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The Transformation of Patronage

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To a certain extent, art has always depended on patronage—a patron being an individual who invests in the work and life of an artist or artistic cause.

From an economic perspective, artists can only live out their creative endeavors if they are being financed from one source or another. In the earlier periods of history, artists were commissioned by wealthy patrons—see the Medici Family as reference—to create artwork that reflected the acceptable ideas and styles of the time. Moreover, the patron viewed his artist as an asset, an investment into culture, and a symbol of his own elite standing in society.

Patronage is a necessity in the modern era as well. Artists who make it onto the elite art scene earn their living off wealthy art collectors who exemplify a less direct form of patronage, one that is realized through a free market rather than personalised commissions. As we move forward into the digital age, however, it is becoming more and more true that the patron of the arts has transformed from a wealthy elite individual, to a wide audience of average or high incomed art-lovers. The patron is now a collective.

Most recently several art startups have been working to give artists a high-tech platform where they can accumulate their patronage. Anyone who appreciates an artist’s work can pledge a small sum to the artist every month, and through these monthly donations the artist is able to live and work—regularly sharing the fruits of her labor with her audience of diverse patrons. What is unique about this model is that it effectively disrupts the usual inaccessibility of the art world, both for artists and art enthusiasts. The success of websites such as Patreon, is indicative of monumental changes in the art market at large.

According to industry experts, in 2016 sales of artworks priced under $50,000 accounted for 74% of the art market in terms of volume, and 58% in terms of value. The single largest price segment was recorded to be between $5,000 and $50,000, representing 38% by both volume and value. In other words, it is becoming increasingly clear that accessible art is in high demand. The world has embraced the idea of the patron as a collective, and people are looking for more ways to invest in art in an affordable way.

A large part of the growth of the lower to medium-priced art market is also the result of sales that focus on local artists, but take place globally. Online art platforms such as Artbeep give local artists the opportunity to showcase their art to a worldwide audience, and thus build up their patronage without having to spend much time or money. Artists are no longer confined by borders or the curatorial restrictions of rigid art markets. Expanded patronage means an expanded market that is more welcoming to a wide range of styles and creative visions.

In many ways Artbeep is truly embracing the role of the new patron—a role that implies accessibility, affordability, and a more communal approach to funding art. As an expression of human feeling and experience, art should belong to everyone and not only to an elite few. There’s a democratic spirit about the new structures for financing art, and Artbeep is excited to be one such platform for creative transactions.