Art and Commerce
by Jeffrey Sward


People often confuse art and commerce.  The act of buying an artifact with the objective of value increase is commerce.  Creating an artifact with the objective of selling the artifact is commerce.  Acting as a broker for artifacts with the objective of a commission is commerce.  Even when the artifact is "art," the buyer is a "collector," the creator is an "artist," and the broker is a "gallery owner," each of these activities is still commerce. 


The pecuniary objective of a collector is to maximize the value of his collection over time with minimal monetary investment.  The pecuniary objective of a producer is to maximize sales value with minimal effort and cost.  The pecuniary objective of a broker is to maximize commissions with minimal inventory overhead and minimal effort.   The pecuniary interest of each role is antithetical to the pecuniary interests of each of the other roles.  It is remarkable that the system can exist at all. 

The art world has not gained these attributes recently.  The art world has always had these attributes.  It is peculiar that people who are embedded deep in the art-commerce axis find any of these attributes surprising. 

Before the hauteur of visual artists rises too high, it should be noted that the art-commerce conflict permeates all artistic disciplines.  For example, in the performing arts, the expression is "show business" not "show art."

Countless studies have concluded that the basic human drives of economic gain, creativity, and sexuality cannot be suppressed.  Sexuality is beyond the scope of the current discussion.  The drive for economic gain is fueling commerce.  The creative drive is fueling the creation of art.  Basic human drives is a partial explanation for the continued coexistence of the art-commerce axis despite conditions being against the best interests of all parties.

Artists have a continuum of choice regarding their relationship with art and commerce.  One end of the continuum is to maximize commercial value without regard to artistic content.  This extreme commerce technique is called Thomas Kinkade.  The opposite end of the continuum is to maximize creative content without regard to or even an attempt for monetary remuneration.  This extreme creative technique is called Vivian Maier.   There is an entire spectrum of gradations between the Thomas Kinkade technique and the Vivian Maier technique. 

Artists choose where to place themselves on the art-commerce spectrum.  Each individual should choose according to their own values.  Feigning ignorance of the mechanics of the art-commerce axis will not facilitate an informed choice.    

Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. - Ecclesiastes

Even Ansel has to earn a living - Ted Orland


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