Fine Art & Commercial Art: The Discussion Continues

In the last post, I tried to define the similarities and differences between commercial and fine art. This time we will carry the conversation forward and talk a little about art history, and try to squelch the animosity between the two and possibly begin to define art itself.

Looking back at the early history of art masters, we can see how they were actually Commercial artists.

“…let’s not forget what we often call fine art now, was, for the most part, commercial art when it was created. The Sistine Chapel is a wonderful example of exceptionally well done commercial art.” Tim Bruckner

Michaelangelo, Bernini, and even Leonardo were the masters of commercial art in their time. They worked for the Church for the most part. There were guidelines and deadlines to follow (although many times those were ignored or changed by the artist). These guys did the work they were hired to create. It was many hundreds of years before artists started creating work solely for themselves. Over the centuries, the great masters of commercial art were incorporated into the history of fine artists (mostly because of the mastery of their craft).

In our previous discussion I described fine art as: “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.” In this definition we get two things. One, Fine art is thought to be ‘art for art’s sake’. Two, the word ‘fine’ does not (necessarily) denote the quality of the work, but rather the purity of the discipline. And it’s in this second part that we see how commercial art is “Fine” art, because of the technical ability and mastery of the discipline.

Over time, the idea that the word ‘fine’ somehow represented art created for art’s sake and excluded things that were done commercially became the norm. However, by that point, all of the old world masters had already been incorporated into the ‘fine art’ world.

In this discussion, my hope is to blur the lines and begin to remove the animosity that exists between artists on both sides. In order to do that, we must first reach a mutual level of respect. So let’s talk about art as a whole. What is art? That question has been asked for centuries and it will continue to be asked. I  don’t have any delusions of being able to define art in such a way that all will agree. But I  do hope that we can at least get a little closer.

“Art is art. If you believe art is a pile of dirt in the middle of a gallery floor with plastic baby heads buried up to their painted eyebrows. It’s art. If you think art is a life sized porcelain portrait of Michael Jackson and his monkey, that’s art. If you own a Jon Matthews statue he created for DCD (DC Direct) and see it as art, that’s what it is. High brow, Low brow, No brow. It’s all the same.” Tim Bruckner

Art is that which we perceive to be as such – This has been the general consensus for almost a hundred years now. So, so you believe that’s true. Let’s remove the idea of value and quality, since those are variables that change significantly from one work to another and from one artist to another. Let us also focus on the visual arts as things can get confused if we start discussing music, literature, dance, etc.. Let’s focus on the basics. Is something art if I perceive it to be so? Are there stipulations that have to be made? Like, it must be crafted, or physically created in some way. Does it need to speak to something greater than itself (social commentary, or an expression of emotion)? These are things that we define for ourselves when looking at something that we believe is, or are trying to classify as art. I’ve always felt that art had to say something. That it had to speak about something greater than itself. But then I looked at the work I was creating as just studies, or sketches. If seen by someone else, they might have seen it as art. They might have brought something from their own experiences into the viewing of the work and applied meaning to it, which I didn’t intend to be there. Suddenly this thing which I held in low regard (and not as art), takes on meaning in someone’s eye’s. So my definition was forced to change. I’d like you to comment on what you believe art is or isn’t (remember, let’s keep it to the visual arts, and try to form solid arguments so that it can be discussed intellectually and not emotionally).

Finally I want to talk about the animosity between the two sides (commercial and fine art). I have experienced both a welcoming of the two sides and I have been witness to the arrogance of both sides. It has always struck me as strange when a ‘fine art’ sculptor sees what I do and somehow looks down on it. Like it is somehow less important or requires less skill than his/her work. Although it is more rare the other way around, there have been a couple of instances. So why does this animosity exist and is it getting better or worse?

When asked this question: Do you think there is any kind of animosity between the two fields and if so, what do you think drives that? I received these answers.

“I haven’t experienced any, but I’m sure it’s out there.” Joe Menna

“Yes and no. The fine art world may not take the commercial world seriously, (it can be a bit snobby) and really, there are just two different markets with different people valuing ‘art’ on different levels with varying degrees of crossover if any.” Damon Bard

“Of course. Money. Arrogance. Small-mindedness. Proprietary protectionism. And a whole lot of bullshit.” Tim Bruckner

Galleries like Galley Nucleus and others are starting to blur these lines and remove the animosity by curating shows that embrace the popular culture. Toys, masks, special FX props and sets, cartoons, comics, etc. These are all subjects of shows that have been put on by leading galleries.

“Popular culture dominates Western society and I think it’s reflected in the art it creates” Joe Menna

I will be part of a show next year at Galley Nucleus that will be a Harry potter tribute show, to coincide with the final chapter of the films. It’s this type of show and gallery owners who see the value in commercial art and don’t try to pigeonhole it into a category that is somehow ‘less than’ other art forms.

I’ll leave you with this final quote from Tim Bruckner, which I think beautifully sums up this discussion.

“It (the lines between fine art and commercial art) is blurring at a very encouraging rate. Magazines like Juxtapoz, High Fructose, Blue canvas are helping disassemble the notion of what is fine art. There’s a whole network of galleries all over the planet dedicated to alternate or Low-Brow art. That popping sound you hear is a group of Fine Artist’s pulling their heads out of their asses. Art is art. As miles Davis said about music, there’s only two kinds of art; good art and bad art. All other labels mean nothing.”