The creative class and patronage

No sympathy for the creative class – this Salon piece is both depressing and…well, enlightening, in a way. Part of me is now pondering what our culture would look like had there not been patronage of the arts by nobles/the rich in earlier… times, and what that patronage looks like or should look like today.

Should the arts be left to the support of the buying public, and weeded out that way? Or should they be supported by governments, wealthy benefactors, etc, on the basis that “culture is necessary”?

Sadly, I can all too easily envision a future in which most of our entertainment takes the form of pop music, reality shows, and blockbuster movies and rom-coms if market forces are allowed to take hold. But at the same time, there’s also this underground aesthetic that promotes more offbeat offerings – such as C&G’s own – that uses bootstrapping, community-building, and general creativity to support creative projects that aren’t as commercial.

I still fear that things like opera, symphony music, and investigative journalism might die out without patronage. But I’m not sure how to reconcile that with the idea that culture evolves, and market pressures make clear what’s working and what’s not in the current culture.

My bigger fear, really, is that the indie aesthetic – as opposed to the blockbuster entertainment mentality – means that fewer in the “creative class” will actually inhabit that class and be able to make a living off their work. Bootstrapping and Kickstarter and whatnot are great – but they require a lot of work, and a lot of skills that many artists and writers and musicians may not have. And even if they do, it’s time that isn’t being spent creating. Which means that even as technology and the indie aesthetic surges forward, and makes it easier for more people to share their creations with the world, it’s harder to be discovered in that fray, and harder to make a living out of creating art and beauty and telling stories.

And that is the problem, as I see it.

What do you think?


2 Responses to “The creative class and patronage”

  1. Insatiable Booksluts June 1, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    I tend to think that people will always be hungry for creativity and good work. I also think that the market, such as it is, is oversaturated with creative work at the moment–which sounds callous . . er, looks callous even to my own eyes, but we both know that nearly every human being is drawn to some sort of creative endeavor, yet not all of them are terribly creative, nor have skills to back up the ideas. I think that’s a reason why people like you and I are important to this chain: we can help bring up those who have talent and contribute to discovery.

    I really think the core to preserving higher art is education. Understanding leads to appreciation–I’ll use myself as an example, so I don’t seem like I’m picking on “dumb” people, because it’s really not about smart vs. not smart. I’ve always been an art fanatic, even since I was a kid and my grandma gave me a book of Western art; I was in elementary school, checking out van Gogh and Monet and such. I did not, however, *read* the book–I just looked at the pictures, heh. Fast-forward 20 years . . . and I’m married to a man who almost had an art history minor (he lacked two classes). I would say, “I don’t get why so-and-so is such a revered artist.” And hubs would explain it to me. 

    He explained that all of art has a context; that someone like, say, Rothko might be scoffed at by a lot of people *now* because it looks “like something my five year old could have painted” (I hate when people say that), but at the time, what he did was unheard-of. He explained to me that old portrait art, which used to bore me to tears (who wants to look at portraits of people they don’t even know? snooze), often contained a lot of hidden messages from the artist to the audience. A painting of a woman with her hand near her breast standing by a table littered with coins might be the artist’s snide way of saying the woman was a whore.

    The more I’ve learned about art, the more I’ve appreciated it; I’ve gone from “how this painting makes me feel” to “what is this painting’s place in art history, what techniques were used, what colors, what subject”. AND, my new understanding of art has leaked over into a subject I thought I knew quite well–literature. I suddenly began to understand why authors I absolutely hated were important. I re-read some books I hadn’t liked the first time around and gained a new appreciation. 

    So, I really think the dearth of education in this country–as opposed to some other parts of the world that look down their noses at our American pop culture and, perhaps not coincidentally, have better education systems than we do–has a lot to do with it. When you just go on feeling, you like a lot of things designed to make you feel, but not necessarily things designed to make you think… which, “making people feel without thinking” is kind of the entire foundation of marketing/commercialism. (I think this, too, is the reason that investigative journalism has gone by the wayside. People react to what makes them feel and they don’t have the critical thinking skills to question it.) I really think that if we have any hope of continuing to grow as a civilization, we need to focus hard on learning. I think then that our pop culture / indie art / fine art would have a far better balance and patronage. Education makes people hungrier for quality work, I think.

  2. Candlemark & Gleam June 1, 2012 at 9:53 am #

     I’m basically just sitting here nodding. I’ll do that for another minute.


    Okay, done with the nodding.

    You’ve got a two-parter, and I’ll respond as such. First, I think there IS a flood of creative material out there right now. With the internet, it’s much easier to disseminate creative projects; the barriers to entry are much lower, and people see other people’s success, and try to emulate it. Unfortunately, a lot of what it is IS emulation, without necessarily having the talent or critical business skills to back it up. I encourage people to try writing – or drawing, or cooking, or whatever flicks their Bic – but I also like to remind people that not everyone is brilliant at these things. If you’re not professional-calibre, you have to either hone your skills until you are, or accept that you’re not gonna be a pro and just do it for the enjoyment.

    And, tying that back into your point about education, that’s where things come together. Professionalism in the creative fields and education go hand in hand. We have to recognize that it’s worth specializing, worth being professional in the sense of carefully refining and honing skills, worth compensating people for those skills. And that’s where the education comes in – the understanding of cultural context, of skill, of labour, of the overall worth of well-executed creativity.

    So what does that mean for the creative economy? Damned if I know. But I can hope that the explosion of interest in producing creative material will lead to more professionalism, and more people recognizing how much work goes into creating things, and how it’s worth compensating artists fairly for that.

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