ART & COMMERCE
During his New York residency in 2013, the street artist Banksy, whose works sell for millions of dollars each, set up a street stall selling his art next to Central Park for sixty dollars a piece. It was half performance art, half social experiment, and he cleverly videotaped and shared it for all to see (click here to view). The hidden camera footage shows his iconic images displayed on a picnic table manned by a street vendor wearing a baseball cap. Tourists and locals meander by the table for a couple of hours.
His first buyer comes a few hours in, at 3:30 P.M. An older woman buys “two small canvases for her children,” negotiating a 50 percent discount.
At 4 P.M., a woman from New Zealand buys two. A little over an hour later, a man from Chicago who “just needs something for the walls,” buys four. With each sale, the vendor gives the buyer a hug or a kiss.
At 6 P.M., he closes the table, making only $420 for the day.
In June 2015, one of the prints, Love Is in the Air, an image of a man throwing a hand grenade of flowers, sold for $249,000.
On the surface, art and commerce aren’t clearly connected; if anything, they’re at odds with each other.
Art is the expression of human creativity and imagination, which produces works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. It’s gray and open to interpretation. It’s emotional.
Commerce is the activity of buying and selling, particularly on a grand scale. It’s black and white: either a purchase is made or it isn’t. It’s practical.
Prior to the industrial age, commerce was all about fulfilling a need. For example, you need to eat food for sustenance. Therefore, I’ll sell you a piece of bread or a glass of beer to satisfy your need. This transaction had no art; one person had the bread or the beer, and another had the money to pay for the sustenance to survive.
But as time went on, art crept into the equation. There were no longer only one, two, or three entities selling bread or beer, there were dozens, then hundreds, and eventually thousands. And the ones who sold the most made it about more than just fulfilling a practical or commercial need. They took it personally, infusing human creativity and imagination – aka art into the creation and sharing of their bread or beer.
Despite our efforts to be practical and logical, the truth remains that humans are emotional beings, and we all crave meaningful emotional interaction with other humans. We don’t want meatballs, we want Grandma’s meatballs; we don’t want a smartphone, we want to Think Different; we don’t want to go to any old amusement park, we want to go to the Magic Kingdom. The story, the art, the experience, the marriage of art and commerce, that’s what is critical to creating magic, and the emotional connection created through that art is what drives commerce in the modern market.