>Let’s Bring Back the Patronage System

>Anyone who has been to Florence or Rome, or who stayed awake during the Art History class slide shows, has seen the splendor that was created during the height of Europe’s golden age for artists. The 15th and 16th century in Europe was awash with money and princes and aggrandizement. The work was bold and new and demanded to be seen and discussed.

Ever wanting to best their peers, the elite hired hired artists, kept them on the payroll and commissioned grand work that still takes our breath away 500 years later. I haven’t set foot inside the Medici Chapels since 1982, but given the chance I will gush on for 20 minutes about the detail and beauty and exquisite workmanship of the floor-to-ceiling mosaics.

It was an era of full employment for artists. Patrons paid, artists created.

Not that all was good, of course. Your patron had to like the work you created for him. Many a tortured artist was forced to produce pedestrian art to please the master. If not, you might be discharged — permanently.

Diego Rivera experienced the pain of the displeased Patron in the ’30s when Rockefeller destroyed the commissioned mural because it was too revolutionary. Rockefeller knew who Rivera was, right? Did he think that Diego would paint a mural of the benign industrialist? Or maybe dogs playing poker?

There are some who believe that we have a patron system in place right now: it’s called the University. Artists teach and produce work. Some are no more satisfied with the new Patron system, than with the old. Though few art professors lose their heads if they get a negative review.

So here’s my challenge. Let’s bring back the Patronage system. Let’s be active in seeking out matches for artists and collectors, companies and institutions. Let’s be generous with our knowledge of each others’ work. Let’s encourage businesses to take down the anonymous, boring, beige mixed media abstracts and pretend-watercolors of sailboats, and replace them with work that will make people stop and look — and want to come back to the business to look again.

The Patronage system filled 15th century Europe with beauty and majesty and work worth of comment. It’s time we do the same in 2009 everywhere.

About jeanevogelart

Art saves lives. That's my mantra and my motivation. My primary purpose as an artist is to inspire, entertain, make you smile, make you mad, make you think or recall a memory. I strive for work that is intimate and genuine, and sometimes whimsical. It's always more than a "pretty picture." I demand a relationship.
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4 Responses to >Let’s Bring Back the Patronage System

  1. >Oh I so hate to disagree with you, and I do understand your reasons – I do understand that art flourishes when it is dramatically supported.But read the first few pages of The Pollyanna Principles and you will see why I am about to disagree. While there were clear benefits to art having economic support during the Renaissance and beyond, there were also unintended consequences of that system, which we are feeling even today. And no, it’s not just the Rivera / Rockefeller types of consequences (although I am SO with you on that one – did he not know who he hired? I mean, come on!).One of the worst unintended consequences of the patronage system is that it perpetuates even today the myth that art is only for the elite. That it is not a necessity. That it is a rich person’s toy – superfluous, fluff. Nice if you can afford it, but not a requirement for living.Of course that is entirely untrue, but it is what happens when we see art simply as “expensive items to be consumed / performances to be experienced.”If art is to be recognized for its life-giving power – both for those who produce it and those who experience / appreciate it – then it has to break free of that elitist image. I am not sure what the economic model is, but I know what the model cannot be if it is to break the stereotypes that destroy both art and artists.I am looking forward to the vision-based work we are starting with arts groups here in Tucson, to explore how we can move beyond “art is for the wealthy” and instead realize that art is US! http://bit.ly/UrpQe I will keep my blog updated on how that moves along.Thanks for bringing up the topic, though. I needed something to rant about! :-)HG

  2. Jeane Vogel says:

    >Hildy,You make some interesting points but we’re looking at the same issue through two very different filters: you are looking at community engagement, which is great. My filter is finding connections between INDIVIDUAL artists and INDIVIDUAL collectors. The key is in the challenge in the last two paragraphs.Yours is a great perspective for community engagement in the arts, of course. My perspective is that artists need to make a living — just like any other professional. And of course I”m not suggesting throwing money at artists — but valuing them, instead of valuing the dreck that often passes for art because it’s safe in a public place.We can take up the idea of art as “elitist” another time!

  3. >I am catching up on some other blogs, and stumbled into this. Interesting thoughts, Jeane, although I also can’t say I agree.I do see your perspective, though. And I would LOVE to see businesses and corporations work better with artists in their establishments. We need much more support of the arts on these levels, and much more awareness.And I do see how patronage could help those who are making work that people with money want to look at. Not everything that people genuinely need to see fits into that category, though. And what about those who can’t afford it, who have long been alienated already? As you on many occasions point out, art saves lives. And just looking at art can be helpful and can enable people to connect with one another. It’s not just those at the top of the ladder who can afford to patronize the arts who need healing.Also, if success in the arts were determined solely by patronage, then we would lose much art acting as a catalyst for societal change, especially if one wishes to scrutinize or criticize the patrons or the system themselves. Hans Haacke has built his reputation on this and still has his work censored even today, despite being well known. Many of those artists whom I personally admire most would not be patronized because their work just isn’t salable and isn’t going to match anyone’s sofas.I think that there needs to be a system in place in which the power is in the artists’ hands. Not the institutions. Not the universities. Not the patrons. Not the elitists and critics and curators and directors… but the artists themselves. How? I don’t know, but I think that the key lies in globalization. Via the Internet, we can connect with people across the world. We can carve out our own paths, seek out patronage on our own terms and offer social commentary to discuss those topics which would otherwise be off limits. Granted, forging one’s own path is a lot of work, but seeking a career in the arts was never purported to be easy. If we artists stick together and help to elevate one another, it strengthens all of us.I think, in looking to the future, we should learn from the past and build on it but not necessarily hearken back to days of yore. Nostalgia always makes things seem much sweeter than the realities that they were.

  4. Jeane Vogel says:

    >Jennifer,A reread of the blog might be in order. I never suggested bringing back the patronage system — it’s was a device to open a discussion. I didn’t suggest that one approach is good for all artists. In fact, I didn’t suggest any of the ideas that are disputed here.I did suggest that introducing artists and patron is a good idea. You don’t want one, fine. But let’s not be barriers to others.We need lots of good ideas. And approaches. There’s room for everyone.And I might be older, but I’m not nostalgic. That seems a little patronizing.

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