The Prostitution of Art (which could also be stated as the commoditization of aesthetic intimacy between artist and audience) is a complex issue; due in part to a subjective and divergent definition of art, along with a lack of consensus about art’s societal function. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a living from selling one’s art; however, the degrading aspect is when an artist compromises craftsmanship and/or artistic integrity in exchange for personal gain; i.e. wealth, fame, etc. I have been told numerous times during my 40 plus years as an artist that it is easy to remain virtuous and idealistic when you’re not facing starvation. To which I reply, “The lack of commercial success has tested my commitment and challenged my fundamental concepts about art; and yet, I continue to believe some endeavors have an inherent, transcendent value which makes them worthy of personal abnegation (sacrifice, self-denial).”
If an artist does not strive for excellence, nor attempt to communicate a message which awakens or edifies, then the result is usually fad or fashion and little more. I sometimes use the analogy of comparing greeting card sentiments with literature when helping people understand art. Greeting cards usually have a maudlin expression which may be adequately crafted, but they are rarely challenging or transformative. Similarly, a majority of the population in our culture desires a quick, shallow artistic experience that entertains rather than edifies (not that entertainment and edification are necessarily incongruent). This general trend of superficiality presents a challenge (and an opportunity) to the artist; one that requires our interaction with the public in a manner which clearly espouses the benefits and virtues of art. If our culture is to experience an aesthetic (re)awakening, artists must realize their responsibility and embrace the role of exemplar/advocate.
Our rich artistic heritage has been fostered by those who took risks and sacrificed much to refine their skills, explore new territories and express profound concepts. It isn’t their cleverness, inventiveness or notoriety alone which merits our adoration; they also exhibited discipline and life-long dedication to their artistic values. The question remains: Are we up to the challenge of building upon their legacy or will we allow art to become impotent – with minimal impact and marginal relevancy? As artists, we should be compelled to honor our ascendants by continuing to infuse art with vitality, pursue conceptual clarity and strive for excellence; all while expanding our artistic boundaries.
Perhaps the Prostitution of Art is as much about compromising the virtues of art as it is the selling-out for monetary gain.
Gary A. Bibb - USA