A case for commissions
I recently heard someone make a comment about commissioned based art. "Well, a collector asked them to make it. Does it really count if the artist didn't think of the idea themselves?" I can understand this opinion. If the artist didn't have the original idea of the piece does it lose some kind of theoretical value? That's what we are going to discuss in today's post - a case for commissions.
The God Complex
When you break it down I think this argument revolves around the God Complex. There was a time when artists were treated as skilled laborers and didn't even sign what they created; their art was considered a craft. Once we enter the Renaissance, artists started regularly signing their work and taking credit for their individual creative talents. Fast-forward to modern times and you see artists like Picasso and Jackson Pollock who are treated like rock stars, on the cover of magazines and the center of social circles. It's at this point in time that we started valuing the name of the artist more than their creation.
Pay the Bills
Every artist needs commissions. In the book On Collecting, artist Arthur Lopez writes, "An artist creates art to be collected and publicly viewed by collectors and museums." Artist Luis Tapia echoes this same sentiment later in the book, "The artist-collector relationship is a world unto itself, and I feel immensely privileged to be part of this world. I know I need collectors: an artist without a client is just a hobbyist." There seems to be an understanding that collectors and clients will make it easier to earn money and a reputation. This isn't a new concept either. Powerful families, like the Medici of Florence, were commissioning art as far back as the Renaissance. Artists like Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello were just a few they commissioned work from. Commissions allow artists to focus on their artwork without worrying about where they're going to get money.
I'd also argue that some feel uncomfortable thinking that an artwork is, at its core, an object for sale. In a perfect world, artists would spend their days dreaming up their wildest creations and collectors would float in and purchase something. However, artists are their own business and not a nonprofit. Some people start to feel uncomfortable when you remove art from its pedestal and monetize it.
It's a Commission
Many famous works of arts were commissions. I don't think this takes away any value or creativity from the finished product. Many of the examples I pulled fall into two categories - portraits of the commissioner or a specific theme requested by the client/church/company.
Tensions may arise if the artist disagrees with a direction the client wants to take. For example, Diego Rivera's mural Man at the Crossroads for Rockefeller Center in New York. Rivera was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to paint the mural with the theme: "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future." Despite protests from Rivera, Rockefeller ordered its destruction before it was completed. He hated the inclusion of Lenin and a Soviet Russian May Day parade (which Rivera refused to paint over). Only black-and-white photographs existed of the original incomplete mural, taken when Rivera was forced to stop work on it. Using the photographs, Rivera repainted the composition in Mexico with the title Man, Controller of the Universe.
There are also many examples of artists who worked in harmony with their patrons. Diego Velázquez was the official artist for King Philip IV of Spain's court. He lived in the palace and received the Order of Santiago, an honor of knighthood. Likewise, Gustav Klimt had great success painting the Austrian upper-class. He ended up painting not one, but two, paintings of Adele Bloch-Bauer.
Click the images below for more stories of famous works of art that started out as commissions. What do you think? Are commissions a necessary part of being an artist or do you think artists should try and avoid them to keep their creative integrity?