No one has ever said it better (or with more “oh yeahs!”) than my junior high cassette tape favorite, Reel Big Fish. From bands to designers, photographers to celebrities, the concept of “selling out” has plagued artists for as long as we’ve paid them to entertain us. My trusty home page, Wikipedia, defines selling out as:
The perception that someone is compromising their integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for money or “success” (however defined).
The topic was brought up over pizza and pinot grigio last Friday when I sat down to lunch with one of my favorite photographers from LA. He recently signed with a small agency (6-8 photographers) and was describing how good it felt to be represented by someone who really “got” and respected his aesthetic. “Because most of those LA agencies,” he said, between heaping bites of margherita, “they just put you through the machine, you know? You sell your soul in exchange for a big paycheck and the ‘opportunity’ to shoot a bunch of boring celebrities.”
That was this photographer’s definition of selling out. For an actor, it might be taking on a string of uninspiring roles because the numbers on the checks are just too good to pass up. For a designer, it might be creating diffusion line after diffusion line until he realizes his original collection of “basics” now includes tennis skirts and feather boas. Clearly, it’s not always that black and white, but it is a question every artist must ask at some point. What do I care most about: art, money or fame? Or is there a way to achieve all three?
Being guilty of calling someone a sellout in the past (the band Phish), I thought back to what it was exactly that made me so angry the first time I heard “Heavy Things” on the, gasp, RADIO?!?! Was it the subsequent increase in concert ticket prices? The sudden appearance of riff raff “posers” who hardly knew the songs? I’m still not sure, but I could never shake the feeling that the band was becoming more interested in money or fame than the fans that got them to the sellout-able position in the first place.
Referencing a column of mine a few weeks back, I think the only thing an artist can do to grow his brand, retain his fan base AND pay rent (and then some) is to stay true to his original point of view and to try his hardest to avoid the slippery slope that only leads to Googling himself in his free time.
What do you think? Just remember, we can’t work in fast food all our lives…
The Fashion Spot’s Editor-at-Large, Julie Bensman, is also the Entertainment Editor for Niche Media, whose titles include Gotham, Hamptons, Ocean Drive and LA Confidential. Closed Set is a collection of her musings on all things fashion, from an editor’s desk to your desktop.