Artistic Freedom

Recently, I had a college art student contact me and pose an interesting age-old question about commercial art. The question posed was: what are your views on artistic freedom vs. commercial art? Below is my response.

Basically, a commercial artist is always available to freely pursue his own conceptual ambitions artistically on his own time as any fine artist can, but once he’s under commission to create art for a commercial project, his conceptual goals target the intended consequence of the client’s ambition(s). Does this stifle creativity? Not necessarily. It merely shifts the intent of the art. The artist still must employ his conceptual, compositional, and rendering abilities skillfully and creatively to produce the work intended. Can creativity be stifled under the employ of another? It can. Sometimes a client can assume part of the artist’s creative role by conceptualizing and directing various details of a project. In cases like this, which for me are thankfully rare, the client chooses to rely on his own creativity and conceptual problem-solving skills, well-honed or not.

When I think of the debate between the validity of fine art vs. commercial art, I think of Michelangelo. He was commissioned by the most powerful commercial organization in the world at the time, the Roman Catholic Church, to paint the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. The client’s required subject matter was limited to the Old and New Testament of the Bible and the history of the Apostolic Church, however Michelangelo still had the creative freedom to interpret, conceptualize, and render according to his imagination. It’s a commissioned work and yet considered one of the world’s greatest fine art achievements.

Instead of commercial vs. fine art, I think what we’re really debating is the integrity of the message or intention behind the art. We value an individual’s artistic expression much higher than we do a company’s artistic expression in the art world because a company has an underlying motive to make money. Terms like "sold-out" are sometimes assigned to artists who have a profitable motive. As a working artist, I wade in the abundance of freedom in the hundreds of open-ended choices I’m instinctively answering each step of the way on a project. Freedom is everywhere for me.

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