So what about this artistic version of to thine own self be true? Indeed, there are well known examples illustrators who never changed their style or content yet remained popular and influential forces throughout their careers. And being a trend setter means you are establishing a style, not following one. Think, Al Parker. But there were other leading illustrators who remained stubbornly set in their ways, and who paid the price as their careers and status faded. To some degree I think this simply reflected the passing of the Golden Age of Illustration. There was a time when the status of leading picture makers, as commercial illustrators once preferred to refer to themselves, rivaled the most well known film stars, but driven by factors such as the growing acceptance of advertising photography, which by the 1930s had emerged as a significant threat to illustration, the entire field was diminished in stature. Other forces were at work too.
But back to the issue at hand, there is good evidence that it was during the very beginning of the Golden Age that the argument over the primacy of real art, oddly referred to as "art-art" over the more pedestrian field of commercial illustration burned brightest. The debate took place at the workplace, not the ivory tower and was hotly contested by ad men, advertising organizations such as the Associated Advertising Clubs of America and ultimately, the illustrators themselves. E.E. Calkins, who has been called the father of modern advertising was an early proponent of the idea that advertising qualified as art-art asserted that good billboard illustrations could be considered equivalent to mural art. His position was attacked from the start. As stated in her book, Artists, Advertising and the Borders of Art Michelle Bogart relates how in 1916 the populist Max Eastman "denounced illustrators and editors as commercial hacks who had sacrificed artistic integrity because they were at the mercy of mass-market publishers who cared only about circulation." Take a look at the comments on Leif's site to his post and you'll see that little has changed in the last 90 years.
I do think there is another factor in the that enters into the push-pull of following your artistic muse versus adapting. Take the careers of two of the most successful lauded of Enoch Bolles' era; C.D. Gibson and J.M. Flagg. They each were highly successful, none more so than Gibson whose career hit a peak with his $100,000 contract with Colliers. Both were public superstars, yet they saw their popularity slowly fade and by the 1930s their work had become marginalized. The question is why? Both could be considered the equivalent of world class athletes, their technique and artist chops were amazing, and at a time when the pool of talent was unrivaled. I think two things happened. First, both Gibson and Flagg were known for their pen and ink work, and in fact Flagg revered Gibson and modeled his style after him. Flagg was also an amazingly skilled painter who worked in a bravura style, who could dash off magazine covers with abandon. Gibson tried mightily to paint, even going to Paris to train, but ultimately failed. But while other illustrators experimented and diversified Gibson and Flagg stuck to their stock techniques. What I ultimately think the more significant factor in the decline (a relative term in this case I realize) of their popularity was their choice of subject. Or more to the point, their rejection of subject. Both Gibson and Flagg loathed the new woman of the 2o's. Gibson stated that out of all his attempts he had only drawn one acceptable flapper. I don't know whether Flagg even tried (he hated how skinny they were and lamented about 'strapped bosoms.') Others, particularly John Held Jr. took on the flapper with relish. See the Gibson girl vs Held Jr. image.
So what about our man Bolles. For one, I don't think he ever compromised his style, which was his own from the very beginning. As the late Reid Austin described it, "Bolles had arrived very early in his career". But what Enoch did do was adopt his subject to the changing times. In the 20s his girls slimmed down (too much sometimes I know!), dressed in the hottest fashions and were on the move. His girls in the 30s were more full figured (and knew it) and a lot less giddy. Even at the end of Bolles' career, his 40's girls were au courant, with the Rita Hayworth hair-do's WW-II themes. In the end it was all about putting food on the table.