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IB DP Philosophy Study Notes

2.3.4 Art as a Consumer Good

Art's transition into a consumer good prompts an intricate examination of its intrinsic value, how it interplays with artistic integrity, and its relationship with commercial success. The commodification of art reflects its saleability and its transformation into a product to be valued in monetary terms, creating a contentious dynamic between economic value and artistic expression.

Commodification of Art

Historical Context and Development

  • Originates from the Renaissance period where the burgeoning bourgeoisie began to patronise art.
  • The concept expanded with the Industrial Revolution and the capacity for mass production of artworks.
  • Today's global market for art is influenced heavily by economic and social trends.

Processes of Commodification

  • Includes the marketing and sale of art through auctions, galleries, online marketplaces, and art fairs.
  • The construction of an artist's brand and marketability becomes as significant as the artworks themselves.
  • Reproduction of art through prints and replicas leads to wide circulation, affecting perceptions of rarity and worth.

Impact on Artistic Value

  • Market value versus aesthetic value: The financial aspect can eclipse the artistic merit and the philosophical or emotional impact of art.
  • Authenticity and mass production: Widespread accessibility to art reproductions challenges the uniqueness and original experience of art.
  • Access and homogenisation: While art becomes more accessible, it risks leading to a uniformity of taste, potentially stifling diversity in artistic expression.

Artistic Integrity versus Commercial Success

Exploring Artistic Integrity

  • Embodies the commitment of artists to their creative principles and vision, despite external pressures.
  • Artistic integrity may be compromised when artists alter their work to fit popular trends or market demands.

The Pressure of the Marketplace

  • Artists may face financial pressures that necessitate a certain level of commercial appeal in their work.
  • Commercial success can provide artists with recognition and the means to continue their practice, yet it may also require concessions to artistic ideals.

Notable Examples

  • Banksy: The anonymous street artist whose work critiques commodification, yet itself becomes a coveted commodity.
  • Damien Hirst: An artist whose works command high prices, leading to discussions on the balance between art as an investment and as a creative expression.

Maintaining the Equilibrium

  • Artists often employ strategies to keep their integrity intact, such as anonymity, limiting artwork production, or rejecting traditional commercial routes.
  • Some artists may purposely create work that is unmarketable to maintain a distance from the commercial art world.

The Consumer's Role

Audience Impact

  • The reception of art by the public and critics can significantly affect an artist's market value.
  • Social media platforms have become powerful in shaping tastes, trends, and the marketability of art.

Patrons and Collectors

  • The influence of collectors in setting market values and trends is substantial, with their choices often becoming self-fulfilling prophecies in terms of valuation.
  • The modern patronage system can reflect commercial goals as much as, or more than, cultural or artistic support.

Consumption Patterns

  • Interactive and experiential art forms have become popular, influencing how art is consumed and marketed.
  • Art as an investment or status symbol can overshadow its cultural or experiential value.

Ethical and Societal Considerations

Issues of Market Manipulation

  • The practice of price inflation through strategic gallery sales or pre-arranged bidding at auctions.
  • The ethical challenges of provenance, particularly with regard to art theft, forgery, and illicit antiquities trade.

Cultural Appropriation and Exploitation

  • The commercial use of cultural and indigenous art raises questions about the balance between appreciation and exploitation.
  • The ethical implications of monetising cultural heritage without benefiting the originating communities.

Responses to Commodification

  • Artists and collectives sometimes resist commodification through subversive art or by rejecting mainstream commercialisation channels.
  • Movements such as "slow art" encourage deeper engagement with art beyond its commercial value.


The commodification of art influences its pedagogy in educational institutions by prioritising certain artists, styles, and movements that have high market visibility and value. This can lead to a curriculum that reflects market trends more than artistic diversity or historical significance. There may also be an increased focus on teaching art through the lens of marketability and career success, potentially at the expense of encouraging experimentation and personal expression. Additionally, the high prices of art commodities can affect the resources available to educators, limiting access to original works and thus affecting the depth and breadth of practical exposure students receive.

The commodification of art intersects with cultural policy and government funding by determining which forms of art are promoted or subsidised. Governments may fund projects that have the potential for tourism or that enhance national prestige in the global art market, thus reinforcing the commodification process. Cultural policy can also be shaped by the desire to support a vibrant market for the nation's artists, which can include export grants, tax incentives for collectors, and investment in art fairs. Conversely, government funding can serve as a counterbalance to the market by supporting non-commercial art forms and artists who may not be commercially viable, thus preserving cultural diversity and accessibility.

Art criticism plays a significant role in the commodification of art by influencing public opinion and thereby affecting market values. Critics, through their reviews and assessments, can elevate the status of an artwork or artist, making them more desirable to consumers and collectors. In-depth analysis and commentary can contribute to an artwork's perceived complexity and cultural significance, which in turn can increase its commercial value. However, critics can also contribute to the devaluation of certain works or styles by framing them as less significant or outmoded. Their power to shape discourse around art makes criticism a pivotal element in the nexus between artistic value and market worth.

Digitisation of art has significantly broadened its accessibility, which has complicated its perception as a consumer good. On one hand, digital reproductions and virtual exhibitions allow for widespread distribution that challenges traditional limitations of physical ownership and the rarity of an artwork. On the other hand, the ease of distribution can diminish the perceived value of art, as digital copies may lack the authenticity and material presence valued in physical works. Furthermore, the digital marketplace has introduced new forms of art, such as digital and NFT art, which create unique ownership issues and have catalysed discussions about the nature of ownership and value in the art world.

Yes, the commodification of art can have positive effects on artistic production and diversity. Commercial success can provide artists with the financial means to continue creating, allowing them to experiment with new ideas and materials that might otherwise be inaccessible. The potential for financial gain can also incentivise a greater number of individuals to pursue artistic careers, thereby increasing diversity within the art world. Moreover, the art market's demand for new and novel works can encourage a proliferation of different styles, techniques, and forms, enriching the cultural landscape. However, this must be balanced with the risk of commercial imperatives overshadowing creative freedom.

Practice Questions

Discuss how the commodification of art might affect an individual's aesthetic experience.

The commodification of art can profoundly affect an individual's aesthetic experience by altering the context in which art is encountered. If art is primarily seen as a commodity, its value may be judged in terms of investment potential or status symbol, rather than aesthetic qualities or emotional resonance. This shift in perception can undermine the personal connection that is at the heart of the aesthetic experience, as the artwork's commercial value overshadows its artistic merit. However, an excellent student would also recognise that commodification can democratise art, making it more accessible and allowing for a wider audience to engage in the aesthetic experience, albeit in a potentially more superficial manner.

Evaluate the ethical implications of artists adapting their work to meet market demands.

The ethical implications of artists adapting their work to meet market demands include a potential compromise of artistic integrity. When artists modify their vision to suit commercial trends, they may be perceived as insincere or inauthentic. Yet, from a pragmatic standpoint, adapting to the market is sometimes necessary for financial sustainability, which in turn can support further artistic endeavours. An excellent student would argue that while market adaptation can facilitate broader dissemination of art, it can also dilute the artist's original message, thus sparking a debate about the balance between integrity and survival in the art world.

George Christofi avatar
Written by: George Christofi
Oxford University - Masters Philosophy

George studied undergraduate and masters degrees in Classics and Philosophy at Oxford, as well as spending time at Yale. He specialises in helping students with UK and US university applications, including Oxbridge and the Ivy League. He writes extensively on education including on schools, universities, and pedagogy.

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