It’s not everyday that I think longingly of times gone by—either my own times or ones much longer gone by. I’m generally pretty happy living in the here and now. But two recent events—the surprise retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and a trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—have left me thinking of days gone by when the uber-rich (be they of the religious or mercantile variety) used to fund the arts.
It was hard not to look at the John Singer Sargent paintings at the Gardner Museum and not ponder both the friendship he shared with Isabella herself, but also her support of his work.
Sure, there are still uber-rich people who buy art. But no one’s asking the likes of Sargent to paint a saint-like portrait of them (dripping in jewels, no less) and certainly no one’s commissioning a Sistine Chapel anymore. And there’s something sad about that.
However, this little moment of nostalgia for a patronage I never experienced has changed into a moment of optimism about the here and now. As I ponder the idea of being a part of a Kickstarter-funded project, I’m quite pleased, thank you very much, to be living in a time and place where the arts can be funded by people for whom Vatican-level riches have proved elusive. In other words, funded by people like me. And for people like me.
It’s a democratization of arts patronage that gives the artist (no matter what creative art he or she practices) more freedom to create and more freedom to find the right outlet for his or her art.
So, let’s give a round of enthusiastic applause to Kickstarter, Pubslush, and other organizations of their ilk for providing artists with a means to create—while thankfully taking papal support out of the equation.