When I think of the concept of “patronage”, my mind immediately conjures up an image of Michelangelo, perched on scaffolding, creating the masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel. Certainly, patronage of the arts was at its height during the Renaissance, but it is has existed long before and still—in a modified form—is practiced today.
Patronage, it is clear, comes from Latin for “father” and denotes a sort of sponsor or protector. One could be a patron for all sorts of reasons, but the term is most closely associated with sponsorship of an artist. While as a system patronage could, at times, have its flaws or abuses, the part patrons have to play in the creation of art is valuable. Artists may always create, but the support of patrons often is what propels that art to a wider audience and enables the artist to continue to work.
You can see how being a patron is actually quite a privilege and a responsibility. Where we decide to put our money helps to determine what message is conveyed to our culture through the arts. When you look at the Sistine Chapel, in awe of the beautiful scene of God’s creation of man, you might even say that patronage of the good, true and the beautiful is a form of evangelization.
In his Letter to Artists, St. John Paul II wrote about artists, “Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favour of the common good” (no. 4). True beauty is compelling, capable of catalyzing joy, sorrow, contemplation and even prayer.
This is part of the motivation behind “Love Good Music”, a platform that sponsors a community of musicians through a system of patronage. Their vision is to “to bring Truth and Beauty back into the forefront of the music industry and the culture at large.” To accomplish this, patrons commit to a regular contribution that enables artists from diverse genres to create beautiful music, without being tied down by Billboard charts. In exchange, patrons receive albums from musicians, exclusive interviews with them and other music memorabilia.
Musician Kevin Heider explains that patronage is what kept his music career alive when he was starting out. “Having patrons has allowed me to keep going, to continue pursuing songwriting and performing as a career”, he said. He recounts that without patron support for an album “the project would have sat in limbo and I probably would have had to take a break from music indefinitely.” “That type of support is immeasurable – it helps pay the bills and lets me know that there actually are people out there (myself not always included) who appreciate what I’m doing and truly believe that I should keep doing it.”
Love Good Music patrons, and indeed any patrons of artists, are participating in the transformation of the culture. It is a way to put your money where your mouth is. Sick of pop music that sells listeners on cheap thrills, poor composition and empty promises of love and fleeting pleasure? Consider sponsoring musicians who inspire, communicate truth and create moving music. Wish that people would create amazing art again? Go out and find talented artists and support their work! Would you love to see more of some of the talented writers you find on the web? Give a donation to keep them writing!
Christians are called to stewardship and this stewardship does not begin and end with the offertory basket. If we are truly going to be “salt of the earth”, then we should be involved in transforming all aspects of our culture. For some of us, that means actually creating beautiful things. For others, it means educating children in these ideals, helping them to recognize truly meaningful art. And for the rest of us, it means being more intentional with what we put our money towards.
If I buy the latest Oprah Book club choice off of Amazon, I am a patron of that best seller. Likewise, if I decide to give someone the gift of a print from an independent talented artist (like my newest favorite Audrey Eclectic or sacred artist Daniel Mitsui), I’m helping to sponsor their work. Participating in a collective patronage platform, like this innovative Love Good Music, is another alternative that provides a more consistent patronage that musicians can rely upon.
So, even if I won’t be commissioning The David anytime soon, I’m in favor of bringing back the idea of patronage into the Christian life. With our help, in the words of Dostoyevsky, “Beauty can save the world”.