Patronage and Today's Artists: Everything Old Is New Again


The 18th century system of patronage – which I’d loosely define artists being paid to create stuff by random non-artists – is back. It’s the same kind of thing that the greats like Mozart, Beethoven, and Michelangelo relied on to pay the bills, but in new forms like Youtube, Patreon, Instagram, and Twich. Back in the old days, a rich guy or gal (or prince or princess!) footed the bill and controlled the creative genius of the likes of a Mozart with Ducats and Shillings. Now a collective noble entity called “subscribers” play the role of funding prince or princess, as they control the artists of today with Likes and Follows.


How is the patronage of today different? How can you get in on it?


Patronage of Old

Wikipediaoffers a historical background on patronage, extending it to include “musicians, writers, philosophers, alchemists, astrologers, and other scholars. Artists as diverse and important as Chrétien de Troyes, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson all sought and enjoyed the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons.” It’s never been easy to make a living in the artistic world, both as an 18th century court jester or a 21st century stand-up comic.


Patronage in 2020

We can identify many examples of modern-day patronage. In addition to a multitude of apps where artists can post, gain followers, and earn money, support from other types of entities has gained traction. Crowdfunding, platforms like Patreon, angel investors, and the results of the expansion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) offer ways to earn money as an artist. Our system of grants from non-profits fits, to some extent, into a “more publicly supported system” described b