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Space for Rent: Art for Art Sake Meets the Public as Patron

Tweet of the Day: When the Reader Becomes the Enemy: Lessons from Pottermore


This is one those post that until now sat on my draft folder for no other reason that I did not know how to express my idea(s) about the subject in a coherent manner.

Enter Mass Effect 3.

If you haven’t heard about this (may contain spoilers), and I for one have tried to keep it from the blog after over hyping the game for the past couple of months. Just like I did New Vegas.


The controversy boils down to this: the developers ability to create the title they want vs. the fans demands to fix the horrible ending.

Where does creator prerogative to be true to their art yield to the wants of their patrons?

In the past most art was created under the paradigm of Patron/Artist where a patron (usually a wealthy individual or powerful institution) commissioned works of art. The Artist, regardless of his talent was a tool of the Patron and the art created reflected that relationship. No wonder that many art pieces reflected the values and/or message of the patron. Look at the Sixteen Chapel, or the interior of any western palace like Versailles if not the buildings itself. Symbols of the their power, glory and message(s).

The Romantics added a new and contradictory paradigm to the mix, “Art for art’s sake.” A clear rejection of the above. But while popular with artist of all stripes ever since, it did not shift the paradigm. That happened with the rise of the consumer culture and mass media art. All of the sudden it was not a rich patron that supported the artist financially but the market.

But did that turn the public into patrons of the art?

Not exactly.

Since funding for the arts (at least mass media arts such as books, movies, television, and yes even video games) became so defused, no single person or group of consumers could impose their will on the artist.The power shifted to the distributors (publishing houses, TV networks, movie studios)  those who could bridge the gap between creator and audience. They are the new patrons, or at least an intermediary between the artist and the public. In the best case scenario they serve both to amplify the artist voice and shield it from the demands of a fickle public.

A win for artists, perhaps, but where does that leave the public? Not with many options if the piece in question doesn’t fulfill their expectations.

But should they even have any expectations? Can they claim any rights over the piece in question? Should an artist respond to her audience? How much if at all? And who has the real power?

I’ve always believed that at the very least an artist who claims at least an ounce of integrity (however “artistic” it may be) should show a modicum of respect to the audience. Without an audience, you have no patrons and without the investment of said patrons you have no art. It is as simple as that.

That is not a bright line, for paradigms rarely have any such things. Instead it is a dynamic balance between the artist ability to create and the wants of the audience.  A dynamic balance between the two extremes. There is no happy middle either. It will shift depending on the work the different players involved.  And let us not forget the distributor power to influence both sides of the equation.

In some mediums, such as books and music, many artist use the internet the new distributor, in essence cutting out the new/old middle man and appealing directly to the public. A risky proposition in the best of times and one that closes the gap between creator and public.

Is this the new paradigm? What do you think?


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