Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Starving Artist and the Importance of Patrons

Jay's Sun-Dried Tomato Pie
(I am not allowed to tell you his secret sauce ingredient, but will say this.... it is bizarre, and oh so tasty!)

"A starving artist is an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects." -Wikipedia (

I'm not starving in a literal sense. Not by any means. This past week I was treated to both a steamed lobster dinner (thanks to Mom) and a gourmet sun-dried tomato pizza compliments of my brother. I felt extremely well-fed, perhaps over fed, and didn't feel like a financially-struggling artist at all. In reality, though, it is a tough economic road for most artists.

It isn't for lack of ambition. Artists tend to work hard. I'm not a slacker and I doubt anyone who knows me would say otherwise. I am grateful for all that I have and recognize that by many people's standards in this world, I am "rich". I have a roof over my head, food on the table, medical care when needed, and the usual North American material gadgets: car, TV, stereo, kayak, furniture, etc.

I work a full-time job which (usually) covers basic necessities and bills and though I am not selling my works (yet!) for thousands of dollars a piece, I do rely on the income I make from my art to cover the expenses of living in mainstream society.

Still, if judging by Wikipedia definition, Chris and I both fall under the category of "starving artist". We struggle financially and have to make choices everyday with where the limited income is to be spent. Most purchases require some sort of deep-thought or explanation. Our house could use some major repairs, we share one car, don't subscribe to expensive cable channels, and a bulk of our clothing is purchased through Goodwill. We don't travel, except to see family, and have no major electronic "toys" like Blackberries or fancy cell-phones. We rarely go to the movies or other events that require a ticket fee. When something breaks, it isn't a given that we can replace it. Simple things that others sometimes take for granted aren't on our list of possibilities.

In the whole scheme of things, though, our sacrifices are tiny. Nonetheless, we do make sacrifices everyday for our art.

That being said, we also could not do what we do without major support from those who acknowledge the importance of what we are doing as artists. We have been the fortunate recipients of various benefactors' generosity. Without the help that we have been given along the way, we would not have grown as we have.

"Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors."
-Wikipedia (

Our patrons have come in more than one form, and there have been many over the years. For any artist, writer, musician, actor, etc., patrons are a lifeblood. Without these supporters of the arts, genius works from the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci would not have been possible. Much of creative society relies on financial gifts for such things as museum collections, artist grants, and public radio and TV broadcasting.

My mind is flooding with all the patrons that Chris and I have had over the years. What these generous people and organizations are giving is more than a few dollars to pay a bill. They are helping to fund projects that in turn benefit a mass of people in society. Chris' poetry and novel will inspire many to analyze their own ways of being and aspire to be better people. My artwork hopefully will spark similar thoughts as well as bring joy and meaning to those who own and hold one of my creations.

I was the recipient of a life-changing fellowship that moved my work as a weaver forward. Three years later, I still feel the effects of that gift. We have had family members come to our aid, offer us a home, help with building studio space, and support with our education. As well, I am grateful for every person who visits our shop and for those who have been loyal returning customers over the years.

In turn, I try to give back to community and society by not only creating artwork that might either inspire or awaken to new thought, but by volunteering my time with projects such as Lubec Arts Alive or hosting sessions in the new studio. The patronage we receive has a ripple effect that affects many more than the benefactor probably realizes.

So, thank you to all those folks who have supported us financially or with volunteered time - those who have purchased our work, given us a home, made or bought us food, slipped us a few extra bucks for supplies, paid insurance and taxes, sponsored a building project, vehicle assistance, labored to make our studios more sound and beautiful, photocopied chapbooks, painted walls, fixed our toilet and funded hot water, sponsored travel/lodging to conferences and workshops, published poetry, hooked-up the kiln and lights in barn, hosted readings and gallery showings, landscaped, and to those who have given us incredible emotional support and direction over the years.

Without their support - we would not be where we are today.


Owl Who Laughs said...

I read recently that just one of the new fighter planes (F-38)is going to cost over one hundred million. For one military plane!

Weapons of death get plenty of money while so many worthy and wonderful artists starve.

paula said...

found you through kim's blog
good post! though i would like to hear more about the patron thing, how you find them or they find you. i have no idea about that part of being an artist. i'm the definition of a starving artist according to wikipedia :( even though i'm in galleries and sell online, as you know it isn't easy out there when you are all on your own.