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THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE SELLOUT

Occasionally, I hang out with other artists and designers. And occasionally, when I explain the many things I do and companies I work with, I get a bit of a side-eye from said people. It passes quickly but for the briefest of moments I can practically see it flicker across their face, that ugly word… “Sellout”. After a few years of encountering this, I thought I would share my point of view on the subject. Allow this apparently jaded sellout to explain to you what out-selling is really all about and why you probably aren’t the artistic anti-christ.

BIG FAT MYTH #1  ARTISTS AREN’T SUPPOSED TO MAKE MONEY

Now, no one will admit to thinking this, but there is this pervasive mindset that to be true artist, one must be starving. This is, of course, ridiculous- we live, we love, we laugh but this isn’t a free world. I know the old “Crawl into an alley and die of alcoholism” trope is a popular one for artists, but it’s not exactly realistic. And if you won’t be considered cool until you’re dead anyway, then what’s the point? They often say certain artists were “unappreciated in their own time”, but I’m sure if you could ask those dead folks which lifestyle they would have preferred, it would probably be the more successful one.

CREEPING, SNEAKY MYTH #2  SELLING YOUR ARTWORK AT A DISCOUNT OR IN MASS QUANTITIES IS BAD BUSINESS

Now, this one makes a bit of sense at the outset, but let me pose you a question: Why shouldn’t art be accessible to everyone? This elitist point of view won’t make the public appreciate art more, it just reinforces the stereotype that great art is only for rich people. Keeping nice things out of reach of the masses doesn’t benefit society. Everyone should be able to have art in their life, even if it’s just on an iPhone case or a desktop wallpaper

CONCERNING BUT ULTIMATELY UNLIKELY MYTH #3  DOING COMMERCIAL WORK WILL STRIP YOU OF YOUR CREATIVE RIGHTS

While some companies may seek to own intellectual property (and this is why one should read contracts very carefully), most do respect the rights of artists and want to help you make a name for yourself. Communication and openness is key. If you have concerns about your creative rights when entering into a contract, voice them. Don’t be afraid to ask the client to dumb it down for you so you know what you’re getting into. If it sounds iffy, you can always turn it down.

COMPLETELY LUDICROUS MYTH #4  IF YOU’RE NOT LIVING OFF GRANT MONEY, YOU’RE NOT A “REAL ARTIST”

I am going to put this bluntly- If you can’t make your own money in the creative field, there’s a chance you’re just not good enough or the market for your particular brand of “genius” just isn’t there. Either way, the notion that we should give more respect to the starving artist who sells maybe 2 pieces a year over the person who makes art that hundreds or even millions of people enjoy, is nonsense. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for grants- it’s the best way to get grand, large-scale public works done- but they’re not intended as a substitute for a living wage.

ANGRY, FROTHING MYTH #5  IF LOTS OF PEOPLE ENJOY IT, IT MUST NOT BE VERY GOOD

In life, there are some universal themes and cliches that nearly everyone enjoys. Watching good triumph over evil, a well timed joke, and the colour blue to name a few. Taking advantage of this to produce something people want isn’t wrong, it’s what we were put on this earth to do. To make things that people can enjoy and appreciate for a lifetime or perhaps many lifetimes!
Being able to create something from nothing is special. It is a gift. It is a talent. Please don’t squander it by avoiding opportunities for fear of “selling-out”.
Now, perhaps you’ve read all this and you’re asking, “But Sam, if those things don’t make you a sell-out, then what does?” To this, I’d say, “Well, you’re a very strange person for speaking out loud to a website but luckily I’ve anticipated this.” See below for a simple questionnaire that will determine your SQ (Sell-Out Quotient).

SAM’S SIMPLE SELL-OUT SURVEY

  1. Have I stopped doing what I love and enjoy?
  2. Have I compromised my major creative beliefs/vision/morals/hot body in order to make gobs of money?
  3. Do I have more ill-gotten cash than I can ever properly spend or donate to charity?
If you answered “No” to all of the above, congratulations, you’re not a sell-out! Let’s have a keg party! If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, well, maybe you should sit down and have a think about that.
Of course, I suppose all this can be in the eye of the beholder. So what do you think? Let’s start a (polite) dialogue here!
PERSONAL NOTE: I wrote the meat of this post back in July, long before this Gawker post showed up. Moral of the story? Do things when you first think of them or someone else will beat you to it!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. roberutsu says:

    There are different types of artists and different ways to make a living, and being a ‘sellout’ is just one of the viable options we have in our modern day culture. What other century has yielded a profusion of creative industries and as many creative jobs for artists? Also, nobody goes around telling our accountants that they are math sellouts. I think it’s a silly term, brought about by people who are perhaps unhappy in their own situations.

    In my personal encounters, the most discriminating are those who are floating around the bubble. The people who are truly in the arts industry have found the right balance for themselves. They are always kind, supportive and non-judgmental about how other artist choose to make a living and find fulfilment.

    Then again, I have been told that I am annoyingly optimistic.

  2. Sam says:

    Ha, thanks for the comment Robert. I kind of want to call accountants “Math Sellouts” now though! I think your overall assessment regarding artists is spot-on. You’re a clever cat.

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