As I further contemplate joining Patreon, I get really excited about what things like Patreon mean for the relationship between consumer and maker. I don’t know why any one else makes art, but I make it to tell stories, to have somewhere to put the manic energy that’s always lived in my hands, and to reflect an idea or state of mind. Stories are by their nature meant to be shared. Even if the story I tell with objects isn’t the one you’re hearing, as long as you’re hearing a story or getting an idea or emotion, I’ve done my job. And that’s awesome.
Music and literature in particular have often depended on middlemen to reach the consumer. Sometimes that’s a really useful relationship. Indie record labels and small publishing houses are wonderful things. But the big dogs are not wonderful a lot of the time. Those relationships can be really unbalanced to the detriment of the maker, with an overabundance of middlemen, higher prices for the finished product, a homogenization of the art, and not as much going to the artist as you might like. It’s really satisfying to me to buy or trade for art at the shows I do. I’m right there in the act of supporting the maker. I feel the same when I drop something in the hat of a performer. I’m helping them live their life so they can make art. And that’s awesome.
So this article I posted yesterday morning. Maria Popova interviews Amanda Palmer and they talk about this very thing. Art, the consumer, the relationship between the creator and the fan base. Palmer talks about a supporter on Patreon who withdrew their patronage because they didn’t want the money they spent on art to be spent on diapers. (For those of you who aren’t fans or don’t pay attention to such things, Palmer and husband Neil Gaiman have recently spawned.)
This brings up a very interesting issue. When you pay your plumber for routing out your drain, you understand, if you think about it at all, that he puts that money in the bank and then pays for his life expenses with it. Rent, food, kids school supplies. You do the same with your paycheck for whatever work you do. As far as art goes, when you buy a CD or book at the store, wherever that money goes, someone is paying bills with it, going on vacation with it, doing Life Things with it. But it’s at a remove. You don’t think about what your plumber does at home anymore than you’d want your boss wondering what you’re spending your paycheck on.
Patreon is different. The artists blog and post and share their lives with the patrons, creating an exchange that allows for the patronage relationship to work. Patronage is very different from buying a CD at the store, or art at a show. It’s far more personal and what you get for your money is sometimes less tangible. So Gladys knows that Palmer just supported her chosen political candidate and she knows that she pays Palmer $5 a month to make art. “Wait a minute? Is that MY money she just gave to that Socialist hippie????” Well, no. Gladys, you paid a wage to someone to make work, which you got your fair share of in whatever way Patreon has set up that you agreed to. You got what you paid for. Your $5, that is, Palmer’s paycheck, went into her bank account to pay for Life Things. Sometimes that’s going to facilitate making more art. But sometimes it’s for diapers and sometimes it’s for things you don’t necessarily agree with.
It leads to a lot of pondering about expectations, and why artists would be expected to somehow live differently than plumbers. I’d love for my art to completely support my life. That means that when someone buys my art, they’re directly supporting my life with this paycheck they’ve just given me in exchange for my work. My whole, entire, mundane detail filled life. Which involves buying more supplies and making more art, but it also entails having my oil changed and paying for my dog’s vet bills, paying my tax accountant and spending a weekend hiking at Devils Lake with my partner. If they don’t like that I have a dog with vet bills or sometimes need a vacation and don’t want to pay for that, it’s their choice. But are they so picky about the guy at the bakery, or the lady who dry cleans their shirts? Why, or why not?
But think about that. When I have enough of a customer base to actually consider Patreon, it’s going to create a different sort of consumer/maker relationship. Anyone who chooses to support it will be paying me a salary to just be here and make stuff. Such is the nature of patronage. It’s maybe just a dollar a month. But that dollar will get you access, rather than concrete objects. Workshops, blogs, bits and bobs. It’ll be different than buying something from me online or at a show. Though part of that access will probably be first dibs on new stuff. Can I then, with that dollar and many others, go and get a tattoo, for example, without pissing anybody off? Can I even fulfill a consumer/maker relationship at a higher level than what you’d put in a tip jar? Because visual artists on Patreon send their higher dollar patrons some great shit, let me tell you. Limited edition prints and whatnot, that only patrons get. But I don’t have prints. I’m a 3D girl. What do I send someone insane enough to put more than a buck in my hat?
The answer is, I don’t know. There’s a reason I don’t have “artist” on my business cards, but instead put “mad scientist” on them. Because this is all an experiment. I don’t know how many of you or anyone else are willing to get on board with me and see where it goes, but I’m totally willing to fling myself out into the void to find out.