Selling Out

People used to accuse artists who took the corporate dollar of ‘selling out’. It’s a phrase that seems to have fallen from fashion, perhaps because art has become so aligned with entertainment in the popular imagination that it’s hard for people to see what  ‘selling out’ out even means any more. Why would you criticise an artist for selling out? Isn’t the whole point of making art to have something to sell?

‘Sell Out’ has never been an entirely fair form of abuse to throw at artists. Like that other standard insult of those who seek to dismiss the value of art, ‘Pretentious’, it’s both true and irrelevant at the same time. All art is pretentious…until the point where it isn’t anymore. The difference is often no more than a sliver of perception. Artists who want to continue making art have to find ways to sell what they make to someone. And so the many compromises of the professional artist (like the professional anybody) arise.

But is your art anything more than a product to sell? Do you actually have something to say, or are you speaking just for the sake of being heard? It’s OK to sell your art, but if the only purpose of your art is to sell, then you’re missing the point.



Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

6 thoughts on “Selling Out

  1. Many of the famous works we now consider art were commissioned and paid for, just as many of the beautiful objects now on museum plinths were created as functioning objects, not objets d’art. Could the notion of art for art’s sake be just a vagary of the modern age – something that willl be seen by future historians as a brief and curious blip in the record books?


    1. But, none of those great pieces were created purely for money. Leonardo Da Vinci was paid to sculpt David, but he used the opportunity to create a masterpiece in his own style. Artists are always made to smuggle their work under the noses of the people paying for it. 


      1. Was Leonardo accused of selling out when he sold the Mona Lisa to the King of France? I’m guessing he wasn’t. I think art has always had a commercial aspect. The current debate on copyright in the digital age – and the mention the proliferation of free content on the internet – could be turning that on its head. If so, ‘art for art’s sake’ may in fact be on the rise.


      2. The question the debate revolves around is, if art is not just another commodity, then what is it? I tend towards the belief that art is about expanding consciousness. On the whole its done that by being an object which people view. But I think art is becoming practice now. For most people in future art will be something they do, and something they watch / read / look at as a way of supporting their own doing. In the future we will all be writers for 15 minutes!


  2. “Do you actually have something to say, or are you speaking just for the sake of being heard?”Indeed-unfortunately much art, writing, music and almost every blog (obviously not yours!), however well meaning, is just noise (and not in a good way.)



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