If we think about it, art historians mention often how many paintings from the past were solely commissioned. Generally, most notable artists either worked for the church or for very wealthy patrons that wanted portraits done of their family members.
Many great artists we've admired over the past 150 years have continuously painted commissions. This was not uncommon. Edgar Payne used to paint theater backdrops and John Singer Sargent painted wealthy families. For the most part commissioned work requires an artist to have a special kind of personality. You have to be able to communicate with the client and find a way to place their idea into your painting and make it all work. Often this way of working can quickly turn a painting into an illustration.
I believe the invention of the camera actually freed artists up from this type of work. Patrons can now take pictures of subject matter they want to keep & adore forever. Now it is more of a luxury to commission an artist to do a specific painting for an individual or family. As we know not everyone can afford these beautiful paintings they so desire, but the camera can take a picture and try to capture that beauty for them. Fine art paintings are still about provoking an emotion in the viewer and seeing the passion of the artists creativity brought to life through their brushwork on canvas. In my opinion, the camera will still have a very hard time capturing these same things.
So yes, technology has taken over for being able to quickly capture a moment in time, but paintings will remain a part of our future to express emotions.
These are my "5 tips" to consider if you do get a request to paint a commission:
1) Make sure you have set guidelines before you begin. Sometimes this may be a sign off/approval on the smaller study first.
2) Discuss how many changes you are willing to make before the client is satisfied.
3) Decide if you will allow the client the right to refuse the piece once it is finished.
4) Ask for a down payment, whether it is 1/4 or 1/2 of the final price.
5) Be sure to discuss framing choices and shipping costs
Remember that the choice is ultimately yours to take on a commission, or have the client choose from work you already have completed. I do not paint commissions any more. I will though, allow a collector, to pick from a specific area I have painted in and work up other pieces they may like. This way there is no obligation to purchase, and I have the freedom to design the painting and add my artistic poetry. Once completed if they like it great! If not, this piece will remain until it finds the perfect home. Bottom line be very happy and proud with each piece that you release from your studio, because you never know where it may end up in the future with your name etched on the canvas for all to see.