Those two words can send a chill down many a creative spine. But why do they carry so much weight? And why do other people feel that they’re in the position to pass this judgement on others?
I guess the first thing we need to do is clearly capture what the statement actually means. Wikidpedia states that selling out is “a common expression for the compromising of a person’s integrity, morality, authenticity, or principles in exchange for personal gain, such as money.” which seems pretty clear. However, one of the many listings on Urban Dictionary includes other statements such as “An artist which no longer does it for the fans” which to me raises more questions than it answers (and yes, I know that Urban Dictionary isn’t the best resource to look to for anything too factual or serious, but it does sometimes offer some unique perspectives).
What this does do is highlight that “Selling Out” is an age old and often emotionally loaded topic of discussion.
I once had someone call me a sellout for putting my art on t-shirts, which I found a bit strange but it did make me look at how people view different products in different ways. Is a print any different to a t-shirt? I grew up with a wardrobe full of band t-shirts picked up from every gig I ever went to, they were art to me, and I definitely didn’t consider those bands sellouts for selling merch to their fans. So that situation reminded me that when other people call someone out as a sell out they’re doing so based on their own experience and definitions, and unless you’re on the same page as them, you’re likely to disagree.
And you know what…. That’s totally fine. We all don’t have to agree on everything, and the internet would be a much nicer place if more people had that opinion.
So art on t-shirts…. I’m fine with that, always have been, so it’s not selling out as far as I’m concerned. Art has a much larger life beyond the traditional gallery walls, and I believe it should be as accessible as possible to everyone. However, if I had previously stated that I’d never put my art on clothing because I was morally opposed to such things, and then I did it, then I’d probably expect the “sell out” chorus to begin.
But you know what…. It’s also totally fine for people to change their minds.
They Fly | Designed and sold by Kaitlin Beckett
If we measure selling out by putting it against our own moral values, and not what’s expected of us by others, then I think we’re all on the right side of things for the most part. If you believe that you’re compromising your artistic integrity then it’s worth pausing to consider what you’re doing/why you’re doing it. If someone else is accusing you of such a compromise then it’s via their perspective and not something that you should feel obliged to react to.
So is selling out ever accurate or relevant?
Sometimes, especially if what you’re doing is cashing in on a movement you don’t believe in, potentially taking attention away from authentic voices that deserve to be heard. An example would be if you were to start selling shirts with political statements that you don’t support, especially if those designs are being sold elsewhere to raise funds. Selling out other people is a clearer thing to identify, but that’s a really loaded conversation that’s best left for another day.
For today I’ll finish by saying, with everything else that’s going on in the world right now, the best thing we can do is be kinder to ourselves and less judgemental of others. And if you see someone doing something you don’t agree with, remember that you don’t always know their circumstances or their stance on things, and it’s sometimes best to just look away and focus more on what you’re doing yourself.