At the start of a recent This American Life podcast, host Ira Glass reached out to the listeners to ask for donations. His show is broadcast on Public Radio and donations are important, not so much for this money-maker, but to many other public broadcasting productions. Ira asks for money in a classy way and because it’s a well-deserving show it’s an easy pitch. This idea of asking for donations does lead to a thought about where art and the money to fund it may be heading.
With the dissemination of information through the Internet becoming more possible and more persistent every year (content piracy) it’s going to be hard for artists to charge for content that users can get for free from any bit torrent website. If people can’t help themselves from stealing from their favorite artists, their favorite artists are going to have to charge them up front. If you want the next U2 album, you’re going to have to write Bono and the boys a check BEFORE they go into the studio, not after. In essence, Patronage. This is not a new concept.
In the Renaissance, Michelangelo was paid well for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but he was paid up front and throughout the process. His patrons didn’t wait to see what Michelangelo produced out of his own expenses to debate about whether the finished work was worth buying. They trusted the artist and paid for his services ahead of time. This seems logical to me.
To make your name and have someone appreciate you in the first place, YouTube and a million other blogs or websites are great places to become known. But then once you achieve a level of success, patrons could donate to have you produce even more work. Look at any other non-commission job out there. You go to an interview to prove yourself and if you are hired, the employer will commit to pay the employee before any work has actually been done. In effect, we the people will employ our artists in the future. If we want quality art, artists will want to get paid for it, and if it’s increasingly harder to earn money on work you’ve already produced, we will have to reward our true artists with commissioned works through Patronage. Another benefit of this is that our attention and our money will go from YouTube ”productions” like Charley Bit My Finger, which is really cute, to true artists.
If we’re going to keep pirating, and I’m sure people will keep pirating, then be ready for the day when you’re going to have to start paying for artists instead of art.