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How did this word come to mean “a usually inferior work of art or literature produced chiefly for monetary return”?
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This is one explanation I found online:
POTBOILER: Formulaic works of art produced cheaply and quickly produced to satisfy a market demand -- usually for genre paintings -- and to make a modest income (i.e., to keep soup boiling in the pot). By extension, the term has come to mean any work considered to lack distinctive quality or originality.
Purple Dragon's right again. A potboiler is a commercial project of no great moral or aesthetic significance that smooths out the jagged valleys of a freelancer's income.
I didn't know until this moment that painters use the term too. I know it from freelance writers.
Michael Quinion's site is a good one for finding origins of words and phrases. Another good one is Evan Morris's www.word-detective.com.
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