Deep Thought Thursday: Commissioned art

Is commissioned art inherently of lesser quality?

Does the fact that you, the artist, must please another person with the work make it less important? Or does it mean that it is somehow tainted, impure?

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29 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Commissioned art”

  1. I don’t think the work becomes less important or less pure, it’s just much harder and not as enjoyable. There is always the concern about pleasing the person that hangs over the project like a black cloud. My husband and I are collaborative artists and we have done commissions in the past and tried to look at them as having another collaborator, but that just isn’t what they are. When we work together there is no sense of needing to please the other, it’s just like a dialog. With a commission, it’s completely different. It’s not an equal collaboration. The client is paying for the work and that gives them a more dominant role. Commissions always end up taking twice as long as any other work, and even if we have pleased the client, the feeling we get from the project is relief that it is over, not happiness with the act of creation. We’ve stopped doing them altogether.

  2. I would agree with Lynn on this question. Custom work stress me out to a certain extent, and in some ways I try harder to please, vs. just making what I want to make and putting it out there hoping that the right person will be attracted to the work.

  3. Not in the least! I actually enjoy doing commissions (although I don’t do them often). There’s something about thinking about the other person; who they are; what they’re connecting to in my work and thinking about the space that’ll hold the painting that’s inspiring. I’ve been lucky (so far) to connect with easy clients. It’s not hard to imagine, as Lynn describes, a challenging experience where the client’s expectations interfere with the creative process.

  4. Yes. No. And Maybe. I know artists that thrive on commissions and some that refuse to do it. And a lot comes does to the client. There are people out there who will like what you do and want you to make something unique just for them. And they will trust you enough to give you the freedom to decide what that is. And there are those who will ask you if you can change a brush stroke they don’t like. Questions in the realm of commissioned artists always remind me of the movie The Agony and the Ectasy. If you’ve seen it you know what I mean.

  5. Michael Lynn Adams

    Look at the Sistine Chapel for your answer. The sublime can be achieved under the worst conditions and the harshest patron.

  6. Depends completely on the kind of commission I think. I’ve only done a handful and all but one I had completely creative control. Most were based on a client liking a work so I had a jumping off point, but the biggest I’ve done was just a “paint us whatever you want, we’ll love it” assignment. 🙂 I’ve also had a commission that the client didn’t buy – mainly because I wouldn’t make additional alterations. I was happier not selling it (it sold later) though the gallery was rather perplexed by my decision. If a commission makes you happy, which is not to say it isn’t challenging or driving you crazy!, then surely you can still gain a creative sense of achievement from it? Personally I don’t, but I have friends who love doing commissions and get a kick out of it. It comes down to why a client is commissioning. Do they want a copy? Do their want what *they* want? Or do they admire an artists work and want just something that fits their budget/decor/wall size and have a trust in that artist’s overall approach anyway?

  7. Hi Alyson! I actually really admire all artists who will and can do commissioned works. I never do them because my art is created from an energy or inspired feeling that I do not have everyday, and I cannot just turn it on. I create pieces and offer them to the world. I am always thrilled when someone connects to them. Any one of my paintings can be a Fifi or a Harold. I love to meet people who tell me all about their dogs. It was a pleasure meeting you today. I love your book and tell everyone I know about you. 🙂 Melissa

  8. I actually prefer working on commission. There’s an energy I get from knowing that my efforts are in service of someone else’s aspirations. But I’ve been lucky in having clients who choose me because they want me to do what I do. And what I do is enhanced by knowing they are there, waiting to be inspired by it. I don’t know if this exchange of energy actually improves my work, but it certainly improves my attitude and enthusiasm while I’m doing the work.

  9. I think it is a special thing to be able to bring someone else’s visions to life. Ones that they can’t accomplish on their own. It is a good feeling to know that they want your specific artistic spin and talents on their wall or for a gift. It can be a challenge, but it is also a joy to see their face when you have successfully exceeded their expectations!

  10. I’ve both done and turned down commissions. The ones I do are the ones where I’m told: “We love your work, we would like something like….” and I take it from there. The ones I don’t take are the ones who expect glaze to be like paint and want it to match their (fill in the blank). Those I don’t take. It takes way too much psychic energy to try to meet demands rather than delight!

  11. Depends on how you define quality. Skill/technique? Pushing creative boundaries? Commission or not, depends on the piece. Anyone who has done commissions can tell you it’s no simple task, just different demands. I used to do commissions, but don’t any more because I wanted time to explore where I needed to go with my art. For me, the creative process is different because you are trying to include someone else’s vision as well. I agree with others say the difficluty all depends on the client demands.

  12. Alyson B. Stanfield

    I do think it takes a certain kind of artist to work well within the commission format. Some artists love them–feeding off of others ideas. For others, it’s too confining. And, it does depend on the arrangements and how those are worked out ahead of time. Remember: Always discuss every detail with the client and get it in writing. I don’t care how good of a friend it is.

  13. This is a great question, thanks Alyson. I think it’s interesting that there is almost a underlying judgement in the question “is it less important”. If time, energy and creative spirit were engaged to create a piece of work, than it does have value in the world. I have recently completed a collaborative commission for an older couple. They wanted a special piece of my art to hang in their bedroom. This was a great project, it offered me the opportunity to know my patrons much better. They shared some source materials with me, and I with them, and they respected my artistic decisions along the way. I found the experience positive in all aspects. I wrote about it on my blog Sharing Secrets:

  14. I think the commissioned works I’ve done over the years have been more personally satisfying than work done on my own. There is something about the challenge of working within someone else’s boundaries and still keeping my artistic integrity intact that is very stimulating! Not to say that it isn’t stressful, sometimes, but the assurance of a paycheck at the end compensates pretty well.

  15. My work is almost all done on commission. Obviously, I don’t feel that makes it less valid, but it does add the extra challenge of trying to stay true to your own “style” (and letting it evolve) while at the same time pleasing the client. I find that there are few things more gratifying and affirming than delivering a commissioned piece that goes beyond the clients expectations. Prior to accepting a commission, I make sure that the client has seen several examples of what I do, is aware of my parameters, and is not requesting something that I would not feel good about creating and delivering. Having said all that, in between commissions I do create work “just because”. My next step is to get going on marketing this non-commissioned work, also.

  16. I think of commissioned work as hiring an architect to design my house rather than buying a cookie-cutter already built home. I specialize in animal portraiture and clients hire me because my work, palette, technique, etc connects with them. Each painting is an adventure for me and I have experiened everything that my fellow artists have commented on. This is not a niche I sought, but found me. I like to communicate with my clients and several have become friends over the years. As demand for my work grows, so do my prices. Who else is going to give me a raise?! I sell my personal work at national shows and galleries. I continue to stimulate income through my wholesale business of notecards and prints that I have developed and marketed from my constantly growing portfolio of animals. If a client chooses not to buy the world-wide rights to their commissioned piece (which my contract offers) then they are aware the image may be used in advertising, retail merchandise, etc. It is wonderful to stimulate future income from an already sold piece of work for years. I have never believed that a commissioned work has less value than another painting. In fact, I believe a customized work of almost any kind is more valuable because it truly is one of a kind.

  17. I think if an artist has a tinge of feeling compromised they should not do commissions. I am black and white when it comes to making art, make what you love completely or do something else.

  18. Off topic but related, what would you do (as an artist) when a client wants to buy a painting, for a few thousands $$$, but requires one of the minor details be changed? Say, a street sign/name of a store, something not truly important to you. Would you alter the painting or not?

  19. I’ve just read this article concerning commissioned work, (it’s April 1, 2010) and hope that it is not too late to offer another point of view.
    The majority of my work is commissioned. Clients from around the country send me their favorite photos and using them as a reference, I create life-like pencil portraits of their loved ones, people, pets and even wildlife. I explain with the first conversation, what I will need from them and what they can expect from me.
    I want their involvement to a degree, but the reason that they have commissioned me is because of what I have produced for other clients. Often they are referrals.
    I understand and appreciate what others have said about producing commissioned work, I just thought I’d offer another perspective.
    Thank you. Frank Pryor

  20. Alyson Stanfield

    Frank: Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Since many of your clients are far away, have you ever run into problems?

  21. Great deep thought!
    I think it can go both ways. It is so terrific to do a commissioned piece of art for someone who truly loves your work and trusts your talents. They give you an idea of what they are looking for but they leave the creating/designing to you – it’s a fabulous thing. Pure art! Thrilled to work on these pieces!
    But when a person comes along with a request that is so specific down to placement and sizes and pattern – I really just want to tell them – you do it – it’s not worth the sale – and it no longer is art for me.
    Thanks for making me think on this subject! 🙂

  22. Michael Pendergrass

    My feelings on this topic is as long as I can maintain creative control I’m happy. The few commissioned jobs that I’ve done lately I have always shown sketches as to what I’m going to do. Once we agree it’s a done deal. The one that I’m working on this weekend doesn’t really pay much but the exposure will be priceless. Plus it’s for a great cause. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.

  23. Alyson Stanfield

    Michael: I think it’s important to support the causes you believe in. It makes your professional work that much more fulfilling.

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  25. I have more and more people coming to me for commissioned worked. They like my paintings of pets and animals and they want me to do their’s and I love painting pets, especially if I get a chance to meet the pet. But my question is do you charge the same for commissioned art as non-commissioned? Or do you charge more because it is commissioned?

    I’m still sorting out how much to charge for my art, I veering towards charging per square inch, I find it’s easier to give an answer that way. Still not sure how or how much to charge.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Rain: Charge more. You must please someone and “deal” with them. Charge more. How much? I’m not quite sure, but I’d say 25% wouldn’t be unreasonable.

  26. Pingback: You Say Customer, I Say Collector — Art Biz Blog

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