Musical Patronage

To succeed in any endeavour in the modern world one requires time. The accepted figure for an individual to become “expert” in any given field or subject is ten thousand hours (link). Proficiency in any task requires dedication to the task and, often, an almost obsessive desire to be better than one’s current standard. We’re all aware of Beethoven’s drive to create but he was far from unique. Modern examples abound in all spheres, be they academic, artistic, sporting or any other employment of an individual’s efforts. Zakk Wylde, currently touted as one of the greatest rock guitarists alive plays for two hours every day without fail and he considers this to be the absolute minimum that he can get away with to remain competent. Andres Segovia practiced for three hours on the day that he died (incidentally, he was insistent that he would only practice (not including performances) for five hours a day. No more.). The decathlete Daley Thompson would train twice on Christmas Day, safe in the knowledge that his competitors weren’t training once. All these people have absolute dedication to the task at hand, a dedication and an unwavering steadfastness that doesn’t fit well with the nine-to-five lifestyle.

Financial support is difficult to justify. I’m sure that we’ve all come across someone that declares that they’re an artist (or whatever) so couldn’t possibly take a job of work. Products or output are generally less important to the individual than sitting in the park or pub. These aren’t the people that we’re interested in here but how does one decide whether an individual is a genuine artist striving to create for the betterment of mankind or just a slacker?

The question would be compounded if we were to involve a state sponsored financial incentive scheme for artists in general. I feel that we’d very soon see a burgeoning movement of “artists” as the lazy man tries to cash in so we as a society make a compromise. We hand the decision of financial backing for the arts to a central government or (increasingly) to specialised charities (or organisations such as the National Lottery) which focus on the product in question, who know the field in question and supply funding based on academic record, performance history, etc.

However noble this might seem on first examination, it does turn out to be a bit of a blunt tool. How are we to find the individuals that are hidden away in attics and cellars, diligently honing their craft and for whom a little financial support would help lift them into the public eye and give us all pleasure? The answer is that we can’t (due to the “slacker” argument outlined above) so we don’t. Artists have to struggle to be seen. Only once they’re recognised can financial help be justified in being given. Many great artists have died poor.

This is a problem. Blur, the rock band who gave us so much music in the 1990s have made millions of pounds for the UK treasury in taxes, tourism for concerts, etc. yet Damon Albarn is insistent that had he and his bandmates not been able to sign on to the British Social Security (Dole) and receive an income of some sort, that Blur would never have existed. They needed time.

Personal patronage in the twenty first century has seemed to have been superseded by corporate sponsorship and this seems to work very well for all parties involved. I firmly believe in sponsorship of the arts and I believe that a portion of our tax should go towards supporting young talent but unless we’re to single out individuals I fear that we might end up spreading the butter a little too thin with nobody receiving anything of any great use. Guitars and violins are expensive (even if they are loaned by those that own them) but we can’t just hope that charities will find these talents and cover all requirements so we come back to central government.  But is improving our quality of life through promotion of the arts what we want a central government to do? Is this their job or are they just administrators?

There must be third way aside from the direct but difficult modern patronage and the easy but not very useful broad brush of government funding but it currently eludes us.

There are many who think that the arts and government should stay apart as their aims and objectives are mutually exclusive but my view differs. I believe that it’s the objective of a central administration to do what’s necessary to advance the wellbeing of those it serves, and that includes development of artistic appreciation, enjoyment and development.

I can quote Winston Churchill (1) who, when speaking to the Royal Academy in April 1938 told us:

“The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life.

The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them.

…Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

(1) – Retrieved: 30/12/2015.