Pass the Scotch and Birdseed
I’m feeling the need of a patron.
You know what a patron is, don’t you? It’s someone incredibly rich who keeps a stable of tame artists the way other people keep budgies. There are some differences, of course. Artists need locks on the cage doors, because they’re smart enough—usually—to figure out how to open them. But if you give them enough paint or clay or paper or whatever, they often won’t bother. Oh, yes, and most of them object to a steady diet of birdseed and want the occasional bottle of wine, or twelve-year-old Scotch.
Artists are usually messy, too. You think sweeping up birdseed is a pain in the butt? Try picking up after an artist. But patrons don’t do that job. They have people for that. No, the job of a patron is to keep the artist fed and housed and freed of the necessity of staving off the bill-collectors or the wolf.
In return, the artist produces art. Sweet deal, no?
It’s not without its trials. In return for this kind of support, the artist must produce art that the patron wants. Think of it—you’re communing with your Muse and things are getting hot and heavy in the inspiration department. Clothes have been loosened and the Muse is doing things that take your breath away. And then the patron walks in.
“Yo! Tame-budgie-writer-type!” he says. “I’m in need of a novel—something sweeping and grandiose, vast panoramas, wild passions, yada, yada. Here’s ten thousand to start with. Can you have it done a week Thursday?”
“Eep!” says the Muse, and gathers her—or his—clothes up and stalks out. “Call me when you have an evening free!” is her parting shot. Meanwhile, the patron stands there bright-eyed and expectant, waiting for your answer. If your answer isn't “I’m on it—might be a week Friday,” you’ll be looking for another reliable source of Scotch and budgie seed.
“I could never do that!” I hear you cry. “I must Follow My Art!”
Oh, suck it up. Michelangelo, Bach, Mozart, Da Vinci—all of them worked to order for patrons. You think Leonardo saw Lisa di Antonio Maria Gherardini swanning down some Florence street and said “That’s her! I must paint her!”
Really? You think that? Ha! It's much more likely that Francesco del Giocondo walked into the studio one day and said, “Look, Leo, Lisa’s driving me nuts about getting a painting done. Couldja help me out here? Here’s a humongous bag of florins. Oh, yeah, and her teeth are awful, so please don't tell her to say ‘gorgonzola’ or whatever for the picture, all right?”
Sure, maybe it wasn’t what Leonardo wanted to spend the afternoon doing. And maybe his Muse had just huffed out the door without looking back, and who knew when there’d be another evening free, all for something that in a mere five hundred years or so could be done with a Polaroid camera, which Leonardo might have invented if it weren’t for people like Francesco del Giocondo and his wife.
Still, Lisa’s picture is one of the most famous in the world.
Amazing what you can get done if you need the budgie seed.