Patronizing the Artists
Direct patronage always has been, and always will be, an important way supporting artists who choose a life of doing what they do best, especially in a society where copyright is dying a not-so-slow death (pending the outcome of the ridiculously overzealous intellectual property treaty currently in the works). It also happens to be one of the best ways of actually putting money into the hands of the artist, rather than the intellectual property managing corporations that don’t give an artist any share of revenues until the artist has transcended the need for a distributor in the first place. But then again, art doesn’t always pay the bills, and great writers have had their share of day jobs:
However, there is also the paradigm of the tortured artist who couldn’t imagine a life of anything but their art, and don’t really care about the money (note: this is a lot easier when the writer’s success isn’t posthumous). Take Hemmingway, for example; Hemmingway was a hilariously belligerent iconoclast when his literary honor was offended by money. Rejecting an offer of $600 by Reader’s Digest to reprint one of his short stories, he wrote:
Dear Miss Johnson:
I am very sorry that I cannot give you permission to re-publish “On the Blue Water,” which first appeared in the April 1936 issue of Esquire. There is one book by me about the sea on sale at present and have no wish to saturate the public.
For your future information I would never be interested in re-printing anything, ever, anywhere, for the fee you name.
Patronage is also essential for transcending the market’s preferences, since a donor with some taste or class can choose what creative material to subsidize without concern for what anybody but the artist wants. By contrast, the market gives rise to decisions to create content like Sarah Palin’s newly inked deal with the Discovery Channel to do a series about the savage Alaskan wilderness. It is currently unclear whether she is the subject or just the host. Either way, let’s hope the market doesn’t reward that decision (as I expect it will) or we’ll be seeing a lot more of Sarah (as I expect we will). But that’s the thing about patronage; it can take the market out of the equation.
Man, I wish somebody would pony up the dough to make “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” into a full-length movie (Bonus: spot the real Weird Al’s cameo!). Now there is an artist of underappreciated genius, despite the self-deprecation laced in the video. Well, ok, maybe he is appreciated exactly as much as he deserves, and I’m just biased.