By Rachel Siegel
As a young artist today, it is scary to take the leap into one’s creative ambitions. We have grown up with the image of the starving artist — the idea that you cannot make a living in the arts. The precarious nature of this field scares off so many talented people, and important innovative art is lost. It is time to shake off this insecurity by renewing a lost tradition.
Several centuries ago, during the European Renaissance, artists could live and work more sustainably. For this, they had the patronage model to thank. Wealthy families sponsored artists to create works of art, anything from personal portraits to grand architecture. Artists could afford to dedicate their lives to their craft and make time-intensive masterful pieces. Across Florence you can see the incredible arts patronage of the Medici family, from Michelangelo’s David to Raphael’s Madonna Infanta. But not long after these creations, the economic model of arts patronage fizzled away.
At the end of the Renaissance, patronage was replaced by the free market. Instead of commissions, artists followed their own visions and sold their work through a web of dealers, agents, auction houses, and in the modern day, the internet. Many artists celebrated this newfound creative freedom. They no longer had to follow the demands of a patron. Yet, it also increased the precarious nature of an artist’s career. They had to invest personal resources to make art and then to attempt to sell it.
What if we could combine the sustained support of patronage with the freedom of an open market? An intriguing new site called Patreon is hoping to create that winning combination (Silicon Valley for the rescue!). On Patreon, anyone can become a patron of an artist they love by pledging as little as one dollar a month. Artists offer special treats to their patrons like Google Hangouts, presale tickets, and more. In the words of Patreon founders, “Our goal is nothing short of changing the very way in which creators are paid for their work, moving from ad-supported creations back to ‘old-school’ Medici style patronage.”
After browsing the site, I’m the proud new patron of a young painter in Northern California Rebex Nie. Start discovering your next favorite artist!
Rachel Siegel is a student at Studio Arts Centers International in Florence where she explores digital media arts and metalsmith jewelry. Back in the states, she studies economics and studio art at Macalester College. She’s excited to be volunteering at the Medici Dynasty Show this fall!
Cover Art by Jeffrey Smith