Debate: Is Selling & Marketing Your Art Akin to Prostitution?

Marketing art

In my article Artists, Are you Consistent? I have asserted that an artist whose work is more consistent is more likely to experience sales and gallery success. While most of you agreed with or at least understood where I was coming from, several have expressed opposing views.

I welcome the conversation and enjoy hearing the alternative perspectives. One comment in particular sums up an attitude that I run into frequently:

Everyone can buy into the commodification of the soul if they like. Money and sales are great if you are looking for a way to rationalize your impractical choice for a career. Of course, having food on the table is a perk to creative prostitution. But everytime, I will choose being true to myself, my personal creative journey and not the journey prescribed by salesmen and so-called “art lovers”.

We all need to go deep into ourselves, search, experiment, and if we find the toe on a body of work that captivates us, then we need to operate by doing what our intuition tells us to do.


Exhaust one concept, one style if that is what you need to do. Or let the chaos take you. Whatever the case, let’s resist the urge to buy into the gallery desire to turn us all into a recognizeable commodity where our talents are diluted, sold into slavery, or worse, custom tailored to fit into the category of “safe investment” for a gallery patron.


Staying True to Artistic Vision

Obviously, this reader has a strong opinion about remaining true to his vision and maintaining his integrity by refusing to bend to the demands of the market – in this case my call for continuity of work. However, though Mario clearly disagrees with my post, I actually agree with much of his underlying sentiment.

I have found that most art buyers purchase art because they have made an emotional connection to the work. They felt something when they saw the work and the artist seemed to speak directly to them through the art. I firmly believe that an artist can only communicate at this level if they are creating what they are passionate about – that they believe in. This is especially important to develop a long-term following for your work.

I would simply argue that there is value in cultivating your passion into a consistent body of work.

I can understand, however, the concern that the moment you start to think about “the market” and about selling and marketing your art, you may begin to compromise your artistic integrity. As a gallery owner, I see my role as creating a buffer between the artist and the market. This way the artist can focus on creating his/her very best work. While I will have conversations with artists about the marketplace and sales, I don’t ever recollect trying to dictate subject matter or style to the artists with whom I work. Whenever I’m asked by an artist if I have any requests for subject matter, I respond, “Whatever most excites you.”

Not Mutually Exclusive

Where my opinion diverges from Mario’s is in the attitude that it is somehow impossible for an artist to make a living by creating good art. And that “having food on the table is a perk to creative prostitution.”

Yes, many artists have sacrificed and suffered to create art that was ahead of its time. But many of those artists have eventually enjoyed financial success. Their ultimate monetary success doesn’t diminish the artistic success of their work. I will grant that there have been many great artists (think Van Gogh) who never experienced success in their lifetime and some not so great artists who sold very well (think . . . okay, perhaps I shouldn’t go there).

I maintain that creating great art and selling and marketing that art needn’t be mutually exclusive. This is especially true now, when it is possible to reach a diverse market through galleries and online.

What Do You Think?

What do you think – is marketing art prostitution?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Marketing is often difficult for those of us who create art perhaps because of the passion and sensitivity we feel while working. Yet it is essential to learn how to grow beyond the studio, since those who buy art need to see the passion within the pieces we create. Earlier this month, my husband and I walked into an Albuquerque, N.M. resort’s bar after 10 hours on the road; I did not have iPhone or iPad with me, but carried business cards. On the spot I sold the painting on that business card to a collector from a southeastern state. And we have been corresponding ever since, as the man and his wife are interested in seeing more of my work. And I am following your advice in “Starving to Successful” to the letter, Jason.

    1. Mary – How exciting! I would love to know the size of your business card that seeing an image on it would end in the sale of that very image. I often think of having an image of one of my paintings on my business card but since my work is so finely detailed I can’t imagine it would capture the essence of what I do. I love to know more!

      1. Hi Polly,
        I have my paintings on one side of my business card. When I present my cards I fan them out like a deck of playing cards and ask the person to choose an image. What they chooses gives me insight into what they like. It’s a great way to follow up with a link I have put together with similar paintings for them to view. Good cards start with good images and because business cards are small the images printed will capture the images well. The company that I use is Their website is easy to use. They have excellent customer service. Great preview of your work before you order and they have a reorder function so that I don’t have to re create what I want but can edit the order to add new work. They also have a small order size for when you just need a few things printed. I have sold work from my business cards and people remember me by the artist with the great cards at events.

        1. I loved your post, because I do exactly the same thing! I photograph my own work in very high resolution and have several images available on business cards at all times. I color co-ordinate the background of the card with each image and have them printed locally at a very reasonable price. (since I do all the graphic work on my own cards, there is no charge for design; I only pay for the printing). I also fan out my cards when presenting them to people and let them choose a card; their choices are always very informative. I sometimes have the most popular images printed on magnetic stock and people can take them home and put them on the fridge, where they can enjoy them and keep my info close at hand.

      2. Dear Polly, A standard business card with a vibrant hummingbird sipping from a flower…the man was an art collector and he loved my style.

        I have sold more art in person, though, than any business card.

  2. Finding the balance in marketing art and being true to oneself in creating art seems to be very important. I totally understand how gallery directors are more drawn to consistency from an artist………just makes the art clearer and easier to sell and buy. (I was a gallery director at one time) Consistency seems to be more of an issue for the presentation of the art itself.

    Personally, I find this issue challenging. My artist statement is: Hearts, horses, women, moons, abstract….. all the same. I am painting the heart/heartbreak, joy/beauty/pain, and the personal/political in this life we live. Always, wanting more and deeper. So, I question whether my lack of consistency is apparent in my painting, so called, different subjects. Would I be more successful if I just painted abstract? Or horses? How to make art without compromising my artistic integrity and still sell art. The confusion is very often in the studio with me.

    1. Horse art sells well at horse shows like dressage shows, and some of the larger mul;ti-disciplined shows. Lots of women are ardent horse lovers, so i would be willing to bet you have a ready market at those shows…though i could be wrong…

    2. I too paint many different images. From animals, to iconic foods (on the easel today is a 1950s TV dinner painting), landscapes, still life, cocktails (big market), et cetera. I don’t find doing a wide variety of images hurts sales. They all sell consistently. What I strive for is consistency in my style. I want the viewer to recognize me that way.

  3. Your work need not be consistent or the same style to feel the similarity between marketing your work and prostitution.

    My work has been displayed on the internet market for a long long time, and I have been approached by many sites (who all want that dollar bill), that they claim to be seen more than all the others. The truth of the matter is that finding artwork on the internet is easy for the collector, and it’s impossible to be seen for many artists. Moving my work from one site to another would be like moving my needle to another location (LOL…or street corner), in the proverbial Haystack…The Collector may never see it because of the saturation of art out there. And My work is so rare, search engines only work when you know something actually exists…I mean…Whoever heard of Lightning Sculptures??? I get hundreds of Compliments, but if I want sales…I have to stand on the street corner and Call out to the people.. (lol) Hey..Lookey here…see what I got??

    The worst part of that is…I am disabled and can’t walk very far, moving my work around is near impossible…Talk about an impractical career, That’s me. I need help, but like a prostitute…(lol)…I need to rely on my (Work”s) looks and my persistence… and that’s hard when you have trouble walking.

  4. To answer your question “is marketing art prostitution” I respond with No. Not at all. Nope and good grief, get a grip! One of the definitions of ‘prostitution’ is: The corrupt use of one’s talents for personal or financial gain. Since when is selling your art ‘corrupt?’

    I think there are 3 kinds of artists: the hobbyist [makes creative ‘stuff’ just to be self-expressive]; the purist [this person thinks their creative efforts ought to be recognized by the gods on Olympus]; and the working artist. All of the artists I am acquainted with are working artists…most do not make a living with their art, but they do sell. None of them feels as though they are ‘prostituting’ their creativity simply because they sell their completed works. I used to write about small business and it is my contention that working artists are also small business people…they have to be. I like the term ‘artistpreneur.’ The working artist creates the work, markets the work, sells the work, does the bookkeeping and pays the taxes and maybe…just maybe…there is a profit in there somewhere. Van Gogh was fortunate to be financially supported by his brother. We’re way past the days of art patrons so we purchase our art supplies through income derived by other means [a job, a spouse’s job etc] and hopefully through the sale of our art. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

    1. Very well put, Linda! All three are artists. Period. (And clearly you have a history of being a writer – couldn’t have been more succinct!)

    2. As a working artist, I have found that, for me at least, my art is a conversation, a way of connecting, with myself first and with the viewer second. A work of art is not completed, for me, until it has found a connection with another person and they want it as part of their lives. That connection is also part of my creativity. If all you are expecting is to throw your soul/art to the wind and expect it to find a hospitable home you are fooling yourself. I am very uncomfortable marketing and yet the rush that comes when someone connects with a piece of art is worth the discomfort of “marketing” your art.

    3. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I encountered this ridiculous concept of “selling your art equals selling out” in the university. There, creative people who felt they sold themselves out to be teachers instead of being full time art entrepreneurs promoted that trite saying. They regarded themselves as purists who created art for art’s sake. Some expressed regret ultimately for that decision as they gave exit speeches when they retired. Others expressed their anger at being stuck teaching and took it out on their students. Still others stole the ideas of their students and promoted them as their own. Competitive jealousy from the teacher and students was felt when I, as a student, sold a plein air work made in a class I was taking. All of this type of reaction stems from a false notion that if you are successful there is no room for others to succeed. I have even seen this false notion promoted on advertisements seen while watching the Olympic Games. Again, it is FALSE. We connect emotionally with our art with people of like mind and there are millions of people who just might respond. Selling is just a potential perk of that connection made. It is not selling out. My success, or the success of others, does not limit the potential for success of anyone else. Others don’t fail because we are successful. They fail because of their own limited thinking.

    4. I totally agree with you, Linda. Especially with your definition of the three kinds of artists. As a working artist, I admit that besides the great enjoyment I feel when creating my paintings, I REALLY, REALLY enjoy it when I sell them. And as a result I continue to paint images that are consistent and recognizable as part of my “brand.” All of this gives me joy in spite of the purists who look down on artists like me and my motives.

  5. Once while painting a mural on Indian School road, a person stopped, sat and watched me for a while, then proceeded to tell me I was prostituting my talent. I asked him what he did for a living. He was a starving artist living at home with his mama. We had this very conversation youve instigated today. I told him I was widowed with 4 children. Would it make him feel better about what i did if i instead worked bagging groceries at Frys? (that is what i did before i diacovered i could make a better and much more fun living as an artist).
    Ive spent 30 years now “prostituting” my art.
    There is something i do though. Against your advice, i creat what I like. Mostly I paint murals, but I also do oils, paint cool stuff on whatever thing I like (currently Im painting a guitar) and LEARN tons in the process. And i charge money for what i do except for 2 projects a year for charity/tax writeoffs.
    Also if i dont like a potential client, i will either decline the job or charge double. Haha. Im my own boss so if i want to be “passive agressive girl”, i can. How glooooooorious!
    If i loved math, would i be prostituding my talent as an accountant? According to this thought process, I would. Talent is talent and passion is passion, whether it involves painting, child care, numbers, carpentry….anything. We are most fortunate to live in a place and time where we have the freedom to pursue our passions to make a living.

  6. I live and work as an artist in Australia. I’ve often contemplated this issue, and have tried hard to stick to my passion no matter what. I am a contemporary landscape artist whose basic work reflects my emotion to my subject, what it makes me dream about, how it makes me feel, and if I can express this in a painting hopefully other people feel it too. I have had reasonable success selling my work over the last few years, but these last couple of years sales have dropped off somewhat but I still have what I call dribbles. The art market in Australia is really suffering as a whole which is a shame, and I don’t think the rest of the world even thinks about art coming out of Australia other than Indigenous art, and even this is suffering right now. Getting back to the question, for myself, I have explored different landscapes within Australia, desert, coastal, but each time I strive to respond to how it makes me feel. I admit to trying to find something unique about how I do it, and for a time this received a good response, but just more recently I am having terrific fun just responding to the landscape with a free wet on wet process which I am finding very exciting, without thinking necessarily about the theme, just enjoying the process of paint and free expression. My question is, is this not an honest response to painting? Why do we have to try and reinvent the wheel, when there is good merit in producing a good work that has energy and appeal in the way it is painted? I’ve painted like this in the past, more so when working on site, and am sorry I diverted from this for a while. Glad to rediscover my passion for paint and crossing my fingers I get a good response. I do have the support from my galleries which is great, those I work with are very good people and very supportive. I agree with your comment wholeheartedly, paint from the heart and people will relate to it. That’s been my experience too. If you find the passion in what you do, you have the ability to keep going with it. If you can keep going with it, it is because you have found an unending passion which is truthful and that’s what comes through in the work.

  7. I love being consistent. Why should my desire to create beautiful, sellable, consistent works of art be any different or lower than someone with lofty ideas and a lighter bank account? I don’t think Picasso, or even more modern day artists that are definitive / recognizable by style and subject matter like Bev Doolittle, are apologizing for their saleability and consistent body of work.

    Not all artists are still “looking” for themselves. I know who I am, I know my talent, and I love my life. I have had many medical challenges in my life where I have been told that I wouldn’t make it, or couldn’t do this or that etc. I feel that these early pushes in the dawning of mortality really forced me to find what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and created a series of goals for my life rather early on. The luxury of exploring throughout ones life was pushed into a much shorter period of time in which I used to figure out these questions. I have since lived on and on lol despite my previous operations lol and now I am perfectly fine. I am lucky to have been forced to have had a much more aggressive time frame in which to produce, explore, and figure out what I enjoyed.

    Artwork consistency and saleability through galleries in my opinion is a much more mature frame of mind garnered by those who are excited by their work, knowing what they want to produce, how often, and how to still push themselves to become greater with each new piece. Prostitution is a form no matter what arena you apply the term to of having given up all hope in bettering yourself, your life, and your quality of living. You cannot apply this term to artists who are actively participating in life and selling their art which they may love to create and sell.

  8. I disagree with the statement made above…”Prostitution is a form no matter what arena you apply the term to of having given up all hope in bettering yourself, your life, and your quality of living. You cannot apply this term to artists who are actively participating in life and selling their art which they may love to create and sell.”

    There are some similarities between prostitution and Non represented artists selling their work, in that Non represented Artists must approach and search out clients on their own. (The similarity is an aggressive “no holds Barred” sales method). It has extremely little to do with whether the artist has given up hope of bettering themselves, but rather continuing to pursue sales in whatever venue they can find to accomplish the sale no matter how difficult the task. I very much LOVE my work, both in the creation process and the outcome. If I never sell one, I would be content to enjoy them, but would love for others who might enjoy them to have that opportunity.

    In my opinion, just because an artist is refused Representation, does NOT mean that their work is inferior or lesser than work within the walls of a Gallery. I feel my creations are much more unique than some, I simply need to do the best I can to sell it.

  9. Prostitution is such a loaded word. It implies that the artist is giving up some important, sacred part of themselves in return for filthy lucre.

    A person can never pay for an artist’s sense of creativity, aesthetic, or vision. You can’t give that away or sublimate it to someone else’s dirty, pawing hands.

    The funny thing is that many artists who sell regularly, who do very well financially, make things according to their own vision, and the client buys because of that vision. The artist, over a lifetime career, cultivates a collector base that loves them, their vision, and their body of work. The artists who are savvy are the ones who invite those collectors to show their appreciation through financial support.

    It’s not “selling out” (let alone prostitution) to sell your art – it’s the best way of enabling yourself to make more art.

  10. I certainly don’t think selling your art is in any way prostitution. However, I do have trouble with consistency. Is it enough that my paintings are almost uniformly quite colorful, using lots of reds and oranges and sharp contrasts? The subject matter, often landscapes, but also people and animals, veers between somewhat realistic to more or less abstract. I’m preparing a new portfolio right now for submission to some galleries, and having a heck of a time trying to decide what to include. I could use some advice. Anybody – feel free to chime in.

    1. I’m having the same problem with the term “consistency”, Barbara. I consider myself an experimental artist and love to try out new techniques and ideas. I’ve done a series on my family’s experience as Holocaust survivors combining some of these techniques that gave me some success at exhibiting and winning prizes. I’m working in a more abstract fashion at the moment and I’m not sure what “consistency” means for me now. Does it mean that I should limit myself to one topic as I did in the last series or only experiment in one direction at a time. I’d like to know what you all think on this topic as well.

  11. Is marketing art prostitution? Oh my, that is such a painfully naive and insulting statement!

    When the reader says that his art is “my personal creative journey and not the journey prescribed by salesmen” — he is, in fact, marketing himself. He is creating a branding identity about his approach to art, sending it out into the world, and hoping the world accepts it and responds. That is all marketing is.

    And of course, it is perfectly fine for an artist to choose to not market their work. But that doesn’t mean they need to mock and insult those who do.

    1. Daniel, you are right on about the quoted artist marketing himself.

      You are also right that we all have a choice – to market or not market.

      Finally, we can keep making and marketing our artwork, while ignoring the insults and spurring one another on toward more good work.

  12. Great discussion! I see merit to all sides. But, I find some niggling gut reactions coming up… Art marketing is not a black and white issue. There are countless varieties of galleries just as there are artists. Some are better than others. The downside of the consistency issue is that all things change— including the public’s taste in art, which means that over time, one artist is out and another becomes the newest sales star. Another aspect that I have witnessed is some artists seem to churn out work, soulless manufacturers of a particular style in order to maintain representation and sales. It’s really not good or bad. It is what it is. I can’t do that myself (I become bored), but I watch their consistent churning of inventory with some amount of awe, ever hopeful I might figure out how to quell my rebelliousness and settle down to “the business” of making art.

    1. I think the artist is lucky Kristine, when they are able to latch onto something which their heart really enjoys, and that they are prolific with. That seems to be a big problem for many artists.

  13. When I’m painting I imagine that I’m painting this piece for someone who needs to connect with the energy that is flowing through me while I am painting. While I am immersed in the creative process I am also aware that art is a vital form of communication. “What am I experiencing, what am I wanting to express, and who am I communicating with?” I have learned much from this concept. I do not paint for money because I know that I will be provided with all that I need. I paint for the “process” of what is happening to me while I am painting – of what I am learning about myself and how I am communicating through the process. I put a lot of “Love Energy” into every painting so that energy will attract the person or persons who need to experience it. In other words, “The process belongs to me, the Artist and the painting belongs to the person for whom I painted it.” And part of my job as an artist is to make the paintings available for the person or persons for whom I have painted it. They may or may not want to own it – to take it home with them, but they benefit from having connected with it. I cannot begin to tell you how many times this has proven to be true – whether the work is show in a gallery, an artists co-op, a street art festival, or a bank or hair salon or the local library. When someone walks up to me and says “This painting really speaks to me.” or “I have never bought a painting before but I feel like this one is meant for me and I need it.” or “If I were rich I would buy this painting right now!” (In that case I have been know to give it to them and one such person looked me up years later and paid me twice what I was asking for it at the time!) So I show my work in every way that feels right so that those people can find it, even if it’s virtual shows during a pandemic or posting it on Facebook. It’s really the same thing as what we call “marketing,” but the difference in how I define “marketing” has made my intentions pure and has provided for me abundantly for the past 10 years since reframing my marketing “strategy.”

    1. Thank you, Judy. This is how I feel too. I always think I am creating a painting for someone else. I learned a long time ago that I don’t paint these things to hide them in my closet. They are to be shared. And if I didn’t sell them where would I keep them? They need to move on to the homes of people who will love them.

  14. I have come into contact with hundreds of artists over the past 25 years. I’ve never met one with the sentiment that is expressed above and while you’ve seen more than one of these kinds of comments Jason, I believe these artists are in the minority. Most would be absolutely thrilled to make a living while creating with passion.

    Your approach to working with artists is fair, leaving much room for their vision.

  15. I’m offended by the question. I need to make money to pay my bills, and I’ve found that I can sell commissioned art (mostly ketubahs) very nicely. I love and honor this work. Besides supporting me, it supports my art practice of creative work that I do for myself, which sells occasionally, but not reliably. I learn a lot and grow my skill set with commissions, while providing my clients with art they value, that tells their story and brings them joy. Art is my profession, my job and my avocation.

  16. A big part of success for most any artist relies on marketing. There are some artists who are painting purely for pleasure, and creating beautiful work. Other artists are driven to express ideas and emotions, and enjoy experimenting. This can take the public longer to purchase, as they want to understand the artist’s mindset. When there is a consistent body of work in front of the viewer, it helps the customer digest it all. When that same artist is all over the place, constantly changing, the public gets confused and will loose confidence in the artist. From a sales / marketing perspective, consistency is a key to success. For the sincere artist at heart, it cannot all be about sales. An artist should always be growing and evolving. As a gallerist, my advice to any artist wanting to experiment to try to maintain some sort of identity in your work. Don’t mix one series up with another series in which the style is a radical departure from what you were doing earlier. I listen very carefully to the public, and try to understand what it is that the public connects with in an artist’s work, and what it might be that may prevent a sale. It is up to the artist to determine what they want to do with that information. Great artists in the past were aware of elements in their work which worked for them, and which did not. Taking advantage of that knowledge is not selling out.

  17. Marketing and selling trends are on authenticity. We, artists, are offering the best product possible for a successful mix!
    My second thought on this is that prostitution can also be a very noble profession 😃

  18. How incredible it would be to simply stay in the creative zone, follow your muse, and not have to think about all those mundane things like buying supplies, marketing, selling, shipping, accounting and paying taxes… and yes, putting food on the table.

    While in the Creative Process, I completely understand the writer’s sentiments. However, once a piece is finished, it’s time to put on a marketing hat – that’s business!

    In all seriousness, if marketing feels icky to an artist – they aren’t doing it right!

  19. I find this question an absolute affront to EVERY employee doing paid work.

    Is a doctor a prostitute because he wants to heal people and get paid for it? A Walmart employee who expects to get PAID for working a shift? The pilot who expects a paycheck for flying you safely to your destination? A business owner who wants to feed her family? A musician who publishes his songwriting and gives concerts? For MONEY?!

    Everyone has dreams of accomplishment so why is art any different? I find the whole premise offensive. Is the laborer not worthy of his hire?

    Please ….

    1. Agreed. Offensive, including to sex workers, and I find that the concept is dying out. Or maybe my environment has changed.

      What we are really doing with marketing is finding our perfect home for our work. I’m thrilled that there are people who love selling as well as those who love painting. And I’m thrilled that they help me find that perfect place.

      I’m loving these comments!

  20. This spurred the memory of some preposterous conversations 35 years ago. A group of artists were talking about our “artistic vision”, and when asked, I said, “making money” ! Yes, I was called a painted street-walker of the night. However, having satisfied customers for my work and living independently on its sales (semi-independently at other times) is a powerful validation for me personally. I do have an artistic vision that strives to create images of a long-gone America, and I hone and sharpen that vision. I do understand Mario’s point that we have to remain true to our calling. In my opinion artists should not support any notion that money is not important to us, as artists. The public already wholeheartedly subscribes to this fallacy. Sometimes I take commissions I do not enjoy that much, but I look at being an artist as a profession as well as a calling. It is, after all, a job, and one we are all very fortunate to have, even when it challenges us.

  21. According to this metaphor, I am both the prostitute and the pimp, lol. I think it could be applied to anyone selling the results of their labor, whatever the labor is. As long as it remains my choice to do so, and not something I feel enslaved to do, it doesn’t bother me.

  22. Okay.
    One size does not fit anyone. Those who dare to produce material expressions of their ideas know this deep inside.
    Like in every case of a niche population like “artist” or “lawyer”, etc. Success is undefined and that population sees a breadth of “success”.
    It is true that each individual practicing producing material expressions is truly a group of one. Look at the responses and you will see that clearly. Nothing, including Jason’s question, is universal and he was spot on in calling this a debate.

    No one that I saw in the remarks so far mentions “Why they are in the studio.” I don’t need to read the answers but it would help the debate if we each referenced that we have a reason. Otherwise, it’s very easy to make pronouncements.

    Every artist I know has a process- good bad or indifferent which includes how they act on their why.
    As a hypothetical. If my “why” is “to express my ideas in visual form so I can see them”, I would not care about any of this conversation and I might even offer my reason for making art as some sort of universal.
    A second scenario might be, “I have the ability to make images that others respond to and I need time to do that precluding a 9-5 job to provide food. shelter and art materials. I need an audience willing to support me. this would be quite different.

    Consistency has to be measured across time and production. it is not something that one sees up front. it is through a bit of contemplation that “consistency” emerges. [I found some early work I had done a long time ago as I was rebuilding my website. It was amazing to see the germs of ideas that decades later would belong in the context of new work.]
    Jason’s consistency list is a good road map whether you want to ever make a dollar. The reason is my case above.

    Lost in some of the conversation is the prospective collector and a general observation.
    The arts produce a visceral sensation for all involved.
    That sensation drives the individual to mess with materials.
    That same sensation in the casual viewer makes them stop their daily progress to spend time with the image.
    And. it is what prompts a welling of emotion, turning the viewer into a collector willing to expend energy and wherewithal on acquiring the work so they can continue to enter that emotional state at will.

    For what it’s worth

  23. When I was a lot younger, I worked at a Kinko’s across the street from a high end gallery whose director was a regular customer. I eventually mentioned that I was an artist and he invited me to stop by with my portfolio. It was actually my first experience offering my work to a gallery. The work I showed him was all over the place, lol! I had watercolor landscapes, pen and ink drawings of animals (stippling, cross-hatching, graphic, etc), colored pencil, painting, abstract, realism, portraits, you name it! At the time I thought it would be a good thing to “show my range” like an actor would, haha! He gave me his honest feedback that if I wanted to be seriously considered for gallery representation anywhere, then I needed to narrow my field, to say the least.

    His comments stung a bit, but were invaluable in helping me to find a deeper artistic identity – the “why” of what I do. I almost immediately realized what was most important to me, and I’ve focused on that ever since, grateful that a straight-talker helped me to focus. A coworker and fellow artist was irate about the whole thing, telling me that the director didn’t know anything and to create whatever I wanted, but her reaction translated to me as insecurity, not artistic purity; the immature tantrum of someone that demands they are misunderstood.

    I know this comment is long, but what it comes down to for me is the symbiosis between the market and the artist. The trend of a consistent body of work selling better than otherwise comes from somewhere. Isn’t it possible that the reason behind it is an intuitive recognition of a mature artist that knows themselves, and that that’s the selling point? What some call prostitution, I think of as deeper exploration (phrasing, oops!) of one’s artistic self that collectors respond to. To suggest that this isn’t being true to one’s self seems ridiculous to me, as is the notion that I’ve “sold myself into slavery.” I absolutely paint exactly what I want, every time I pick up my brushes. I think that when an artist has learned who they are and know what they want to say, the consistency/recognizability follows, no matter how much they explore and experiment and grow.

    On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong about everything. I could just be lucky that my artistic journey somewhat meshes with marketing trends, like a cisgender person who has no idea what it’s like to question one’s sexuality, and so doesn’t understand what the problem is.

  24. Am I the only person thinking that in this era of crazy art markets, wild auctions, duct taped bananas, and Banksy’s that prostitution might be a hell of a lot easier than being a working artist?

    Seriously, after making art for more than 45 years in various fields, I know two things:

    1. Like prostitution, it’s ALWAYS a hustle of one sort or another to live life making art. And, yes, the satisfaction and validation that comes from selling one’s art can make you want to look for the next one after that, and hustle even more.

    2. If you work from your heart and stay true to your own vision, your work will be consistent. And often the market will find you. Sometimes that’s sooner, sometimes later.

    I have a big mouthed inner critic. She has plenty to say but in the end I find I need to ignore her and do what I want to do. And that stuff can be very marketable and oftentimes, less so. I still do it, though, and it always looks like MY work. When your work is “identifiable” as yours, there’s a lot to be said for that.

  25. Anyone who imagines that being an artist — regardless of how you perceive or define “success” — is in any way analogous to prostitution should spend some unpaid time with actual prostitutes.

  26. It’s funny to me that delving deeply into an idea, producing a consistent body of work with that exploration and supporting yourself by selling the results would be seen as some sort of creative straight jacket. This has not been my experience at all as a working artist. I do believe that once you start doing something for money, things change somewhat, but that change has a lot to do with how you approach your art and is not good or bad necessarily, just different. You alone have the ultimate control over where your work is going, regardless of whether you are selling it or not. A love of what you do and the ability to make a living at it are not mutually exclusive, and there is no gun to your head making you continue with an idea if it has played out. It is a delicate dance, and maybe not the easiest one, making a living as an artist, but doing so does not mean you are prostituting yourself by default.

    I’ll have to leave it there, there are johns to find and tricks to turn.

  27. So, I guess a singer, musician, actor are all prostitutes too? You are not a prostitute if you market and sell your artwork. I think this entire argument is ridiculous. Create what you are passionate about and let the chips fall where they may.

  28. Prostitution? Really? Think of all the other occupations that involve creating. That would be pretty much everything on a certain level. Art is no different. We all expect to pay for those products. Its the fundamental way it works. We are creating a product too, now whether is appeals to the general public, is a different story. There are lots of creative products that are highly specialized and sell well. So our specialized styles should be not different. Its just finding your niche.
    Its easy to be true to yourself & also be profitable. I really cannot get my head around artist’s thinking that you have to suffer or not try & sell your work to be true to yourself. To me, thats an old way of thinking that just holds you back. We are all fortunate to live in an age where we can offer our works to the entire world audience. Nowadays there are so many options to choose from to get your work out in front of people. Does it take some organization & effort? Yes. Is that selling yourself out? No. Its sharing your unique talent with others. if it speaks to some of them & they want to have it on the walls of their homes to bring joy to them daily? That is a wonderful thing, that is the purpose of art, sharing it. If your art hangs in a public building bringing light & personality to a business space, giving people there a moment’s break from work into beauty, how can that be negative in any way? How can that be a form of prostitution? Its not. Its getting your work out in front of as many people as you can, cuz you can.
    I myself have no problem with marketing my work. I see it as an important part of the process of creating art, the end of the process, sharing it. What joy can it bring sitting on my studio floor?
    If I happen to make some good money in the process, good for me! Its a small reward for all the hours of work and effort, research & learning to make myself better. When Someone chooses to spend their hard earned money on my art it a huge compliment for me. Its a strong validation & makes me want to create more & sell more. Also, it helps pay for more supplies. All a win win in my world.

  29. ~ Jason – I have found through out the years, offering my work for sale – I have had to wear TWO different hats. I have also found the situation of the market being in or out in Original Work On Canvas or Drawings On Paper – changes with the over all economy . At this time I’m not showing or selling from my Studio – I am now a ‘vendor’ showing some of my inventory of work @ a Village Antiques shop in Houston. Following my intuition and lowering prices while placing my Original Work into a new home to be enjoyed by the collector . . .

    Your question is ‘interesting’ and call my strategy – ‘What-Ever’ . . .

  30. If selling ones art for a profit then anybody who gets paid for a job of any sort is prostituting themselves, especially if they love their career. Nobody is going to call a nurse, doctor, engineer, architect or server a prostitute.It merely is an exchange of cash for ones goods and time as in any career. Therefore honorable and honest.

  31. If you make money with your art you have sold out?
    If you don’t sell your art, you may be an artist but not a professional one. You have a lovely hobby.
    It is up to the artist or their agent to find/make a market for the art.
    If someone creates art for a specific market, do they become commercial artists? I think that is how it works in photography. There is a case to be made that the work there is not fine art. A case might be made that this is selling out, but I would call it something else.
    I don’t understand where their opinion comes from other than antiquity. I know I cannot afford to adopt this.

  32. Years ago, I was at a Joni Mitchell concert, and all the audience was yelling out songs they wanted to hear. Joni said she was going to play as many as there were time for, and then complained that it was much better to be a painter because no one ever asked Van Gogh to paint Starry Night again! But I bet if he was as famous as he is now, they would have. No artist wants to just make copies of what they have already done in the past…they want to create new work. But the new work should have enough of the artist’s personality in it, that there is a connection to work done in the past.

  33. Funny, I am constantly painting, producing and looking for places to place and sell my work. Being fortunate to have retired with a good pension, it still is a great feeling to make sales and be paid for them. Yes, the extra dollars are nice, but the fact somebody loved my work and felt it had value is also a great ego boost for a guy who decided to become a pro artist just as Covid reared it’s ugly head. It’s a tough endeavour though, and the painting is the easiest part for sure, but the positive always overcomes the downside. And I have experienced a ton of setbacks…almost to the point where I could could write a short book I think.🤣🤣

    As far as the prostitution part, I think that is just BS coming from those whose constantly put a negative spin on life!

  34. Creating art is similar to sex and prostitution. First you’re doing for fun, later for friends, and finally for money!!

  35. Everybody lives within their own paradigm. If an artist chooses to sell his/her creations, for whatever reason, why would anyone begrudge them, and accuse them of prostitution?

    Perhaps because they have deep felt resentments, insecurities, or worse yet, an inflated ego about their own art?

    Maybe nobody buys their art, so they resent others who sell theirs.

    Maybe they have insecurities that turn-off buyers.

    Maybe they think their creations are wonderful, when everyone thinks they are lame and banal.

  36. Selling my work is the thing which allows me to keep making my work. Hard to come home from long hours at a physically and emotionally taxing job (teaching 2nd Grade), and still have energy to change gears and get in the creative zone. Did that for years before cutting the cord. So glad I did.

  37. Christopher Roche said, “I think this entire argument is ridiculous.” Yup.

    Back in university, several students transferred from schools in the north east. They brought with them some pretty good skills; they also brought with them that negative idea about prostituting one’s art. (They had several other nihilistic views which I learned were very “in” at the time.) After hearing them talk, I spent the walk from one class to another thinking over what they proclaimed and came up with “I think their entire argument is ridiculous.”

    Haven’t changed my mind in all the years since. I’ve known quite a few artists and writers. They do what they do because they want to and they deal with whatever comes their way. That’s the way it should be.

  38. No, not at all…..!!!! As long as there is a “Happy Ending” for both sides of the sale…..!!!! Unfortunately, most image-makers (photographers) price their images too cheaply, and that’s when selling your images becomes prostitution and borders on being a whore who just gives it away for their own self-satisfaction….!!!

  39. First, let’s think more largely about sex work and recognize that the term prostitution is pejorative. Using that pejorative sense to cast the exchange of money for our creative output is the crux of the disagreement. Sex work can be art, too. That is, when what is exchanged is understood by both parties to be worth more, and about more, than money, we can see it as a variety of social conversation. Many commenters here made the point that what is really being exchanged is an emotional connection and that sometimes a viewer will give money to own the original piece of art. It certainly is frustrating when we haven’t found the audience large enough to support us exclusively through our work, but we have to remain secure in the idea that following our muse through the wilderness is the correct path.

    In our society money has become the medium of exchange – it’s how we convert our life energy into a trade-able currency. If we still had the patronage system a few of us could be fed and housed in exchange for painting the portraits of royalty. Many of us are in monogamous relationships in which sex is shared but we don’t think of it as a transaction, though some do even then. Ideally, in our relationships we share an emotional connection even more than we do the physical one. Outside of these relationships a market exists where money is exchanged for physical and sometimes emotional connection.

    So both fine art and sex work are constrained by economics to use money as the medium of exchange. Just as sex work occurs in many levels of intimacy across that physical/emotional spectrum, so does fine art. If we accept it all as valid, as having a place in our social conversation, then we can move beyond the pejorative attitude toward either art or sex work. Maybe those who feel prostituted when thinking about taking money (someone else’s life energy) in exchange for their work (an item imbued with their own life energy) can feel more secure when thinking of it in this larger sense.

    Finding an audience willing to patronize our creativity is the challenge, it’s not whether we’re pure in our pursuit of our muse.

  40. I cannot believe this is actually a question. If the answer is yes, doctors, scientists, medical researchers, teachers, soldiers, police … EVERY profession is prostituting themselves. What, those people work for free regardless how dedicated they are?

    Please ….

  41. While I know what you are saying is correct, I must ask when should one decide to go this route?
    I did art in high school, then sotpped after I graduated and married an older lady with two kids and “went to work.” After some 45+ odd years, I was able to return to doing art, (I returned to college and tooke some art and photography classes.) My background has been in abstract painting, but I found myself gravating towards doing “expenrimental” things with sculpture, mixed media and photography. This is resulting in pieces that are consistent in their technique/style in “groups” as opposed to the total package.
    Is there a way “out of this merry-go-round?”

  42. Since all art prior to about 1800 was commissioned art – there was not even a concept for imagination or creativity in those times, only technical skill – this idea means that every single artwork that is celebrated today… works like the Sistine Chapel, Rembrandt’s portraits, Boticelli’s Venus, etc. etc. were artists “prostituting” themselves. Utter nonsense. The challenge for every artist, then or now, is to walk the tightrope between their artistic integrity and their relationship with the marketplace. Ignoring buyers is a quick route to starvation and if you do that, you might as well be a hobby artist. If you wish to actually be a professional, which means selling your art and hopefully making a living at it, then you must acknowledge a buyer of some kind or another. If you only think of yourself when you paint, it’s easy to fall into narcissism and who needs that? Try to think of someone besides yourself – even if it’s only one other person when you pick up your brush. Art is a language, and papinting is about communication, not merely self-expression. If you paint with that intention, your market will expand.

  43. Why not sell your art? Do you want a garage/basement full of used canvases?

    Is selling your cakes and cookies prostituting your baking?

  44. I remember when Jason posted a way to create a brochure in Google Docs. I also create an e- brochure that I email and text to my clients with another method, this way I’m right in their pocket. With so many people having their noses in their phones today I find it very easy for sales to take place.

  45. Is Selling & Marketing Your Art Akin to Prostitution?
    No, of course not. Everyone is selling their work in some way. I agree that selling is a different profession from that of the artist, and that should make us think of ways to resolve this. But if there are none, the artist must somehow sell his work and not sell himself along with his art.
    Depending on the gallery and its practices it can be normal, or wrong. When the gallery accepts any kind of work because it is paid to do so, it is bad and can be called “prostitution”. But if the gallery curates the works and gets paid for shows it can be acceptable, with the condition that its profits are in a decent range of 30% let’s say, less than a big name gallery. I believe that good work gets noticed no matter where it is put up for sale. In any case, the sale needs attention; the choice is related to everyone’s moral compass.

  46. Am interesting discussion. Two things come to mind. First, my paintings are inspired by jazz, and a line from Miles Davis sums up much of what this discussion seems to be about: “You have to play a long time to learn to play like yourself.”

    And from a graphic design pro I often worked with in regard to my writing: “If somebody asks you to do something you don’t want to do, think like a hooker and charge a lot.”

    For my money as an artist, it’s been important to learn over time just what kind of art I want to do (large colorful acrylic abstracts), and to understand that it is not worth it to me to do the kinds of art that sell better no matter how much I charge. I’m quite aware that abstract art about jazz is not going to fly off the walls, but it’s my life and my work, and I’ve sold enough to know that there are enough buying folks to keep me happy.

    For artists who do commissions, which I don’t, this could be a different story.

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