Monday, February 20, 2012

Patronage, Artists, and the Trinity Arts Festival

When I think about art and the viability of making a living as an artist, I am reminded of a scene from Hello Dolly
Ambrose Kemper: And I'm telling you that I will marry her!
Horace Vandergelder: Not without my permission, you won't!
AK: This is a free country, not a private kingdom. She's consented and I'll marry her.
HV: I'm telling you that you won't.
AK: I'm telling you I will.
HV: Ermengarde is not for you. You can't support her. You are an artist.
AK: I make a good living.
HV: A living, Mr Kemper, is made by selling something that everybody needs at least once a year. And a million is made by producing something everybody needs every day. You artists, you painters, produce nothing that nobody needs, never.
* * * 

Has there ever been a time when an artist could make a living? There used to be a time when it was--perhaps--easier to do so. In an article titled "The Lost Art of Patronage," Charles Erlandson argues that from its earliest days the Church has proved an important patron for artists. He writes:
After Christianity had found an imperial sponsor in Constantine, the church became an even greater sponsor of the arts.... Funds from the imperial treasury were now available to the church to patronize Christian art, and the decorative arts in general and more specifically painting were supported, as were the best artists. 
But the artists of this time were not given free rein to create whatever they imagined. Their art was encouraged, supported, and patronized only insofar as it could be useful to the Church itself.
What we never find in the patronage of the early church is an art for art's sake mentality. Actually, "art for art's sake" is a peculiar interpretation of art developed in the nineteenth century, and I suppose what I really mean is a notion of art as an entity which is capable of standing on its own, divorced from its explicitly religious context. The early church is not alone in this idea; every culture that has existed, with the notable exceptions of Greco-Roman civilization and its modern, secular heir (which in this sense would have to be dated from the Renaissance) has understood art as primarily a means of worship. It is a relatively recent idea that art is something completely different and separable from worship and even religion in general. 
Book of Kells
This view of art as inseparable from religion is evident throughout the Middle Ages. The monks of Ireland and England used art to beautify the Bible, creating illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels. Musicians found a venue for their work in worship with Gregorian chants that developed into the polyphonic masses of the High Middle Ages. Poets exercised their pens with hymns of praise that could be set to the music of the worship service. A glorious new expression of architecture reared its head with the construction of cathedrals.

During the Middle Ages, very little art was produced without a direct or indirect connection to formal worship; the Church itself was the inspiration, the breeding ground, and the employer for artists of all kinds. And the Church provided a living for the artists who breathed life into the Church's worship.

With the Renaissance, however, all this began to change. Private noblemen, like the Medici of Florence, began to take over the Church's role as patron of the arts, and the connection between art and religion was severed. Erlandson writes:
This new form of patronage, with its emphasis on calling attention to the patron and its idea of art being worthy in and of itself of contemplation, bears the distinct marks of the modern conception of the arts and patronage.
This notion of private persons as the new patrons of art continued to gain prominence after the Renaissance until the Church almost entirely lost its position as patron of the arts. Today the Church provides little opportunity or incentive for artists to exercise their talents. Artists must look elsewhere to find patrons for their work.

* * *

On Friday I attended the Trinity Arts Festival hosted by my home church, Reformation Covenant Church in Oregon City, OR. This was the fourth year the festival has been held, and the attendees all seem to agree that it was the best festival to date. While my church is a long way off from being in a position to provide employment for artists, the Trinity Arts Festival is a great way to encourage the arts in the congregation and the community. The art and music entered in the festival did not have to be explicitly religious, but participants were asked to share with the audience a way in which their piece brought glory to God.

Musicians sang and played instruments in the sanctuary and a couple smaller rooms throughout the church.

Art of all kinds--nearly a hundred pieces--was on display.



One of my favorite paintings there, by Lindsey Lyons

This painting by Kerilynn Ayers won the Peoples' Choice Awards

Woodworking and Textiles

One-of-a-kind displays like this Etch-a-sketch drawing

Postcards were available for sale of some of the artwork at the event.

The festivities were enhanced by food--some of it submitted as art in its own right--and wine.

I submitted a poem for the festival, and it was displayed on the table put together by my writers' group, The Inkblot Society.

What is The Inkblot Society? The answer to that question deserves a post all of its own, a post that will be forthcoming later this week. But for now, I will leave you with this: just as the Trinity Arts Festival hopes to encourage art of all kinds within the church community, The Inkblot Society hopes to encourage, more specifically, the art of writing.

Thanks to all the organizers who made the festival such a fabulous event! Thanks to all the musicians and artists who participated. And thanks to Peter Mahar for allowing me to use many of his photographs in this blog post. I'm already looking forward to next year's Trinity Arts Festival....


  1. Hmm... Interesting thoughts on an interesting topic.

    And yes, the Trinity Arts Festival was the best yet. :-) So thankful for all those who put so much work into it!

  2. Reminds me of something that C.S. Lewis said about friendship. It has no survival value, but it gives value to survival. Art is like that.


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