|31 Mar 2005 @ 23:48, by Tom Bombadil|
An Art question and...a question of art:
When does selling one's services become prostituting oneself?
In so far as Art is concerned, and judging by this definition, the question would appear to boil down essentially to what is deemed "worthy" or "unworthy" (i.e. how much one retains of one's integrity in the process.)
This, naturally, leaves a lot of room for interpretation—an ambiguity, I am sure, that most artists have had to examine for themselves, at one point or another of their life. But, ultimately, it is something one "knows" for oneself. Unless, of course, one would rather not know and chooses not to.
Understandably, the question is (or should be) of concern to artists. And, I must add, to non-artists alike. The difference is mostly one of semantics anyway, as one might argue that everyone is to some degree an artist, at the very least in the way one chooses to live/craft one's own life (call it esthetical existentialism). After all, one might as well also ask, just as legitimately, whether working as a clerk for Wal-Mart or as a white collar in some big corporation is or isn't prostituting oneself.
It all depends on where one's heart is, I suppose. "Follow your bliss" as Joseph Campbell used to say. That sort of things. But, clearly, things are not as simple as that.
A lot has been written about this, and history is replete with famous artists (the starving ones and those who "served" wealthy patrons or "protectors," and also the clever one, like Dali, who were successful at exploiting the system and managed to turn the table around).
This interesting essay (This Is Not Art) on inu.org ("staring into the abyss since 1996") sums it up nicely:
My best friend Marc is an artist, and a very good one. He is perpetually struggling with what I call the Money Questions: How should he sell his work? How much should he focus on selling his work, as opposed to creating it? To what extent is an artist dependent on promotional skills, as opposed to creative skills? And, most of all, is it possible to be an "artist" if no one sees what you do?
Marc is trying to make a living from his art. I am not. Therefore, at some point, Marc will need to sell himself. It's unfortunate, but true. However, selling oneself is not the same as prostituting oneself, and I believe that there is a Rubicon here, which Murakami and Warhol have both crossed at various times.
But, things are not always that clear cut. The photo above was shot by famous photographer Olivieri Toscani for United Colors of Benetton.
I have picked it because I think it is powerfully evocative. It is beautiful and I like what it says.
Oliviero Toscani came, at the time, and for the entire campaign he ran for Benetton, under strong criticism for mixing social activism or commentary with advertising, and was accused by his detractors of "selling his soul" (i.e. "prostituting" his art on the altar of consumerism.)
Toscani however felt differently about it and didn't think he was only helping peddle manufactured goods : "I am not here to sell pullovers, but to promote an image... Benetton’s advertising draws public attention to universal themes like racial integration, the protection of the environment, Aids..."
The inherent danger here, of course, is when such images, as are built by advertisers, do not match reality and are unwarranted or unrelated to what the company does or is really about.
The other side of the medal, on the positive side, is that, on the other hand, building such idealized expectations, often forces companies, who have built their reputation on such images, to live up to their image, and this makes them in turn accountable to people who will call them up on it.
There is little doubt that Oliviero Toscani's photos have made Benetton famous throughout the world. Yet, the United Colors of Benetton's campaign, and the controversy surrounding it, has allowed Oliveiro Toscani's photos, and their message, a wide amount of exposure it would otherwise not have known.
Who is serving whom? There is no easy answer.
All the same, as the warning goes:
"If you must dine with the Devil, make sure you bring a very long spoon"