What is selling out? Why is it such a big deal?
“Selling out is a common idiomatic pejorative expression for the compromising of a person’s integrity, morality, authenticity, or principles in exchange for personal gain, such as money.” – Wikipedia (Yeah, I did it.)
Most people seem to have very rigid, yet vague ideas about selling out. Most people seem to think making any money on art is selling out.
I think a song on a laundry detergent commercial is no big deal. It doesn’t change the art. It doesn’t effect the creation process.
Making money on something creative isn’t a sin. In any other line of work payment is expected and what happens after one buys the work doesn’t matter to the definition of that work. Being popular or part of the culture isn’t selling out. It’s literally what every artist wants, whether they are too cool to admit it or not.
In any other business diversifying income isn’t selling out. Duck Tape (the brand, don’t start) was made for a very utilitarian purpose. Then some kids realized they could make wallets and prom dresses out of it. Duck Tape realized their tape could be valuable to other markets without changing the integrity of the product. So they put fun designs and colors on the face of the product. They went with what their small business software told them: facts. You may think that means they sold out, but I disagree. The tape is still tape. I could put a more minimalist frame on one of my paintings because I’m trying to sell it to someone with modern taste. That doesn’t mean I sold out. It doesn’t change the integrity of what I painted.
The rights to a song can be purchased by someone else to put in a commercial or movie. What they do with it, has nothing to do with the artist. Granted, artists should decide who to sell the rights to. If you are a vegan artist, it isn’t very honest to take money for your art on a package of bacon. Although, your audience may feel betrayed, I’m more concerned with how it makes you feel. Selling the temporary rights to a song or image is just sharing it with more people. The person buying the rights connected with it. That’s what art is for. I’d sell my art to someone I disagree with politically, but if they wanted to use it in a campaign, I’d say no thanks.
Selling out shouldn’t focus on making money on art. Make that money. Just make sure it aligns with your goals and beliefs. Once a person starts making art just because it will sell, that’s selling out. I’m not going to paint something I am not feeling just because that’s what people want. I know, marketing people would shake their head and say if I want to sell art, I have to paint what people want. I say, I’ll paint what I want and if no one buys it, at least I’ll have art I love on my walls.
I’ll put that art on mugs, on calendars, on tote bags. That’s not selling out. That’s sharing my art in various ways. It’s still my art. Nothing about what I paint or the way I paint is determined by putting it on a tote. If that were the case, prints would be selling out as well.