Works of art fall into one of two categories: Commercial or Personal. Regardless of the stereotypes that are perpetuated by the elite or by the working class within the arts, commercial work isn't by default without a personal point of view and Personal work is not categorically created without a bias towards the commercial.
This dispute is always argued with so much conviction as to be presented as fact, when it is, after all, conjecture and perception.
The argument bottlenecks in and around the theme of money, which is emblematic of one of our most primal and essential emotions, greed.
I will begin there. Money corrupts. It is a metaphorical carrot that hangs from a silken string. American currency is the largest pyramid scheme ever conceived. It can be traced back to the silver certificate- a time when each dollar was literally backed by a reserve of silver held by the United States Treasury. Considering that you can grow the ingredients to make dollar bills and there is a finite amount of our naturally occurring elements such as silver and we already know that the dollar is emblematic of the insatiabiltiy of greed, this plan was fatally flawed from its inception. Now our dollars are not backed by anything, save the perpetuation of a belief system that it has physical value.
However; money has also served as a constant catalyst for innovation, growth, advancement of our civilization, and so on. This linen, silk, pulp, cotton, paper substrate is strong enough to keep a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. It's hard to imagine a more convincing physical manifestation of faith.
If the foundation upon which the initial argument is based is so unstable, how then can a decisive argument ever be derived about the value of one approach to art over another?
The reason that I bother to state something so transparent is to initiate a dialogue by which Commercial artists (wether they be illustrators or fine artists) can retain the integrity in their work as a reflection of the artist, not as one of the patron.
But my work is for myself. False. This is an arrogant and insular statement that has been perpetuated to allow for egos to be monetized. If the work is for yourself, then why show it? Why put a price tag next to it? Why would you ever sell it at all? The audience is necessary to activate the work. The nature of art is communication. It has always been, and it always will be. This communication may be direct, emotional, subversive, individual or any other adjective that choose to interject here, but it is communication nonetheless.
The Trojan Horse
Evaluating an individual piece of by an artist is an exercise in understanding how the elements within the defined picture plane relate to one another. Those combined elements are a collection ofstatements. You can learn a great deal about a painting by studying the sum of it's individual parts.
To truly understand the artist and the life that defined them, it is necessary to compare a body of their work. In that body of work we become aware of questions that lived outside of the canvases that were the catalyst for the statements made within the picture plane. A body of work is a collection of decisions.
If the impetus for an assignment is the commission, then an artist is given some clearly defined parameters. General content, size, width, timeframe, budget are generally established by the client. It is now the artist's responsibility to solve the problem as presented- that is to clearly articulate the statement. If a client is permitted to dictate the aesthetic, as well as the specific content and message, then the result is a product that is utilitarian in function. There is a great deal of commercial work that falls within this category.
The solution lies in defining the problem that you are trying to solve. An artist must have a global view of what they are trying to accomplish within their body of work. The first step is understanding Why you produce work. From this, a mission statement can be extracted as an answer to that question. From the mission statement, you specify intended outcomes; goals, tasks, methods, and ideas that will govern work that you create over an indefinite period of time. Finally, the clients problem are neatly tucked within yours. The result is a body of work with a definitive overriding theme that not only solves the needs of the patron, but also allows for a degree of insulation for your artistic soul.
There are two models that I present as an example of the heirarchy. If this model is altered, the result will invariably be owned by the external inspiration.