Every interaction, challenge, and success I’ve faced as an emerging artist has helped me form opinions, develop thoughts, and expand my artistic capacity. This perpetual state of learning has shaped both myself and my art, bettering both of us. I’ve been blown away by the response from galleries and art appreciators, and especially surprised by interest from corporate companies.
Recently, with the increase of this latter interest, I took time to decide how to approach partnerships with companies, while maintaining the integrity of a fine art artist. As a means of explaining my choices regarding partnerships and as an effort to be respectfully transparent, I wanted to write an open letter to those interested in my work.
When a company approaches me about collaborating, I worry that I’ll be perceived as the “sell out artist” cliché -- someone who signs away their creative freedom for better financial security. To quell this worry, I pause to think of other artists throughout history who accepted funding and creatively flourished. Matisse worked with dozens of companies—accepting commissions for paintings on site. Botticelli survived on commissions from the famed Florentine Medici family, as did Michelangelo. But not only artists had sponsors, many writers, scientists, musicians, philosophers, and astrologers did as well. If not for outside funding, many of the treasured artistic, literary, and scientific works we have today wouldn’t exist.
While I’m not comparing myself to these great artists, I am giving thought to the lost art of patronage. The concept of the “patron” originated in Ancient Rome and extended into the medieval and Renaissance periods, during which, artists were afforded sponsorship by nobles and merchant princes. Thanks to patrons, artists, writers, scientists, musicians, philosophers, and astrologers could flex their creative muscles and work towards new areas of thought or design with little fear of financial struggle.
Now, let’s fast forward to modern life, and trade the word “patron” for “sponsor” or “partner,” and we’re beginning to head in an interesting direction.
This past year, I did several commissions, but funding from sponsors kept my capacity to create significantly more open ended than commissions. Partnerships with larger companies secures funding for more experimental projects outside of painting—sculpture, for example, something that might not sell but allows me to push the limits as an artist. This is valuable to me because of the buffer it creates between the need to expand artistically and the need to earn a living. It gives me room to wiggle.
When a company approaches me, I take time to get to know their personality and needs before I accept or decline. Luckily, as social media functions as a visual platform to share both my art and inspiration, it has attracted brands that can relate to me and my work. But ultimately, I only agree to partner with companies that I feel good partnering with -- those that represent social responsibility, have an awesome mission, or cultivate creativity.
In many ways, I am part of a new movement of thought regarding how artists can work and make a living. We live in a time where it’s ok for an artist to work as a singular entity, without fear of being a “sell out” by accepting partnerships and without needing galleries to survive. It’s an interesting time to be an emerging artist.
As Matisse said, “An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, of style, of reputation, or of success.” And I’d like to add: “to old clichés.” The freedom to make art and to be able to share it with interested people is what makes being an artist so great. Who knows what the coming years will bring, but I want to be a part of reshaping how the world views artists, and frankly, how we as artists view ourselves. I think that begins with being open with our audiences and being vocal with our thoughts.
Written and edited by Heather Day and Katherine Holthouser. Images by Heather Day. Please ask for permission for the use of content on this site.