Self-Patronage

2015-03-16

A friend recently pointed me to a fascinating essay over at the Atlantic entitled The Death of the Artist — and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur by William Deresiewicz. After exploring the major financial models for artistic creation over the centuries (classic patronage, aristocratic independence, the never-popular starving artist, twentieth-century credentialed professionalism, and just recently a kind of hustling entrepreneurship), the author wonders if the artist as entrepreneur provides a model under which it is possible to create art that can serve as as a "vessel for our inner life" (since artists who are hustling for a living might tend more toward entertainment than deep and lasting art).

These are good questions, and they apply to more than the fine arts since they might be asked of philosophy, history, and other forms of inquiry, too. Yet I suspect that there might be more economic approaches here than the author has imagined. In particular, my financial model for the scholarly and artistic work I do is what we might call self-patronage: I strive to earn enough money from my primary career in technology that I can write and create whatever I please. I feel that acting as my own patron gives me a high degree of freedom: I don't have to worry about achieving tenure, maintaining academic respectibility, surviving the publish-or-perish treadmill, pleasing some rich benefactor, or building a large fanbase. Instead, I can take 5 or 10 years to write a book about Epicurus or Thoreau, explore fundamental truths instead of producing what some academic journal will accept for publication, spend my time on creation instead of marketing, and so on.

The only problem is time: I've been so busy in my career for the last 20 years that I haven't been able to devote as much time as I would have liked to philosophy or music. Yet I am starting to get more disciplined about carving out creative time, and I expect that will begin to bear fruit over the next 5 years or so...


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal