Selling out and Influence

One thing I missed in my previous post on elitism and taste is the phenomenon of selling out. Art which is too popular is often overmerchandised to the point where it has become cliché. And the hatred/avoidance of clichés is a traditional component of art-appreciation.

Everybody though has a different definition of exactly what selling out means and we all end up sounding like hipsters when we complain that something has become overexposed. At the root of it all though is a worry that something which was good is cashing on on being popular just for the sake of being popular. And that the context which initially appealed to us about the artwork is going to be forever altered.*

*Something I’ve grappled with a few times as a sports fan.

Popular and cliché do go hand-in-hand. The trick is to recognize when something is popular because it is good. It’s not OK to be shitty. And it’s especially galling when something is considered good just because it is popular.

But the cliché question is a valid concern. Clichés are hated because they have undo influence and attract acolytes who only seek/emulate the popular.

I may like an artwork at first but, after seeing countless riffs and ripoffs of it, tire of it due to overexposure. The original may be good, everything else is likely crap. The complete package then becomes tired. How many technically-excellent views of Tunnel Overlook do I need to see?

Clichés are also a problem because they dilute the impact of art by reducing its impact to marketable commodities. These are often not why I like the artwork and, as such, add additional context which is not always welcome.

Can I like a photo the same way once it shows up on a coffee can or in advertising? Can I still like a painting if it’s been on a decade of Adobe splashscreens? Can I still like a song if it’s been used in beer advertisements all the time? Can I still like a play if all the lines are now idioms?

Yes. But…

New context to the artwork changes the way I see it. And that’s potentially problematic.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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