…been thinking about philanthropy and the “starving artist” since watching a great BBC television series “The Impressionists.” (which you can find through Netflix) It’s a three-part series about Claude Monet especially, but also Renoir, Bazille, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, etc. – all those rabblerousing Impressionist painters of the late 19th century. There was a time, of course, when artists (who didn’t have access to family wealth) required wealthy patrons in order to survive and participate fully in their artistic creativity. And do their art they did: with feverish passion, with all they could muster as artists of their time. It was impressive to witness, in the BBC drama, the devotion these artists possessed, both for their art and for the group (it’s easy to forget how radical these impressionist artists were at the time and how much they needed each other to continue on).
Now, of course, is a different time. Or is it? Many artists who practice their art have “day jobs” and often split off too much time from art making to survive. Resources like family wealth (especially if it is yours and not governed by a parent who wanted you to be doctor or lawyer, never an artist) still certainly comes in handy. Some of us artists even have patrons who buy our work or sponsor us as we create our performances. Yet the patron role is pretty weak, especially here in the U.S. The wealthy individuals and families of America have mostly created family foundations to practice patronage of the arts, and only few of those support individual artists’ work. Yet there continues the expectation, among artists and citizens alike, that artists must indeed live life on the brink for their creativity.