
Our recipe, product, skill, or method is ours to use in which ever way we choose but each path, comes with its own benefits and sacrifices. Would you prefer to give up some control to see your efforts carried further? Or would you rather not compromise your vision to create what realizes your vision? Of course neither direction is concrete, and you can choose to follow whichever your desire at any moment in time. But it is necessary to observe that there is no easy answer.
While sticking to your guns can cost you money it may pay you back invaluably in the long run with your reputation. They say money can’t buy everything, but you can’t artistic integrity doesn’t always pay the bills.