I have mixed feelings about the idea of artistic integrity. On one hand, I like to think I have it--that I do the work I want to do, that I'm passionate about, regardless of whether or not there's anything in it for me aside from the pleasure of making it. This is what we like to think about our favorite artists, too--we want them to be pure. We want them not to be tainted by the crass world of commerce that brings us their stuff. We want to think Alice Munro owes nothing to Barnes & Noble, that Radiohead is indifferent to Best Buy, that Frank Stella doesn't need Gagosian, just a hell of a lot of molten steel.
Indeed, I try to run my creative life as though this were true. Like Nabokov said--write for pleasure, publish for money. (Or...for not quite enough money.) But the fact is, most good artists are intimately involved with the institutions that bring the world their work--and, as those institutions are invariably flawed, sometimes catastrophically, the artist's relationship to them is flawed as well. The teaching writer gives something of herself to academia, something that might otherwise be contributed to her work. The musician will remind you from the stage that there are tee shirts in the back. The painter will allow herself to accept a commission from the internet mogul who will hide her painting away from everyone but him.
Is there something wrong with that? Yeah. But there isn't necessarily enough wrong with it to condemn the artist for it, and sometimes (heaven help us) it's a positive, productive kind of wrong.
Every once in a while I have the good fortune to be asked to write something for an anthology. "I'll pay you," I might be told, "if you write me a story about a Sonic Youth song." And my answer, almost invariably, is hell yes. I want the money. And I would never in a million years have written a Sonic Youth story. But now that somebody's going to pay me to, I'll do it. And sometimes those stories are better than the ones that come from pure intentions--because the only thing at stake is money, not my creative soul, and when my creative soul is free from care, I can relax enough to knock out something unusual and good.
In other words, the pressures of commerce may be great, but they are often less great than the pressures the artist puts on himself. Being given a reason to write besides pure self-expression is a boon to the self--it allows the self to take a vacation from having to measure up. "I'm just doing it for the money." What a relief! It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be done. And every once in a while, it's done better than it would otherwise have been.
This reminds me...maybe we need a Ward Six tee shirt...