The role of the artist changes over time.
Who seeks and owns art and the way in which artists sell their work has changed dramatically throughout history. Despite all these changes, there are parallels between how artists lived and worked in the past and how we live and work today.
Breaking down the idea of patronage and past systems of representation, like guilds, can help us create modern-day equivalents.
We can seek out clients and systems of support that mirror how artists of the past found funding.
Join us as we reflect on how to adapt historical models of patronage to our contemporary lives.
What was the historical role of art patronage?
A patron is someone who financially supports a given cause or person. The phrase "patron of the arts" persists today, as patronage is historically linked to individuals and groups sponsoring artists.
Historically, people in positions of power like kings and queens funded all types of visual artists to outfit their homes, cities, and important buildings like churches and town halls. If you were an artist and had a powerful patron, your financial security was all but guaranteed. In the Italian Renaissance, patrons either took on artists and commissioned them work-by-work, or they fully took them into their estates and provided them with housing while the artist was “on-call” for all art needs. Depending on the scale of a project, an artist could be funded by patrons for years.
Patronage extended beyond individuals. Groups of artists, or guilds, were commissioned as a group as well to take on projects. Most artists were guild members throughout their life or at least in the beginning of their careers. Being a part of a guild not only meant that an artist had a support system to work within and learn from, but provided opportunities to participate in group commissions.
Patronage increases security and value for artists
Patronage didn’t just create job security, it made artists visible and notable in new ways. Some artists worked exclusively for their patrons while others were commissioned by new patrons as their work gained public exposure. Some of history's most famous artists made their mark through their patron’s commissioned works.
As the system of patronage grew in popularity, artists were more highly regarded in society. Artists were now viewed as people with inspiration and not just as artisans and masons who worked mostly for function. The appreciation of art as aesthetic and valuing the creator of a work continues to shape how we view artists today, as people possessing unique skills that warrant respect, admiration, and payment.
Creating Conditions for Modern-Day Patronage
How an artist works with their clients, today and in the past, is key to creating repeat business and relationships with clients that mirror the commitment of past patrons to their artists.
Patronage was as much about the artists as it was the patron. Remember, like a patron that helps to self-define through the art and “their” artists, your clients are interested in not just your art but feeling like they are a part of it. You can create these connections by building genuine relationships with your clients that will result in continued business.
Through quality work, keeping to timelines and contracts, and communicating professionally with your clients and commissioners, you are not only working successfully but you are creating repeat business for yourself. Add a personal connection to these best practices to create relationships that will live on.
Personal connection and networking will always beat out traditional advertising. Relationships matter when it comes to finding long-term patrons for your art. When you meet a potential client for the first time, be prepared to talk about your work and mission as an artist. Follow up after that interaction with a personal note thanking them for the conversation and let them know about a few artworks that might be of interest to them. Use Artwork Archive's Private Rooms feature to send them an exclusive link to a curated "room" of works that they would enjoy.
If you have a show opening, foster connection by emailing guests after. If you just made new body of work, send a newsletter and keep your audience in the loop. Your contact list is the best way to reach potential patrons.
Get to know the people who are interested in what you do and find the intersections that bring you together.
Seek out potential patrons
Patron-artist relationships of the past were about finding the right fit. Today is no different.
Where would your art be a good fit? Who are you trying to reach?
Artists of the past were chosen by their patrons. Today you can use digital tools to connect with potential new patrons by asking yourself these questions.
The answers can help develop a strategy for reaching your new audience. Are you looking to connect with younger millennial buyers? Are you looking to enter a niche market? Knowing who will likely be a patron of your work will help you reach and connect with them.
Modern-day patronage appears in public and corporate art
Patrons of the past were influential families, cities, and entities like churches. Patrons of today look the same with only slight differences. Businesses, city governments, and other public-facing entities or corporate clients are your potential patrons for large scale works and commissions.
Just like in the past, people and companies are looking to brand themselves with art that aligns with their values, aesthetics, and ideas. Where would your work, your medium, technique, and subject matter jive with an existing business or public entity?
Modern-day patronage translates to all types of businesses, like hotels commissioning mural art or filling their walls with interesting works.
Your “guild” in the case of corporate art might be an art curating firm or gallery that represents you.
Like large scale patronage of the past, working for the public and for businesses gives you and your art reach.
Do your research and know your approach. Is there a public competition to enter? Is there a business your art is a good fit for to reach out to? Are you interested in selling work, working with a new gallery, engaging in a partnership, or leasing your art?
Embrace digital tools to create artist-patron relationships
What makes people want to buy your art and to work with you is your unique perspective, skillset, and personality. You have your own voice as an artist—cultivate and share it.
What allows people to know about your art and about you, are the tools you use to show your art and to connect with your viewers.
Make it easy for potential clients to find you by having a strong web presence and being easy to communicate with. How you work with clients is the difference between a one-time purchase and a long-term patron. Tools like Artwork Archive are designed to help artists present their work, communicate with clients, and forge strong professional relationships.
Art inventory tools like this not only help you showcase your art, they help you build relationships that make sales.
The relationships you build with clients now can still replicate the strong and beneficial bonds of art patronage. Your relationships will help you build business, buzz, and continue to gain exposure and reach. And who knows, it might not be a cathedral ceiling but it may be a career shifting work.