The Blog

Art vs. Commerce

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Every year, millions of people shop at Walmart -- but few of them are as inspired by what they find in the aisles as artist Brendan O'Connell. O'Connell, who has been the focus of several TV news segments and magazine articles, has been painting on canvas what he finds there: everyday household products like JIF peanut butter, Velveeta cheese and Wonder bread, as well as the people who go there to purchase them. O'Connell's subject matter is not dissimilar from that of Andy Warhol, another artist who made a career out of portraying the designs that our agency, and others like it, spend days and late nights creating as art. But do we -- or even the brands that engage us -- get any benefit or credit (or even compensation) from Mr. O'Connell for the subject matter that so inspired him?

In the age of Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, et al., there seems to be an ever-growing blur between art and commerce. Except for when it comes to the business (i.e., the money part) behind the creativity. There the lines become pretty black and white. While artists -- like illustrators, photographers and musicians -- who develop commercial materials continue to leverage business concepts around copyright usage and the like (Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer just made the billionaire's club), clients have put more and more demands on agencies in order to get the work they want for the price they want. Agencies generally perform under 'work for hire,' relinquishing ownership over final creative product (online you can get it for $399). It's a competitive environment, but creativity, at least quality creativity, continues to be commoditized.

Can anyone really divine how long it will take to develop a logo? More importantly, what will its worth be in market? One of my idols, the agency legend David Ogilvy, once advised prospective clients to "insist on paying 16% to your agency [ed. note: 15% commission was once a standard in advertising]. The extra 1% won't kill you...and you will get better service." I couldn't agree more -- but then again, I'm the agency.