The paradox of commodifying art

It is cool to be a rebel, to rage against the machine, whether the machine is government or Fortune 500 companies.

However, what happens when the artists that criticize mass consumption are the ones contributing to it?

Hypebeast explores the contradiction of art and commerce through the works of artists KAWS, Ron English, and Shepard Fairey.


Famous for creating the “XX” logo, he has since designed clothes for Kanye and UNIQLO. He also designed a Macy’s Parade balloon.


The so-called “Godfather of Street Art” has designed shoes for Vans and made album art for artists such as Chris Brown and Pearl Jam.


The artist is responsible for creating Andre the Giant Has a Posse posters and the image for Obama’s 2008 election campaign. He’s since sold his Obey clothing into stores like Urban Outfitters.

Altogether, these artists were former street art rebels who have segued into becoming legitimate participants of the industry by continuing to grasp each rung of the art and business ladder

When artists become business people, it tends to upset the niche group of fans that followed them in the first place. We see the same thing in music. Former underground producer Diplo now makes beats for Justin Bieber.

The balance between making art and commerce is a creator’s challenge. As grime pioneer, Dizzee Rascal said in a recent interview with Pharrell Wiliams: “What happens when these people start to agree with you?”

The artist rejects the system but then gets paid for making it look cooler, even if it comes as off as “selling out.”


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