WHY IS COMMERCIAL ART NOT ELIGIBLE FOR THE ART MARKET? John Gapper posed the question in the Financial Times (October 23-24) of why Annie Leibovitz, despite her success as a photographer, has had little success in the art market. Barry Schwabsky, “Art critic, The Nation; co-editor of international reviews, Artforum” ( I quote his identification to show that he is an authority on the art market), had a letter in the Financial Times (October 30) which answered the question. He says: “[P]eople in the art world hold very fast to a fundamental distinction between artists and illustrators – and Ms Leibovitz is a brilliant illustrator but no artist” and adds that if she were to pretend her work is art, “she’d be lending herself to a deception.” The puzzle for me was that it shouldn’t be the case that “commerce” taints art. From an economic point of view, distinguishing “commercial” art from art sold on an “art market” makes no sense. The work is exchanged for money in either case. Schwabsky makes a different point, attaching significance to whether an artist has a “distinctly ‘personal’ oeuvre.” I don’t now whether the distinction between “commercial art” and “art” will hold up over the centuries because it seems to me that artists in the past painted for commissions and illustrated myths, but I think Schwabsky’s distinction is more likely to matter in the near future.

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