Is Your Art a Product?

Product is a slippery word for many artists to embrace.
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from a thing produced by labor: products of farm and factory; the product of his thought.
from Google: An article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale.
from Something produced by human or mechanical effort or by a natural process.
from something produced; especially : commodity 1 (2) : something (as a service) that is marketed or sold as a commodity
from Something produced by human or mechanical effort or by a natural process.

Deep Thought Thursday

Is art a product?
Is your art a product? If not, how is it different from a product?

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56 thoughts on “Is Your Art a Product?”

  1. Original artwork certainly isn’t a service, like a plumber or roofer, so it’s a product. What you don’t want is for your art to be a commodity, like a manufactured good. About the only thing that distinguishes one commodity from another is price–and we usually prefer the lowest price.

  2. While I am creating my works I do not think of them as being a product. I don’t even think of selling them at the time. After they are created is when I think of them as a product. I need to consider presentation for the gallery and possible collector. If someone is spending hundreds of dollars on my work it is a product to the gallery and the collector.

  3. Art is the opposite of manufacturing. It has more in common with r&d. When art becomes a manufactured product, it becomes a craft. This the premise I work from.

    1. As a craft artist I don’t agree with this sentiment. Craft is about technique and working in certain media. It can also be about intent, but it doesn’t equal “not art” or manufactured in the way you imply. Manufactured just means made.
      There is plenty of fine craft out there that is very artistic in intent and there is plenty of fine art that is just pumped out in a factory like production. I think that it is all in intent. Artists and craftspeople need to stop seeing each other as “other.”
      * * *
      While I do not think of my pieces using the word product, it is for sale, thus it is a product. I think that the word has implications beyond just it’s actual meaning though. You think of what Wal-Mart sells as products, not usually one of a kind pieces. But ultimately we are all trying to get our work into other people’s hands, usually by selling it so we are making products. It just makes it sound like you are soley creating it for the end goal of making money. I think most people who think of themselves as artists like to think there is some sort of “higher goal” to their work. But yes, if you are trying to sell it, it is a product.

    2. Wendy, thank you so much for pointing out that artists are artists, whether their work is called craft or not. I see much craft that is far more “artistic” than some art, living in a city that has a large concentration of art in the Southwest.
      I have found myself wishing for a new name for what I do, just to remove myself from the “other” classification.
      Our art does provide a service, as well. That is the service of brightening someone’s environs, and thereby their lives. Or making people think, sparking conversation about what the art says to them. Additionally, with craft, the service is that of providing something, either decorative or functional, which brings a bit of the spirit of the creator to the person using the piece each time it is utilized.
      Thanks, Alyson, for providing a forum for this much needed discussion.

    3. Hello Nancy and Wendy,
      Just a little thought here. If we go to the ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese Japanese sections (for example) of any of the great world museums, and look at the wonderful vases and jade objects (of China), etc. We are looking at crafts. Wonderful crafts that were made at a time when art was more pure than it is today. Ideals were higher, and in most cases their skill level is unattainable today. One didn’t have to be an philosopher/artist to be great. They were craftspeople loving what they were doing, and being valued for it.
      I’ve had this discussion many times. I’m a painter. Call me a craftsman if you choose. It doesn’t matter. If I were lucky enough to become a great craftsman it would be a wonderful gift to myself and to anyone who appreciates what I can do. best of all, 2,000 years ago there was no distinction between artist and craftsperson. We have made that distinction.
      Wendy, love your craft/art. It is wonderful to be able to do what you love to do without having to define it as one of the other.
      Another thought Mozart and Bach turned out many, many pieces of music for a price. Does that make them craftsmen, and does a rapper who doesn’t churn out music on a monthly basis get the higher title of artist?
      Maybe I am just old fashioned. (I just turned 49). πŸ™‚

  4. I do not see my art as a product at all. It is so much more than that. Some of the definitions state a product is something that is produced for sale. I make my art because it is what is in me. It is something I have to create. It is made for me as well as for the rest of the world to see. It is only after it is completed that I may try to sell it, but during the process of making it, selling is the farthest thing from my mind. If I weren’t’ making a living from my art, I would still make the same work. So if the same art would be made if I weren’t trying to sell it, how could it be a product?

  5. It is a product, but it is a product that I produce to satisfy myself. If other people find value in it, so much the better, but that’s only a secondary goal. I spent my life as a commercial photographer, whose job it was to satisfy clients. Now I do work that I truly want to do.

  6. reveille Kennedy

    My art is something I love to do and feel compelled to do. I also love seeing it get sold and letting the process of my heart and mind become someone else’s new thought. To me, it is like writing, except that the letters are strokes, and floats, and colors and shapes. Does that make sense? People can read my paintings.

  7. In the technical definition of the word, yes, my art is a product. It’s an object that can be sold for money. However, I don’t see that as an obstacle. All you have to do sometimes is be a little selective with the words and phrasing you use. It’s just simple marketing.

  8. Marian Dioguardi

    I received a call from and architectural firm and the conversation started out “I like your product”. Yes, they were referring to my paintings. I said ” thank you” . And the conversation continued. I don’t think of my paintings like that but it’s not about what I think…it’s about what I paint.

  9. Yes, art is a product. While the definitions you provided are certainly accurate, they fail to address the fact that there is a preliminary step to production: that is, something that prompts the production to occur. In industrial production, that motivation is most often profit, whereas in art, that reason to produce may be secondary to expression or communication; but of course, if effort does not follow that inspiration, the art doesn’t get produced. Anything that is produced, even a service or action taken, is a product. Shying away from the use of the word “product” to describe an artwork is misunderstanding the meaning of the word.

    1. Misunderstanding which word; Art or Product?
      You can philosophy from here to eternity about the ” production” part of art but you are missing the understanding of WHAT art is about!

    2. Hardly. I know what art is about – it is my life!
      Let me explain. Let’s take as an example an artist that has not painted any paintings in 2 months, where he used to paint one a week. His “production” is down – he has not produced any PRODUCTS. The products are a result of applying his talent, his skill, his thought, his heart to articles in the physical universe like paint, canvas, brushes etc, and ending up with a product: a painting. It does not have to be for sale to be a product, but if it’s not distributed SOMEHOW, it would be like reciting one’s poetry in a closet. It would create no effect on the world. The SALES are the purview of MARKETING, not production.
      I once overheard a creative friend saying, “I have such paintings in my soul – but I just can’t get them out”. The cruel fact is, that he is not really an artist! An artist “Gets it out” – he produces PRODUCTS – paintings, sculpture, whatever. SOME manifestation of his thoughts & creativity. Without PRODUCTS he is a THINKER.
      Perhaps Henry Ford did us a disservice when he invented the Production Line – now artists sometime equate Producing (Making, Creating) with mechanical mass-manufacturing. Everyone has a product: The product of the artist is ART. The product of a poet is poetry. The product of a baker is bread.
      Yes Vared, I understand what art is – do you now understand what a product is?

  10. Nancy Ness touched on the experimental nature of art. This is not unique to art. Many fields have research and development. But if you are pushing yourself and your mediums you will make many things that fall into research and development (R&D), a sub-product, intermediate step in a longer journey.
    Some of us are lucky enough to be able to productize this R&D but there are many times (I’m currently in one) where pushing in a new direction, new ground, requires a time of great productivity but few products and many… not failures but partially successful experiments.
    The more established work is a product. No question there.
    For some of my products:

    1. NO, they other way around!
      They are free to CREATE art not produce it!
      I am real sorry to read how many are mixing the two action and facts and really downgrading ART for the sale want and need.

  11. Of course it is. An artist produced it. You might rather say it was a product of your artistic vision or imagination, but it is still a “thing” that was made, regardless of whether it will be sold or not. I don’t understand why some artists want to distance themselves from business, as if that somehow diminishes their artistic identity or that by calling their work a product they are selling out. You can be both a great artist and a great sales/business-person.

  12. I don’t think that a clear distinction really needs to be made. From my point of view, the term doesn’t encompass all that my art is to me. However, when someone purchases a photograph, painting, or my book, one could say at the POS a product was exchanged. From the comments, it’s clear that the word product is used and understood differently at different points in the creative and business processes. I don’t think splitting hairs over a definition is all that important when you look at it this way.

    1. Yes it is VERY important.
      That is why we have different definitions as Art and Craft, Functional Art and Decorative Art and FINE ART which is defined as more conceptual and personal.

  13. When I make it, it’s purely an artistic process and the love of creation. When I market and sell it, it becomes a product. Sometimes those two sides of my mind have conversations and find common ground :).

    1. Hopefully these two parts sometimes do not!
      Art creating and sales has nothing to do with each other and occupies two very different part of us.
      Some of us have both some have not.

  14. My art is a product. Yes, it is art, but being that I create my artwork to be able to share, sell, and market it is therefore a salable product. Does this make it anymore or any less art? Certainly not. Examples of a couple of artists whose work has been created and sold for profit: Jeff Koons and Andy Worhol. Their work is a product, sold and marketed, but it is still art. Of all the arts, why is visual art a debate? You don’t see musicians or performers apologizing for having a price tag on their works, there’s no reason we should have to debate or apologize for selling ours. In comparison, do you think Beyonce dosen’t consider her music and dance as a product? She knows the value of her work and has no issue putting a price tag on it. Prestige dosen’t pay the bills.

    1. Going back to the old masters then. Many of them created boudoir or erotic art in efforts to make money and pay bills. These like their other items more well know paintings (most commissioned by churches and higher officials) were products. They were commissioned, paid for, and now live in our history. No matter what the artist or piece, technically it is a product.
      1. a thing produced by labor: products of farm and factory; the product of his thought.
      2.a person or thing produced by or resulting from a process, as a natural, social, or historical one; result: He is a product of his time.
      3.the totality of goods or services that a company makes available; output: a decrease in product during the past year.
      4.Chemistry . a substance obtained from another substance through chemical change.
      5.Mathematics .
      a.the result obtained by multiplying two or more quantities together.
      b.intersection ( def. 3a ) .
      My art is a product of – labor, thought, oil and paint mixed together and adhered to canvas through chemical change, the goods that I make available through my company.
      If the definition fits…

  15. It IS a worthwhile question to explore how people see their work. For some, “product” seems to be a loaded word, even a “dirty” word. To me, it’s a useful word; but that is after having some past experience of recoiling when I got form letters, “Dear Madam,
    I like your product”, etc. and then spending some time reflecting on my reaction.

  16. For those among us who are stumbled by the word “Product” (there I said that word)
    I suggest that you might consider calling it an “artifact of your creative endeavors’.
    For myself, after 35 years of pumping the juice to create products to go to market, any words the client wants to use when they are writing the check will make me happy, some call it craft, some call it fine art, and some of my closest studio buddies have told me that they have some new s–t they want to show me, when they are referring to their new art piece.
    Consider this: when is a product not art?

  17. In art education we teach Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE). In this system four components are required: Art History, Aesthetics, Art Criticism and Art Production … as educator and artist I agree art is a product …

  18. My project requires no product making but is not opposed to it. This project is an attempt to marry Art, Life and Criticism, one with the other so that demarkation is gone. It’s been twenty yrs, & going strong.

  19. Product is a pretty general word I think, and I wonder if it sounds pejorative when it really isn’t. It depends on how you use it. If you think in economic terms, all artwork is work product. It’s made, by hand, and in many of our cases, it’s for sale. My silk scarves are a product line, my watercolors are a product of my endeavors. I don’t think of it in terms of creating product, but in marketing terms, for myself and for those who represent me me might consider it so. My production of artwork starts out as making a one-of-a-kind piece. They could possibly be made into multiples, ie an edition. But it’s not like I’m making canned tomato sauce for the world. I don’t think, though I could be wrong, that any artist thinks of their artwork as a commodity.

  20. I guess my many replies to many comments have not been very positive!
    As one that have work in the arts in many and different capacities the question have touched a very sensitive nerve!
    Back in the early year, of the early eighties, in Los Angeles art community, there was a very powerful woman in the arts, that I am not going to call by name here, that said; we need to prepare and teach every artist that if he wants to make a living as an artist he need to sale or do something else!
    If you sale you art it is wonderful but if you don’t are you going to stop creating it?
    If you stop, you are not an artist. This is all what I have to say and it is only MY opinion.

  21. I’m full-time artist and my only job is making and saling my paintings.
    Like a designer who creates furniture (lamp, sofa, table) i think about my artwork like products.
    Original pieces, handmade, but products with attractive photos, communication and events to promote my lastest paintings. I feel like more an art designer than a traditional artist/painter who creates art for art !

    1. However you wish to classify yourself, you have incredible creativity and talent! I really like your work. Personally, I don’t think art is ever created for art – it is created for people! And yours is stunning.

  22. I don’t think of my art primarily as a product, more as a creation. But I do feel that being able to sell it adds another, positive dimension to a work. I get the benefit of selling it, and my clients’ appreciation, and they get the benefit of enjoying my creation. So I don’t think that the fact that my art is in some way a product is a bad thing. I create for myself and my clients, it makes it more expansive than just creating for myself.

  23. Not all art is a product. And not all product is art.
    But consider the context. Since this question was asked on a marketing site, I guess here, it would be a big, ‘yes it is’.
    Consider the performance arts, dance, street art, flashmobs, actors, etc. there art is produced from the same creative source as 3D art, and to me, just as artsy. If other people wants to own a piece of that, share it, sell it or record it to save it for the future, it can then become a commodity. And if those artists want to make a living at it, it better.
    Why do artists in 3D mediums feel squirmy about sharing their talents with the world and getting paid for it. It’s energy.
    Trading money for art leads to more art making. More art making leads to more money trading. Energy.
    I can say, however, I have pieces of mine that I have made just for me. Is that my ‘real art’? No. I think they are priceless and have meaning to me and I just can’t sell them… yet.
    I can’t save everything, and if someone out there wants to live with a piece of me, my soul, my creation, my history, great. But lets exchange some energy too.
    Learning the best way to do that places value on you and your art. It doesn’t diminish it. And some, like the Warhol’s of the world, just do it better than others.

  24. Process Art is actually considered a separate movement from Product Art…Process art is interested in how & what you do, while creating…Product Art is more concerned with, well, product…In Early Childhood Education, this distinction is important…(probably important for everyone else too)…Process art may focus on just doing something fun & liberating, without looking to completion of an object…For me, I vacillate between the two…Lately I am into process art, because I have been enjoying the physicality of making things, despite the fact that I am not sure where I am going or even if any of it could sell…But I am innovating with the freedom…Ironically, when I do the product art, I don’t innovate as much really…I’ll bet the crazy stuff sells better than the try to be a product stuff…We’ll see…But both movements are important to be aware of…

  25. Is a song a product? Is a melody a product?Is a form of dance a product? If they are then yes, Art is a product for they are different forms of Art for me. Art is considered as a product only by those who either deal in it with no passion, or, by those who have yet to understand that an Artist gives his soul to his creation, his life to his canvas. No! you can’t consider any Art as a product. A creation, Yes but should never be called a product.

  26. catherine feeman

    I believe that if it is for sale, yes it certainly is a product, and looking at those definitions, that is not an offensive thing! The nature of much art, however, is such a personal expression, that I believe many times the artist cannot think of it as a product until it is completed and the reality of selling it is presented. As one of the above comments pointed out, that may just be the dilemma for many artists in marketing and the business side of their art. When we’re not working and not in that emotional creative state we have to reconcile the product/business aspect, but let’s face it, that creative/emotional state is where the ideas and the art often originates so we can’t think we should eliminate it. It seems to be a balancing act for me, which is why I love these helpful posts!

  27. I don’t think art is a product. I think it’s an intellectual pursuit; it belongs in the humanities, like philosophy. I think calling it a product creates various problems – in how artists are perceived, and how artwork is taken by the public. When it’s time to rent a studio in a space zoned for uses other than manufacturing, artists can run into problems (and this happens because art is viewed as a product)… It can also create various problems on a political and practical level, and it reduces the focus on the non-art part of the creation.

  28. Pingback: Marketing Your Art vs Marketing Your Teaching β€” Art Biz Blog

  29. Now, now, must we be so harsh on the word “product?” “Product” has such a broad definition that it could be compared to the word “organism.” Just like a bird of paradise has far more complexity and aesthetic appeal than your run-of-the-mill earthworm, so does a piece of art have (usually) more amazing and unique qualities than a typical tablespoon.
    Each of my paintings expresses myself in its own unique way. It is a vastly different product than a hum-drum spoon, and is regarded and created much differently.
    “Product” is not a bad word. What if we railed in indignation each time our pet cat was referred to as an “organism?” Does she fit the definition of one? If so, then we must as ourselves why our idea of “organism” is does not match the definition.
    What is a product, exactly? What does it encompass? If I am offended by my artwork being a “product,” then I might actually be shortchanging the definition of the word “product”. If the definition is a broad one, then my thinking of it should match that fact. I will acknowledge that my art is a product, and I will embrace the genre of products that includes beautiful, shimmering, unique expressions of the feeling and personalities of the artisans who so expertly and lovingly created them.
    And I will not confuse them with spoons.

    1. Spoonbridge & Cherry, Claes Oldenburg…
      Teresa, I take issue with the denigration of the tablespoon…Please, anyone else who chooses to look down upon this work of invention must look at the link I have provided…
      In all seriousness, though, I wonder if the word product has come to be associated with mass production? I see now the acronym OOAK on profiles…OOAK stands for One of a Kind, as in OOAK artist…If you refer to your work of art as a product does this mean that you are churning them out?

  30. My apologies to tablespoons everywhere. πŸ˜‰
    But to answer your question, no, referring to your art as a product does not mean you are churning them out, which was part of the meaning of my last post. If our view of the word “product” does not match its definition, is it possible that we are shortchanging the word? Perhaps we are not giving it same credit that it should have per its definition. Poor “product.” Think of how it must feel! πŸ˜‰

  31. Like, the product of two times three is six…? The product is just the result of sticking 2 & 3 together for a while…The product is just the result of some creative activity…? Good thought! Apology accepted on behalf of tablespoons & other spoons too…I am a fan of spoons…Lord knows I couldn’t make one myself…(How does one get metal to curve like that? Don’t answer, I am talking too much)…

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