art and commerce



Maybe it’s the season.

I’ve been thinking about the commercialization of everything in our lives, from our values, to our love, to our well-being. Everything, it seems, is for sale. And everything is fair game to be used to sell us something. Right now we are being told we need to buy guns to protect our children. Children’s lives – a cynical tool to sell us safety?

If we break a leg or have a heart attack, we have to pay for it.

If we want to join hands and pray for peace with other people, you bet there is somebody who wants to sell us the perfect book or meditation cushion or crystal to help us reach enlightenment.

The other night I spoke with a good friend who is an artist. She had sold a painting that day. She said it was one of her favorites, one that would be sad to part with. And yes, she acknowledged, that was the business of art. To make the beautiful painting and then to sell it. For simply money. She’d painted it right from her heart, she said, a process that was rare and magical and ephemeral. An unsuspecting viewer stopped by the gallery yesterday not intending to purchase anything, but fell in love with this from-the-heart painting.

So money was exchanged. This is a sign of success in an artist’s life, to make a living by one’s art. Yet, my friend paused and noted how strange it was to trade her painting for cash.

How do we make peace with this uncomfortable terrain where beauty (or meaning, or life) has a price tag? How do we navigate this reality without becoming totally surfacey, materialistic, cynical?

The answers I see lie in process. The act of making the art. The ecstasy of snowboarding in fresh powder. The feeling of safety while reading a child to sleep in her bed. It’s the being alive-ness that is still beyond commodification, if we want it to be. We might have to buy a lot of things to get us up on the ski hill, or out in the field with the easel, or cozied up in a warm bed, or taking in a painting we just purchased and love – in every situation, the pulsing life of the experience is still there for us, beyond any commercial price.

Your thoughts?

3 Comments on “art and commerce

  1. It is my intent to make art that is then to be shared. The way I see it, the work doesn’t do any good to have it stay in the studio. I will confess that I have a very difficult time parting with some pieces, but parting with it becomes a lesson in letting go. Cash money is a system we have developed as an exchange of energy. Seems cold, but doesn’t have to be, especially if that cash is used in exchange for other worthwhile things…like contributing to Culture Front, so more rich discussions can continue!

    • Thanks, Kath. I appreciate your input on this. I hope to contribute some future thoughts after reading “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde, which Ben Read recommended to me.

      Happy – and fruitful! – New Year!

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