Fear & Loathing in Art & Business

Dollar Sign - 1981

Why do artists loathe business? Why does business fear art? Each side holding the other back for no good reason. Conventional thinking declares that real art is “pure” and free of commercial motivations – that business corrupts art. Conversely, business minds often seem to fear art because it’s perceived lack of a road map for mathematical “ROI.”

Total bs. The next time someone suggests that business has no place in art – or someone tells you that its a good idea to have a “backup” for your creative vision of making a living – recall the example of the most successful businessman in the history of art: Andy Warhol.

He famously said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” Warhol’s business was reportedly worth $700 Mil by the time of his death in 1987.

Warhol got his start selling product illustrations to advertisers and department stores. He was really good at it and achieved a high level of commercial success before he became a pop art icon by bending linear thoughts of consumerism into an artistic pretzel. He intentionally blurred the line between commerce and art. He was never afraid of business – he actually saw it as part of his art. And to that end – his art has proven to be very good business. In fact, according to the Economist his work accounted for 17% of all auction sales in 2010 for $313m. This was a 229% increase over 2009 sales and proved his art to be recession proof in a big way. The market for Warhol’s art has outperformed the Dow Jones growth in the past 25 years – by a long shot.

So is it a coincidence that the most successful businessman in the history of art actually saw the business itself as part of the art? Would he be surprised by this continued success and ROI for his collectors? Certainly not.

This post was inspired by Seth Godin’s blog post here via @goodchemist

20 Responses to Fear & Loathing in Art & Business

  1. Sam July 9, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    Business, it’s how you become a successful artist. You just have to deal with it.

  2. Elaine July 9, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    I don’t make art with the market in mind. I think Warhol did. His art was social commentary. My art isn’t. I can’t make art for a particular market. I worked as a graphic designer for many years. Instead of informing my art, it crushed me. I have to wear two hats when I market my art. When I talk to others about my work I have to be detached. It’s not such a comfortable mix for me.

  3. Chris July 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I have always had difficulties in putting a price on the art I create, but after having been taken advantage of on more than one occasion I’ve learned to be more business like in my approach. Still, it’s a fine line between charging what you think you’re worth and what the market values you at. That is where actively working to increase my market value will pay off over time, and hopefully leave my work in high demand!

  4. Pag July 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    I heard of a study where they filmed a bunch of people working together at solving a problem. Then they showed the movie to other people and asked them to evaluate the leadership skills and creativity of each person in the video. The result was that were scored highly as leaders were scored low on creativity and vice versa.

    The conclusion they came to is that leaders seeks compromise to get the approbation of the whole team. This involves removing the risker and weirder elements from the work — that is, the most creative aspects. On the other hand, the most creative persons scored low on leadership because they didn’t compromise: they had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve and didn’t really care for the opinion of skeptics.

    So maybe the reason why artists dislike business so much and why businessmen distrust artists so much is that they require fundamentally different personality types to be successful.

  5. Chris Blizzard July 10, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    I think you may have missed the point of Seth’s post entirely.

    Lets ignore the fact that it says “conventional thinking” and “often”, meaning it’s not a blanket statement about every artist or every businessman.

    If people click through to read the full post instead of just the opening paragraph, you’ll find the point Seth is making is that business can make great use of art and that great artists usually have the business side looked after too. His point is that people shouldn’t be afraid of the other side, instead they should embrace it.

  6. faisal July 10, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    It happens in all business, but yes art there is more.

  7. stanchung July 10, 2012 at 5:31 am #

    Saying is not the same as doing. If you have a pure artistic mind- your brain may not be wired to market & sell your work.
    Some are just too introvert. Selling after all is a skill itself.

    Andy Warhol is an exceptional case of being able to do both. Maybe he is an alien in disguise as portrayed in MIB3. LOL

  8. Adam Barker July 10, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Great post Chase. And super pertinent right now. I know many tortured artists/photographers that perceive any bit of business success as an indication of selling out, and shunning one’s “pure artistic roots”. Before you know it, they’re jaded, bitter and cynical, and I think much of the time, their product suffers because they simply can’t afford to let their mind wander, and their creative juices flow.

    While income is neither the end all/be all of photography, not the sole indicator of success as a photographer, it certainly is the foundation of a solid business whether you’re selling hot dogs on the street, or showing your book to the next hopeful client.

  9. Nick Girard July 10, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Beautiful and I love the quote “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” I am a big backer of business and art working hand-in-hand.

  10. Mark Dolby July 11, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I find running my business an exciting and extremely creative process that draws on my artistic skills for sure. As a child I tried setting up newspapers and running pirate radio stations, always thinking about how I could try and make a little money at it. Today I’m still on the same path succeeding with my photography.

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