I’ve heard the saying, ‘the difference between commercial and traditional artists is also the difference between starvation and survival.
But is that a reasonable assumption in the year 2017?
Let’s firstly look at what it means to be a commercial artist and a traditional artist.
We consider commercial artists to be artist who freely expose and sell their work, be it through instagram/ social media or on their own website. Their work is generally readily available for purchase and often in trend (though not always.) These artists sell their work in a number of homewares and interior stores and generally make a lot of sales throughout the year. Their goal is to create artwork that the masses will appreciate and therefore buy.
Commercial artists need to be salespeople and business savvy. Their art practice becomes a balance between producing creative work and selling it.
TRADITIONAL / FINE ARTIST:
Alternatively, traditional (fine art) artists are all about the creative development of their work. They aren’t restricted by having to impress the masses and they often don’t care much for the business side of being an artist. They are generally seeking representation from a gallery and once represented, will spend their year working on a collection for one or a couple of exhibitions within that gallery. This is why it is often noted that this is the hard path to take when first starting out in your career. Finding a gallery to represent you can be a tricky endeavour and without selling work online to avoid appearing too commercial, how do you make a living?
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN 2017?
The good news is, I think with the introduction of social media, the art industry has drastically changed and these restrictions on your career don’t exist as much. Yes, over selling your work on social media and becoming a trend can restrict your ability to move down the traditional track later on, but anything in moderation is ok.
Many artists have lent their fine artistic skills to commercial collaborations, while still engineering a career in fine art, expressing meaning and exhibiting in highly sought after galleries in Australia.
A COUPLE OF EXAMPLES
Personally my all time favourite artist. I was lucky enough to get a look into Miranda’s studio and home over 7 years ago when I was interning at Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane.
Miranda is a contemporary fine art colourist who bases her work on historical inspiration mixed with contemporary culture and design. Establishing her career as a large scale painter, Miranda’s work caught the eye of so many and while continuing to work on shows for a number of galleries in all the states of Australia, Miranda also lent her creative talents to the commercial world.
Miranda has worked with Australian Label Gorman on a couple of projects. The largest being a 56 piece collection spanning across apparel and homewares. All the prints were established from 5 original artworks by Miranda.
Another example and another of my favourite artists, Elizabeth Barnett who is an amazing Australian artist who has made a name for herself in both the fine art and commercial art world through perfectly curating her own artwork. She is particularly careful about who she stocks her work with which has allowed Elizabeth to balance the fine art lifestyle while creating prints to ensure she is making a living. She is an inspiration for me personally because she has such a wonderful understanding of fine art and business which has allowed her to create an almost perfect portfolio of work.
Elizabeth has a great following on Instagram and does occasionally sell her works via social media, however this is not a regular occurrence which allows her to profile her work in high end furniture and art stores such as Modern Times and Koskela.
Finally, we can’t forget Ken Done. The advertising specialist turned artist that absolutely over sold his works in a commercial setting, with 9 'Ken Done' stores across Sydney in the 80’s. He was not only selling thousands of artworks, but t-shirts, key rings, stubby coolers, you name it, he sold it.
As a mentoring program we would definitely not suggest doing this, however during his day, Ken’s work became so iconic in Australia that once he pulled back on the commercial work and put his head down for a few years, his work became highly sought after and is not stocked in most of Australia’s top galleries. He did the extremes but this is just an example so that if you have gone to far in the commercial direction, there is always hope to pull it back and become a part of the middle range again. Luckily for us, the art world is always changing and each new day is an opportunity to start fresh.