Sponsored Art/Sponsored Literature
November 21, 2006 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Artsy fartsy filter: While thinking about the Medici family, the renaissance and the idea of commissioned works of art, I was wondering if there have ever been works of literature that have been sponsored or commissioned purely for the sake of art.

If there are none, does anyone know why literature/writing would have been considered less important than painting and sculpture?
posted by snsranch to Media & Arts (18 answers total)
If memory serves, Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto is one example -- an epic poem (a really, really long one) commissioned by a wealthy family much like the Medici commissioned works of art. It was written in the early 1500s. It's pretty awesome, actually.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:19 PM on November 21, 2006

Do plays count as literature in this discussion?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 8:22 PM on November 21, 2006

Response by poster: Plays? Yes!
posted by snsranch at 8:26 PM on November 21, 2006

i guess it depends on what you mean by "purely" ... from virgil to the middle ages, many poets looked for patrons who would help support them with sinecures or outright grants ... part of the price of that might be espousing a certain political or social viewpoint ... or writing some rather complimentary things about one's benefactor(s) ... or taking up certain subjects that the patron wished to have a poem written about

it was quite common ...

still, i'm not sure that literature was quite as important as art in those days ... for one thing, anyone could look at art, but only a few could read ... likewise, the number of people who could commit some kind of art was much more than those who could write, and art served more of a public purpose ... all the carvings and illustrations in cathedrals and churches, for instance, weren't just decoration, but a form of instruction for the illiterate ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:31 PM on November 21, 2006

There is a story regarding The Merry Wives of Windsor that "Shakespeare was commanded to write the play by Queen Elizabeth, who wanted to see Falstaff in love," according to the Wikipedia page and one of my Shakespeare professors.

While nothing I've seen or heard on the subject suggested to me that there was a sum of money paid specifically for Merry Wives, Shakespeare's company did recieve its share of patronage; some of it from the crown.

And I'm not sure whether this is relevant, but... the WikPed article notes that MWoW is not considered one of Shakespeare's better plays.
posted by Clay201 at 8:49 PM on November 21, 2006

posted by Pollomacho at 8:52 PM on November 21, 2006

Maybe the Kokin Waka Shu counts?
posted by tellurian at 8:57 PM on November 21, 2006

Not sure what "purely art" means, but do you know about the Federal Theatre Project?
posted by Opposite George at 8:58 PM on November 21, 2006

"Marko (Polo) gradually became one of the most devoted dignitaries to Kublai Khan. Realizing how much the Khan was interested in the customs of the peoples of his empire, Marko carefully noted all his observations and experiences so that the official reports were transformed into interesting stories. Unlike the legendary Sheherezade, who delayed her death with her story telling to the cruel shah, Marko Polo was achieving, by his report-stories, greater and greater respect in the eyes of his master and so he became a kind of court writer."
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:05 PM on November 21, 2006

I believe that Anais Nin wrote some short stories based upon the commission of a secretive pervy patron. Of course this is based upon my recollection of secretly reading the dust jacket to a nin novel that was pulled out of my father's bookshelf.
posted by allthewhile at 9:16 PM on November 21, 2006

...and so he became a kind of court writer... linky

At least according to Marco Polo. I suppose if anyone can find any actual evidence that he ever made it farther than Georgia then we may know if that account is true or not.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:20 PM on November 21, 2006

I suppose it depends what you mean by commissioned. For example, Maecenas didn't explicitly commission Horace to write poems - but he did provide encouragement and, more importantly, the gift of his Sabine farm. Without that, you could argue there's no Odes, no "o fons bandusiae splendidior vitro", no source of inspiration for his poems - and no funded leisure time either in which to write them. So no direct commissioning, but I think you could argue Maecenas was supporting Horace for art's sake (as well as to bolster his reputation - but then there is always more than one reason why you might sponsor the arts... that's another AskMe thread).
posted by greycap at 11:24 PM on November 21, 2006

I suspect that, historically, fine art has been commissioned more often than literature because it tends to be more quickly grasped and, not incidentally, admired. Bragging loses a bit of its power in a vacuum.

A modern example of that old bawd Commerce co-opting Virgin Art is discussed in the title piece of David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (original version from Harper's magazine here). Wallace considers what he terms an "essaymercial" by Frank Conroy that was commissioned by Celebrity for their cruise line's brochure:
Conroy's essay is graceful and lapidary and persuasive. I submit that it is also completely insidious and bad. Its badness does not consist so much in its constant and mesmeric referances to fantasy and alternate realities and the palliative powers of professional pampering ... nor in the surfeit of happy adjectives and the tone of breathless approval throughout.... But the really major badness is that the project and placement of "My Celebrity Cruise ..." are sneaky and duplicitous and well beyond whatever eroded pales still exist in terms of literary ethics. Conroy's "essay" appears as an inset, on skinnier pages and with different margins than the rest of the brochure, creating the impression that it has been excerpted from some large and objective thing Conroy wrote. But it hasn't been. The truth is that Celebrity Cruises paid Frank Conroy up-front to write it, even though nowhere in or around the essay is there anything acknowledging that it's a paid endorsement.... Instead, inset on this weird essaymercial's first page is a photo of Conroy brooding in a black turtleneck, and below the photo an author bio with a list of Conroy's books that includes the 1967 classic Stop-time, which is arguably the best literary memoir of the twentieth century and is one of the books that first made poor old humble yours truly want to try to be a writer.
Funny stuff, and well put.*
*The thing is, Wallace wrote the above after having been comped on his own Celebrity cruise.
posted by rob511 at 1:06 AM on November 22, 2006

Coleridge received an annuity from Josiah Wedgwood II, intended to allow Coleridge to devote himself to producing poetry. That's more like a grant than a specific commision, though it was made by one private individual to another rather than through a corporate entitiy of some sort.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:35 AM on November 22, 2006

You might want to consider bards . Although they are mainly associated with music they were knocking out poetry and other written material too. People such as Turlough O'Carolan who wrote lots of pretty famous stuff on commission.
posted by rongorongo at 6:38 AM on November 22, 2006

I think sponsorships were commoner than commissions. It was standard practice in the 16th & 17th centuries for an author to approach patrons for money in exchange for prefacing a book with a flattering 'epistle dedicatory.' Alternatively, they might preface their works with numerous flattering verses, in the hope that one or more of their dedicatees might chip in some financial support:
‘Chapman’s Translation of Homer has sixteen sonnets addressed to lords and ladies. Henry Lock, in a collection of two hundred religious sonnets, mingles with such heavenly works the terrestrial composition of a number of sonnets to his noble patrons; and not to multiply more instances, our great poet Spenser, in compliance with this disgraceful custom, or rather in obedience to the established tyranny of patronage, has prefixed to the Fairy Queen fifteen of these adulatory pieces, which in every respect are the meanest of his compositions.’—Isaac D’Israeli
posted by misteraitch at 7:04 AM on November 22, 2006

Yes. Many 18th century and early 19th century books were published on a subscription model, especially for the finer editions-- moderately wealthy fans would pony up in advance to cover the author and publisher's costs, then get acknowledged in a tipped-in donor's page.
posted by Scram at 8:15 AM on November 22, 2006

Another famous recipient of patronage was Moliere.
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on November 22, 2006

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