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Money & Art

Is the pursuit of both truly compatible?

Edit: This topic deserves more discussion than what is given below. I also didn't talk about the very important distinction between art and entertainment and how these two, especially in modern times, can get conflated. Now, where were we...

This is a philosophical question which has been on my mind for some years now and my argument is not a finished one by any stretch, so please bear with me. Art is about truth and beauty whereas money’s function is far more practical and less abstract or representative of reality. In brief, I view the pursuit of truth similar to the pursuit of art and thus not truly compatible with the pursuit of money as I will elaborate.

The art adorning the halls of the Vatican. Photo by Martyn Foster.

The purpose of art and the purpose of money (and thus, the pursuit of) are fundamentally opposed, in my opinion. The purpose of art is to create something beautiful and truthful, that speaks to a reality or existence of the human experience which transcends time. You can see (and feel) the difference between art created for the sake of art versus created in pursuit of money. Art is expressing something from within regardless of external validation or audience response, whereas in the pursuit of money the art becomes altered or manufactured in some sense and thus loses its real and higher purpose. One almost “controls” the art in order to guarantee making money from it. It ceases to be organic and becomes artificial.

I’m certainly not asking artists to create for free or reject the idea of earning money from their art, but one cannot predetermine what artworks will be well received and financial rewarded and what won’t be. If you do know it will sell well and you create for such reasons, then I’d say you are not really creating art. Although, as stated previously, financial considerations are not the end point of art.

The value of art is more than its nominal monetary amount. With the risk of waxing lyrical, true art does transcend how much you paid for it. And just how much should people pay for art? What should an artwork’s value be? These are good questions and who knows the answer, really.

What would the value of the Sistine Chapel be? Priceless, in more ways than one. Photo credit: unknown.

And hence, we now arrive at the matter central to today’s post; the issues with monetising creative endeavours. The boon in technology has helped artists globally achieve some level of recognition and remuneration, but the overwhelming majority of artists still struggle financially. The need to create incessantly for financial reasons affects what you are creating; art doesn't come from a production line. Although, ask yourself this question: Would you live in a world without art? The answer, of course, is no.

Art is imperative to humanity. We’ve known this for eternity, it was one of the first things we ever really achieved as a species. Art is life sustaining; it gives life, it makes us feel alive and it keeps us going on living in spite of life. Why do you think that, despite being destitute, many people wouldn’t give up their art? Money can buy you bread, but man does not live by bread alone. Art hits you at the core of your being, something which money will never be able to do.

If you take the pursuit of art and the pursuit of money to their respective logical conclusions, you will have to sacrifice the art for the money. So, when you create art for the sake of pursuing money, you’re selling your soul short.

Art, in honour of the universe and humanity, St Peter's Basilica. Photo by Martyn Foster.

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Martyn Foster
Martyn Foster
Jan 22, 2021

Yes, Lee, you hit upon a couple of other important points. I'm not necessarily against a mass produced piece, sometimes it is almost a necessity for it to be replicated as such and for most people it is enough and affordable and brightens up their homes. And yes, the concept of works for wages and works for love. Plenty of modern artists have this mentality of I'll do this for commission which then enables me to do this other more personal piece, I totally get it and I don't necessarily knock them for it. It is similar to people who don't love their job, but do it anyway because it enables them to do the things they do love. I…


Unknown member
Jan 22, 2021

While I agree if you are making things purely to sell it's a commercial endeavour more than an artistic one, if artists can make something true to themselves it's probably going to resonate with others the same way it does them. I've got some art at home that is mass produced, some that was quickly crafted to sell (to allow the artists to fund other, more personal works) and some that was never intended to be sold, and that we'd never have seen without today's technology - but it all makes me feel richer than the money I spent on it would've.

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