Debate: Art as a Commodity
by Celine Chia, Crystal Low and
Eugene Leow of ccmonstersart
Ccmonstersart is a brand new up and coming art studio, located right in the heart of Potong Pasir. The founder, Celine Chia is an Artrepreneur, both an artist and an entrepreneur. Being an artist has always been her dream career. She is happily living her dream job right now, and sharing her passion with like-minded folks.
December 21, 2021
While art is often associated with the abstract and intangible, it can be commodified when concepts and ideas are translated into physical goods and gain the qualities of being marketable, sellable, and collectable. Throughout many instances in history, the preeminent pieces of paintings and sculptures have stood as testament of time. Take for instance, one of UNESCO’s world heritage site (presently) — Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli where the expansion of the Roman empire caused a huge influx of artwork into the Italian Peninsula, most of it being spoils of war.
Art has existed as a commodity since ancient times, with one of the earliest recorded art transactions in 500 BCE. (Young man buying a vase in the Ancient Greek Civilisation). Not only has art pervasively been a commodity throughout all of history, but the artworks transacted often possessed great historical importance.
Another example is in ancient China. Art (visual art in the form of calligraphy) was held in high regard, especially after the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE). In fact, the most respected calligraphers had sufficient cachet to be worthy of forgery and seals had to be added to sheets of calligraphy as marks of authentication.
Indeed, pieces of historical artworks have weathered storms and withstood the test of time. Some art pieces remain etched forever in the annals of history (e.g the works of Delacroix, Da Vinci, Van Gogh), while the popularity of others wax and wane with time. One thing remains for sure — Art in its purest form has continued to serve as a medium for unfettered self-expression, a vehicle through which artists challenge societal issues of their time. Art serves as a loyal companion, a source of respite, a canvas for the communication of ideas.
Painting by Hans Sebald Beham
Credit: @SuccessfulFlow (FB page)
One such historical example of an artist communicating an idea of filial piety is the Roman Charity by Hans Sebald Beham.
The painting is inspired by the story of a woman who secretly breastfeeds her father after he is sentenced to death by starvation. He was initially jailed for stealing a loaf of bread during the reign of Louis XIV in France, and the daughter was not allowed to bring him food on her visits.
Desperate to sustain her malnourished father, the woman resorted to feeding him breastmilk. She was eventually caught, but the judges pardoned her father after hearing about her act of love and compassion.
This painting was initially painted to depict the touching and inspiring story (concept) but was later sold for 30 million euros. At which point in time did this culturally significant piece of artwork become a commodity? In fact, there were many different depictions of this story by various artists like Rembrandt Peale, Peter Paul Reubens and Pieter Van Mol.
This boils down to our central question, should art be treated as a commodity?
Like many aspiring artists, ccmonstersart’s founder Artist Celine Chia is not new to the debate. She has personally experienced both sides herself, while committing to the full-time role of an artist. This project collaboration with Hvala provides a small peek into her brilliant and fulfilling career in the artistic field.
Art as a form of Conceptualisation
Here, we have a contemporary example of art as a form of conceptualisation (conceptual art), whereby the idea or concept behind the works are more significant than the finished product itself.
There were many factors taken into account while working on this Digital Portrait:
Digital (Procreate) is used because this medium is more versatile. Similarly, tea is served on multiple occasions from casual brunch to formal meetings, as a medium for people to connect and converse over.
For this digital portrait, our choice of brush was the Digital Air Brush. The rationale for this particular choice is because we wanted to achieve cleaner lines, as well as softer blending of the colours.
Light Brown is used for line drawing as it is often associated with resilience and dependability.
Sage Green is used for her outfit as it is usually a representation of profound wisdom. By using sage green, it communicates growth and wisdom, while speaking of ecology and nature.
White is used for Hvala’s logo with the “一期一会” text, which against a darker background, highlights the importance of treasuring each meeting — a Japanese tea philosophy that is to be dwelled upon quietly and unhurriedly.
Beige is used for the skin tone as it depicts simplicity, just like the Minimalistic art style the digital portrait conveys.
Art as a form of Conceptualisation (2021), Artist Celine Chia
Significance (of the process):
This Minimalistic style of digital art seeks to convey a calm, joyful, relaxing and invigorating vibe. With a schoolgirl as the complementary subject, this portrait showcases the juxtaposition between the calm serene nature of enjoying tea versus the reality of students constantly under the mental stress and pressure of performing and living up to their parents’ expectations.
With Hvala’s logo as the main subject, it emphasises the need to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life to relax and appreciate tea culture.
Art as a Commodity
In this project collaboration with Hvala, artist Celine Chia has integrated the essence of Hvala onto a leather bag. This personalised work of art elevates the value of the merchandise and showcases the brand in a different perspective.
The commodity encapsulates a smidgen of the essence of Japanese culture onto tangible products, to serve as a memoir or souvenir as part of the whole Hvala experience. The words ‘一期一会’ or ‘ichigoichie’ in Japanese describes the Japanese cultural experience of treasuring meetings with people. Additionally, in this creative work, we incorporated a sake bottle and a paint bottle into the words. The sake bottle represents a celebratory occasion and sake is drunk to ward off bad fortune and usher in good tidings.
Meanwhile, the paint bottle is a container that encapsulates and holds all the artistic wonders that paint can create. It’s an embodiment of creative wonders all packed into a tiny capsule. Last but not least, the background consists of tea leaves and flowers, bringing up to mind the range of products that Hvala carries.
Art as a Commodity, 2021, Artist Celine Chia
Art as a Commodity, 2021, Artist Celine Chia
Aside from all the symbolisms behind this creative, the main purpose of this work is of course to sell the merchandise.
As much as we love art as a form of conceptualisation, the harsh reality is that we as artists still need to make a living and continue our creative pursuit. Thus, we need to earn money to cover our material costs, personal expenses, alongside external factors like supporting our loved ones. Upon every sale of our merchandise, our creative works get passed on to more people, gain exposure and ultimately, raise awareness for our works.
Of course, in our ideal world, art need not be a commodity. Art can be freely conceptualised without worrying about external factors. It could be used as a medium/currency to barter and trade for supplies and sustenance. However, in reality, art as a commodity is more often than not a double-edged sword. Take for example, the painting above that sold for 30 million euros. One of the underlying reasons the story gained traction was the fact that it became a commodity. It garnered a lot of attention as a result and the story behind the painting became a topic of debate.
Ultimately, whether or not art should be a commodity, this issue continues to be an ongoing conversation with its pushes and pulls, just like the ebb and flow of life.
This article was contributed by Celine Chia, Crystal Low and Eugene Leow of ccmonstersart. Ccmonstersart aims to be the platform to push the boundaries of art, as well as provide our artists the recognition that they deserve. If you like our works and wish to read more, please check out our art blog at https://www.ccmonstersart.com/blog.