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Art, collaboration & commodification

I spoke of the commodification of artistic creativity briefly in The value of art in society, and it’s a question I want to look into further – the compromise to the artist’s voice when it’s drawn into more economic systems.

For me, art is something that brings forms and images into new relationships so that by taking them in we may come to think differently about life, perception, reality or meaning. Artists can then serve society well by leading us to reflect upon life through their own well-executed observations and concerns. I suppose art itself shows us what’s important to a society, what matters or preoccupies our minds.

Historically I suppose that at some point this activity faced the challenge of how to find a home within an increasingly economic reality, leading artists into various relationships with those able or motivated to support them in what they do. And I imagine this then influenced the nature of the art produced, a development that tells interesting stories about modern civilisation and the course we’ve taken. Art in a way walks a path alongside society, religion, nature, our explorations of the world, and our perceived place within it.

Which leads to this question of the place of art within our society: is its essential function somewhat compromised by the roles it’s come to hold? I mean, if art offers this deeper level of meaning and understanding through how it works with realities, then what does it mean if it’s bought for certain ends? Can an artist be free in what they offer if their survival hinges on pleasing the public or those offering payment?

From a slightly different perspective, what does it mean to work with others creatively? Working ‘with’ others often seems to mean working ‘for’ them: lending your voice to another’s ends. Artistry often seems placed in the service of other agendas or products; whether that’s in lending an artistic eye to serve as a lens in entertainment or consumerism, or packaging a certain style into a branding opportunity.

In creative collaborations I find myself wondering to what extent either voice truly says what it would like to – there must always be compromises and conflicting intentions or perspectives. Outcomes may be interesting in what they do end up articulating, but it seems to me it’s likely a watering down of what the separate individuals involved would say; especially when one party holds the purse strings.

It’s interesting, because we also seem to want authenticity and integrity from artists; there’s often a demand that artists be free of external obligations, and a sense of ‘selling out’ when commercial concerns step in. It’s a fascinating contradiction, as within modern life it seems the role of the artist must be to stand somewhat against the systems of our times; so the fact they’re often dependent upon those systems for their livelihood is a challenge. How can you make a living without compromising your freedom? What can you lend a voice to without undermining yourself?

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