The Need to Give: The Patron and the Arts

By Andrew Sinclair | Go to book overview

ENDPIECE
We, the Patrons . . .

PATRONAGE IMPLIES a benefactor or a guardian. The patron encourages or advises on a work of art. But his generosity may lead to interference. His giving away may seem like looking down; the adjective 'patronizing' now means the demeaning of others. And as Lord Chesterfield pointed out, 'People hate those who make them feel their inferiority.' And there is also the question of secrecy of decision. The Patronage Secretary is a powerful Treasury official who is not accountable to the public, but is responsible for many important choices. In a democratic age which believes in the impar- tial aid of the welfare state, a patron appears less good than rich, less caring than condescending, and less essential than self-important.

Yet George Bernard Shaw was right in Captain Brassbound's Conversion: 'Getting Patronage is the whole art of life. A man cannot have a career without it.' Certainly in the arts, there can be no career without patronage from tax money or from business, from the foundations or from the wealthy, from the media or from you and me. If the word has come to have an ambiguous meaning, it does not invalidate the important act of giving to the arts and of choosing to which of the arts to give. Every artist needs patrons, and the pleasure of being a patron lies in selection and sometimes in suggestion. The chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Palumbo, is himself a patron of the arts and architecture with houses designed by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. He agrees that he may be a throwback to the eighteenth century, when artists were ending their treatment as domestic servants and valets de chambre. But there was no question of a return to that

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