There are many excuses to sell out and I think people routinely do. They sell out to mundane or even abusive relationships in exchange for stability. They sell out to jobs they hate and dictators they fear. But where does that fine line lie between compromise and selling out?
Segue to jewelry industry relevancy…
I have long been fascinated by what I perceive as a division among jewelry designers between what I will call “Academic” and “Commercial” pursuits. The extreme end of the Academic jewelry designer might typically be a tenured professor that makes, say, three things a year and then gets paid by other learning institutions to lecture about his or her, “statement” and the few techniques used to make that statement. Students of this genre like to talk about the concept of their work and are sometimes encouraged (this is documented) by their mentors not to “Sell Out”. That is, “…keep waiting tables to support yourself rather than make any concessions to commercial pursuits which would inevitably compromise your ‘statement’”.
The extreme end of the Commercial designer might be someone who works for (or is) a large, well-known brand whose designs are informed by nothing more than the next Pantone® color and the most frequent search-terms. Students of this genre may not really care about a “statement” unless that statement involves a large bank account.
I am sure there is room for many shades of grey between those two extremes.
I like to think that I straddle that divide handily. Anecdotal evidence includes comments from my purely Academic friends that I have sold out, while my more Commercial oriented friends voice their concern that my stuff is too “artsy-fartsy” to gain popular appeal. Funny. The fact that I have friends in both camps speaks to my position squarely (or roundly) in the middle.
Here’s my particular deal…I can’t count how many straight, domed bands I’ve carefully hand-carved over my career. Is that a commercial pursuit? Heck ya! Is it a sell out? Nope, because guess what? I have been doing what I love to do every day of my adult life. This does not even feel like a compromise. I am following my passion for the process of working with people, using millennia-old techniques along with innovative technology, and, frankly, melting gold. And then, once in a while I get that darling client that just lets me go. Of course, I still have parameters to work within, but for a creative designer, there is plenty of room for “statement” between a finger size and a type of gemstone. Let the artsy-fartsy fly!
Finally, let’s not tolerate, any of us in either camp, looking upon the other as a generic sell out. Maybe sometimes one’s passion for statement justifies the compromise of waiting tables. In addition, maybe sometimes pursuing activity that is more commercial can indeed be a passion! Because selling out is only a label…and it is most often used by those who are secretly a bit envious of those to whom they apply the label.