Fine Art & Commercial Art: The Discussion Begins

First off let me thank you guys for supporting this blog, I know that many of you have created links back to this site, and i really appreciate that. Secondly, I wanted to let you know that new posts will go up every other Monday. I needed to make this change in order to keep up my productivity in the studio and to keep the blog from going on a more permanent hiatus. There are several interviews out in the world of cyberspace just waiting to be completed and shared with you guys, so I hope you look forward to those. And now, onto this weeks discussion.

This week I'll be starting an ongoing discussion about the relationship between "Fine Art" and "Commercial Art". I would like this to be an open dialogue, where you (the reader) will get involved and share your opinion. As the conversation moves forward I'll share some quotes on the subject from people on both sides. But for this first part, I'll focus on general definitions and my opinion on the subject.

So let's begin with an accepted definition of Fine Art: One definition of fine art is "a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness, specifically, painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture."

The word "fine" does not so much denote the quality of the artwork in question, but the purity of the discipline. This definition tends to exclude visual art forms that could be considered craftwork or applied art, such as textiles. The visual arts has been described as a more inclusive and descriptive phrase for current art practice, and the explosion of media in which high art is now more recognized to occur.

Before we move into the definition of "commercial art", let's talk a little about this definition. "The word 'fine' does not so much denote the quality of the artwork in question, but the purity of the discipline." This quote is important because it's where a lot of the prejudices begin (on both sides). I think fine artists and commercial artists have come to think of the word 'fine' as denoting that the work is somehow elevated above the rest. This view has caused a lot of animosity on both sides of the fence, because some fine artists have come to believe that the art they make is somehow "better" than any commercial art. This is a dangerous and foolish point of view. Specific works should be judged on that work's merit - not on whether it falls under one of the two categories we're discussing.

"Created primarily for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness." This quote is one that I think brings us closer to defining and blurring the differences between these two fields. I believe that fine art and commercial art are both created primarily for aesthetic purposes. What would be the point of creating a commercial piece of art that wasn't aesthetically pleasing. The artists creating either of the works (fine or commercial art), are always focused on the aesthetic of the work they create. "Judged for it's beauty and meaningfulness" is something that I believe begins to add a little separation between the two. Fine Art's purpose should be that of conveying a deeper meaning or message to the viewer. Commercial art can, and is usually, more concerned with the overall look of the work. When Batman is locked in battle with a foe, it's not really a commentary on the eternal relationship between good and evil (although it does need to convey the difference between good guy and bad guy), it's really more about how cool that fight scene looks. When an artist creates a work where he/she tries to put into form their angst, it's more about the message being conveyed, than how cool the piece looks. In this difference, we can begin to define the two forms of art.

So let's move onto a common definition for Commercial Art. Most commercial artists have the ability to organize information, and a knowledge of fine arts, visualization and media. Communication is often vital in this field. Usually, the art department is relatively small, consisting of art directors, perhaps an assistant director, and a small staff of design and product workers. Commercial artists work a variety of situations doing many things in the artistic world such as advertisement, illustration and animation.

"Communication is often vital in this field." In the definition of Fine Art we talked about the deeper meaning in the work. In Commercial art, the communication can be many things, but it's about connecting to the viewer and getting them to understand what's going on. An ad or sculpture created for the commercial industry has to be clear in it's message. We talked about Batman vs a foe and that's an example of how commercial art can communicate an idea without needing the deeper meaning or social commentary. There are however great commercial artists who, in creating their work, try to bring a deeper level of story telling to the piece. Let's continue with the Batman and his foe analogy. A commercial artist could include small details into the overall composition of the piece that would begin to tell you a fuller story. A rip in Batman's costume would let you know that the battle has been difficult and has already started. A bruised eye or wincing face on his foe, would let you know that Batman has already put a hurt on the guy. An open and empty utility pouch on Batman's belt would tell you that he's already had to use some of his devices, but the battle continues. We could go on like this, but you get the idea. There is a level of communication in these works that exists, if the viewer is willing to look a little deeper.

So where do the differences lie. It seems like they're both very similar and "Meaning" and "Communication" could be synonymous with each other. We know that commercial art is created by artists for a company for mass distribution. The artist is seldom credited (although that's changing more these days). A commercial artist is essentially a hired pair of hands with little to no ability to change the direction or look of a project. A fine artist creates for him/herself, with the direction and style of the piece being completely up to them. This difference is probably the most significant difference between the two fields. However, even in this difference there are exceptions. Fine artists take on commissions all the time, and when they do, that work (usually) must be approved by the person who commissioned it. This is in many ways similar to the relationship between commercial artist and art director.

Next time, we'll begin talking about the history of Fine and Commercial art, and the fact that many of the great masters of art (who are considered "Fine Artists"), were really the commercial artists of their time.

Please feel free to leave comments and questions below and let's continue this dialogue until next time.