Where is the line?

What does it mean to be a sellout in art? As many already know, there is a fine line that must be walked between homelessness and preserving a reputation. Just ask Thomas Kinkade; the evil mastermind who convinced millions of suburbanites that they needed an uninspired picture of a house in their house. Sure, he might be worth millions, but is his work in any respectable gallery (besides the one at the mall)? His “work” is always the same, a house in the middle of the woods with a bunch of trees and random animals that looks good next to your U2 Cd collection. His work is the result of countless minions painting along with machines that press out thousands of prints a day.

Although Kinkade is clearly what many would call a sellout; rabid fans could argue that he is just following the footsteps of the greats before him. “Hey, how can you make fun of Kinkade’s factory when Warhol had a team of workers assembling giant Brillo pads?” “What do you have against a cute baby deer?”. The answer is that deers are kind of cute, and that Warhol was a cutting edge avant-garde artist.

Andy Warhol and the advent of Pop Art explain how art is related to consumerism and marketing. Before this 50′s era, any self respecting artist wouldn’t be caught dead mass producing products to sell. Warhol pioneered this movement originally with his Cambell’s Soup Can work. While many discounted this as trash, his work was making a bold new statement on the crass consumerism of America with a striking design of everyday objects. Or as Warhol famously stated, “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.” Essentially, although he was mass-producing, there was meaning to this business. For example, his giant Brillo Pads brought attention to overlooked everyday objects and brought a new significance to them. He was very select about what art was mass-produced at the same time; one thing that comes to mind is his refusal to do pillows.



Andy Warhol’s Cambell Soup Cans

This movement eventually blew up with the emergence of hundreds of other pop artists such as Lichtenstein and Raushenberg, and became an accepted art form. It has evolved and is still present in today’s art world. One person that comes to mind is Takashi Murakami, the famous Japanese artist. Only someone like him could sell key-chains and little toys while at the same time have works going for hundreds of thousands of dollars (hey…at least it isn’t anime). His shows often feature prestigious works next to an add for his new line of YSL handbags. When asked about the line of commercialism and art, he retorted, “I don’t think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line…In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But that’s okay—I’m ready with my hard hat.” His works often criticize the Otaku culture and Japanese society while at the same time being sold at dollar stores; a dangerous and bold combination.

To go full circle, the line can certainly be redrawn, but it must be done carefully. A keychain might look cheesy, but as long as it has meaning to it, all the better for allowing someone poor to access your work. While a deer might look pretty, any kid in a high school art class can make a pretty decent one, but not everyone can be the next Murakami.

Murakami’s Handbags