Is There Such a Thing as TOO much Art Licensing? Or the More, the Better?

By Karen Middleton in Misc > Art Opinion

A few years ago, I became the proud owner of a particular brand of smart phone. Familiar with its image of being the smart phone of choice by the business world, just by owning one, I felt like I’d arrived!

I was also told if you had one you were addicted. . . there was even a creatively named website, dedicated to those addicts, so of course I took a peek.

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Naturally, this brand is competing against several other giants in the market, and has become so commercial that it is marketed to individuals of all ages, and not just at the business user. They’ve developed a “fun” image to attract the kids too, and this wider market appeal has placed it firmly in the mainstream.

What has this to do with art, you ask?

Well, it got me thinking. . . should we (as artists) also be willing to adapt and diversify our artwork to the market in order to generate mass market appeal? Or are we so attached to our work that we hold back from commercialising it too much, because that would somehow cheapen it?

Consider the following real-world examples:

I recently listened to an interview with a very successful designer, who’s work generates an income of over £30million a year, and who has a staff of 50. Her distinctive flowery style means you either love it or hate it and that seems to be true—as the designer herself states.

On the one hand, critics say she has lost her exclusive customers and high-end sales in bespoke, independent outlets; in favour of placement in regular stores up and down the income and age scale. Her designs cross over onto everything for the home, garden, fashion, footwear, kids items and—yes—even smart phone covers.

Mass marketing her work has gained this designer a following from many people previously unable to purchase her work, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder. . . is that amount of licensing perhaps a little overkill?

On the other hand, I’m a big appreciator of the work of British artist Jack Vettriano, who also licenses his work as prints. I own 2 large prints, which I paid more than I would normally pay for complimentary frames, but in order to show them off to their best, I felt justified in doing so (and it felt like I owned a piece of “proper art”—another aspect of my small-time ambitions!)

Vettriano is unfairly criticized in the art world, but his prints bring in 6 figure sums each year, and his originals sell for that much on an individual basis. From what I understand, Vettriano licenses his images in order to make his work accessible to everyone, and as a result, he has been richly (and deservingly) rewarded.

Perhaps I prefer Vettriano’s approach, but ultimately I believe that our art and designs should be as accessible as we would like. We alone are in charge of how much art we put out there, and in what format.

And, regardless of the number of items our art appears on, we should never lose sight of the fact that it’s the everyday people, the ordinary souls who part with their hard earned money to purchase a little piece of our work, who decide what’s worth buying.

So in answer to my original question—should we be willing to adapt and diversify our artwork to the market—I say yes, absolutely. If enough people aspire to own the imagery in some form, then why not offer plenty of choice both in product and price?

Though having said that, I’m not sure even Vettriano could persuade me into purchasing a phone cover, should he move into that area…..!

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