Morgan Williams
While most artists seek to remunerate themselves for their efforts, this isn’t always the case.  Similarly, not all commercial artists seek money for their creations.  When I was studying Graphic Design in the 80s we were often called “prostitutes” by the Fine Art students who shared our building!  It is true that most graphic art is centred around promoting products or services and fine art is about exploring ideas, beliefs and expressing a creative vision.  The fine art world has, however, had commerce and its influences at its core from very early on.
The commission of artists by those of means to depict their wealthy lives as a status symbol goes back hundreds of years.  And the use of symbols to describe or identify religions and their ideas also goes back to ancient times.  All these visual depictions were created by artists who were most likely paid for their skills and efforts.  Similarly, countless social issues have required the skills of an unpaid graphic designer or artist, everything from civil rights movements to environmental causes fall into this category.
The most popular artwork created for free in recent times would be the “Hope” poster by Street artist Shepard Fairey, supporting Barack Obama’s election campaign in 2008. Ironically the work later became controversial due to copywrite issues surrounding ownership of the source photo by a commercial entity.  Street Artists could still be considered the only artists who don’t consistently seek payment for their efforts.  Ironically, one of the most popular Street Artists of our time has managed to make millions from their work while remaining anonymous in the process.  Banksy explores a wide range of anti-establishment themes via street art which becomes a form of promotion, enabling him to derive income from merchandise, exhibitions and auction sales.  A few years ago, I went to view one of his UK works on the side of a boat, which had already been removed and placed in the Bristol Museum. Unfortunately, the Museum was closed the day I was there!  Similarly, another of his works I saw in NYC was obscured by Perspex and surrounded by security cameras to “protect” it.  The relationship between art and commerce is beautifully illustrated by Banksy and his art practice.  Charity stores have made thousands when he places art in their stores.  Similarly, people unwittingly purchase his work for a few dollars at his pop-up street stalls later to discover they own a Banksy!
Occasionally, artists exhibit at Radius without the intention of selling their work.  An artwork by Ryan Kennedy provoked lots of attention last year during our annual landscape exhibition.  His small piece of wattle stapled directly to the wall and surrounded by a frame covered in red dirt was priced at $1,200.  While there were many comments about the value of his piece, I assured all those interested that the price included installation in their home by the artist.  Early this year, I was surprised not to sell my own artwork; I thought my 80 year old claw foot bathtub full of plastic bottle caps for $751.75 was well priced. Perhaps it was that one claw foot was missing from the bath that hindered its sale.
The dialogue between art and commerce and the value we place on creativity is a constant reminder of the values embedded within our monetary system.  We all rely on the creative mind to be present – to ask us to examine, question, explore and provoke.  Supporting those minds is at the core of what we do at Radius.  If you have the spark of an idea or a body of work ready please reach out via our application form or drop in for a chat.
There are still a few weeks to checkout our current show, “Spoontacular”.  Then we are having a little break over the depths of winter.  Of course, there’s always lots happening in the gallery: everything from live music and performance to movies, pop up dance nights and tai-chi to keep those winter bodies moving.  Visit our site and follow our socials for more information.
Morgan Williams is the co-director with Kim Percy of Radius Art Space. His art practice spans a 30 year period and explores a diverse range of mediums and topics.