I need a patron so I can quit making lattes
July 20, 2007 8:12 PM   Subscribe

PatronFilter: I'm tired of working for Starbucks. I want to write full time. Help me construct a letter to the opulent to remind them of yesteryear when the arts were supported by benefactors. Help me convince the rich that paying for me to live comfortably will serve humanity.

Here's the catch: I've only been published in my university's journal, for an experimental poem. I want to continue experimenting in poetry and eventually write an experimental novel.

Thus, getting an advance from a publisher is out of the question (publishers aren't to be trusted anyway).

I'm counting on people with more money then they know what to do with bestowing upon me an allowance in exchange for bragging rights ("I'm a patron for a young man experimenting in poetry"). I'll even go to their parties and let them gawk at me.
posted by Galen to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You're going to need to appeal to specific people individually, Galen, taking time to research their areas of interest and pretending your areas of interest align somehow with theirs. An "open letter" isn't going to get you what you want. (I don't think specific letters will, either, but I'm much more convinced any kind of open letter will.)
posted by cgc373 at 8:19 PM on July 20, 2007

Will not. Will not.

posted by cgc373 at 8:19 PM on July 20, 2007

Most patrons expected their artists to flatter them, either directly (by dedication works to the patron or producing works the patron wanted on commission), or by reflection ("look at the large church I had refurbished by Michelangelo, for the glory of our city").

You might start writing paens of praise for nouveau riche dot-commers or sports stars ("Michael Vick/Built like a brick/did not beat/that dog with a stick"), or perhaps you could target the aging local entrepreneurs, owners of successful car dealerships and chains of McDonalds franchises, who feel they're under-appreciated by their communities, Elk Clubs, and spoiled children or looked-down upon by the established local gentry.

There probably is a real market here, if you can make poetry seem to be a stylish way to buy legitimacy/respect (colleges do it all the time), but as cgc373 points out, it'll be very retail. One avenue might be funeral elegies, either for those soon to go who don't want to be forgotten, or their social climbing children who want Mom's death to "rise above" the family's humble origins.
posted by orthogonality at 8:32 PM on July 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm counting on people with more money then they know what to do with bestowing upon me an allowance in exchange for bragging rights

Seriously? That's your plan? You're going to whore your craft out to some rich loon? Why not dispense with the poetry all together and work in a brothel?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained I suppose, though there is something to be said for focusing on the humble proletarianism of Starbucks (not to mention their health insurance) while practicing your craft in the hopes that you can some day building a career based on your own hard work and not the bread crumbs filched from the tables of the owner class.
posted by wfrgms at 8:35 PM on July 20, 2007 [7 favorites]

I'll bear the sycophantry. I'll whore my craft to dress it in silk rather than betraying it by paying all my energies to coffee.

I'd consider whoring but it seems perfectly unworkable: the women I know get sex whenever they want it. Why would they pay?

Now if there was a way to write poetry in exchange for getting laid, fed, and laid again, I'd eat that out... up... that. Who would be the whore then?

Orthogonality: Thanks for the tip on Michael Vick. As Churchill said, "That man is very humble and he has much to be humble about." Anyone know how to get in touch with him? Which guards to bribe?

On a serious note: has anyone heard of a market for writing eulogies? That would be entertaining as well as fulfilling. Talk about endless business...
posted by Galen at 8:56 PM on July 20, 2007

I have an idea: get a degree in arts (with your talent you should be able to get a full scholarship), the teach in some university and force your students to listen to you reading your own poetry and then write flattering comments on it to get As.

I think that is the way most people do it.
posted by spacefire at 9:05 PM on July 20, 2007

Dude. I really want to answer your question. But if YOU are the writer, and you need help writing a letter to convince someone to be your patron, then maybe you are not that good of a writer.

But let's assume you are.

Like it or not, art is business. The world is not necessarily better off just because you are writing, if your writing isn't good enough for people to want to pay for. If it's not good enough for someone to pay for, then who will read it? Money is the smallest thing people invest in reading; it's time. If somepne plunks down $20 to buy your book, and they don't like it, they can get another $20. But if they spend 20 hours reading it, and it's a waste of their time, they never get that time back.

I think you are a frustrated artist, somewhat like myself, so I can relate, and I sympathize. I would love a financial dropkick so I could create fine art photography all day, with no regard to whether it sells or not. But that's not the real world. Maybe first you just need a different job, since you are tired of Starbucks. I work a job to pay the bills, which allows me to create art that I like, that doesn't have to pay the bills. I don't have to please a patron. I don't even have to please "the public." I can create what I want, and please myself. If someone else happens to like it, and wants to buy it, great. If not, I won't miss a meal.

In this way, having a job and being your own patron, is the ultimate freedom.
posted by The Deej at 9:10 PM on July 20, 2007 [7 favorites]

Wallace Stevens, insurance exec. William Carlos Willams, medical doctor.
posted by jessenoonan at 9:25 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Two likely avenues here:
1. go to grad school. The best programs will give you a small living allowance, often in exchange for teaching. Then when you get out you can support yourself by being a writing teacher. This is a low, low, LOW money option.

2. get some other job that isn't as draining as Starbucks, and that leaves you with your off-hours truly free.

Another possibility, probably pretty unlikely:
3. get a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts/Humanities, or similar legit funding group. Again this would a low-money option.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:32 PM on July 20, 2007

Eat and get laid? Sure. Just find some rich gay men. Also be great looking.

Bodybuilders often workout for hours at the gym. Daily. They have to buy tons of food, steroids, etc. How do you think some of them do it?
posted by filmgeek at 10:03 PM on July 20, 2007

I went to college with the intention of graduating and become a writer (poetry and fiction). The truth of the matter is: Poets just don't make any money. Journals and magazines that publish poetry usually don't pay. People don't like to pay to come to poetry readings. If you get a book of your work published, you still don't make much money. Most of the good, published poets I know hold down regular jobs doing everything from cleaning office buildings to teaching at a University. I wish that poetry was taken more seriously in our country and culture, but it just isn't.

That said, I really do feel like there are jobs for writers. I have gotten gigs writing grant proposals, magazine articles, journal articles, web content and marketing materials for the arts. I know a few other people who do ghost writing.

Get busy publishing your work. Reach high. Build a portfolio of writing samples. You are going to need to show, not tell, your future patron that you can write well. I honestly don't think the concept of a 21st century patron is crazy; I think though, that the people who will pay you to write are editors, webmasters and industry leadership types.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:18 PM on July 20, 2007

orthagonality is correct that patrons expected flattery from their artists. Your art will need to either flatter your patrons directly or flatter their opinions.

The service that you are providing is increasing your patron's status, so you may want to target patrons whose reputation is under attack (the Michael Vick example from above) or eccentrics looking to add to their entourage (i.e. Gwen Stefani and her hired harajuku pals.)

I'd consider whoring but it seems perfectly unworkable: the women I know get sex whenever they want it. Why would they pay?

You darling. That is precisely the sort of wide-eyed innocence that will serve you well should you wish to pursue a career as a catamite.
posted by lemuria at 10:49 PM on July 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

When I was getting my MA I worked the graveyard shift at the front desk of a Motel 6. The pay is not that much different than Starbucks, but I had lots of time to read and write. Going to graduate school, getting a "do nothing" job that allows you to study while you work, and dispensing with your delusions of grandeur would be my advice.
posted by Crotalus at 11:02 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Galen.. I think the fact you're asking this question says a lot. However, if you actually try to go through with this plan, then you will be my hero. I think it could work, and it could be something new. Think about the MillionDollarHomepage guy.. think about the LetMeStayForADay guy.. it's possible to do bold new things (even if they're based on old ideas) and win.

I mean, if Kottke managed to get a whole swarm of idiots to pay for his micropatronage idea, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do it with less people but bigger sums of money.
posted by wackybrit at 11:50 PM on July 20, 2007

Modern arts patronage is, for the most part, bureaucratized and formalized. Rich people still give money to the arts in order to increase their personal prestige, but they rarely give the money directly to the artist. There's one exception, and that has to do with the visual arts: people still buy paintings to hang on their walls. But that's only because paintings have value as things. Poems don't. So a rich person who wants to support poetry will donate to the Poetry Foundation, and the Poetry Foundation will then establish awards for emerging poets in that person's name. It's still patronage, but it's indirect. Similarly, the rich person might endow a chair in poetry at a university or a fellowship to assist students who are getting an MFA in creative writing.

But I think that you have to face the fact that you're in for a hard struggle. Experimental writers tend to have day jobs. Joyce did it; you can do it to. And if you're really committed to writing, you will do it. So I guess the question is how committed you really are.
posted by craichead at 12:20 AM on July 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

So... in the olden days, this didn't exactly happen. BUUUT, great writers like Anais Nin used to write erotica short stories and use it to pay the bills while she was writing her more serious stuff. People pay the big bucks for erotica.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:15 AM on July 21, 2007

I, like the rest of the peeps here, agree that a job is probably the best avenue. But if you want to still score some kind of stipend for just existing, remember: you are NOT fun to gawk at OR mention at parties to rich peeps if you are not famous. Rich people like collectables; sculptures, paintings, baseball cards. You will be collectable if you are famous.

In General, you need some kind of credentials other than making coffee that would make you SEEM famous, and thus collectable. This could include getting mainstream famous, (think time, mtv) getting a well known poet to confirm you are a fucking genius, etc.

The more I think about it, your target audience seems to be people who know nothing about poetry (since you are not a notable poet yet) but need some token arts-like frivolities to put on their resume for their country club. Think noveau riche trying desperately to hobnob with old money. Thus, I'd look in places more like New York, Boston, or Washington, rather than, say, Orange County, where the inability of an appraiser to generate a dollar value for your poetry will instantly make you worthless.

Just remember, just like a Basquiat painting or a Hemingway first edition, you are just a fucking baseball card to your patron. Just become the baddest baseball card you can be and wealth will surely follow.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:12 AM on July 21, 2007

You say you can put up with using your work to flatter people, but if the point is to buy you time and space to do the work you want to do, won't this be a problem? I'm not sure that the patronage in the "yesteryear" you refer to was ever unproblematic - see Johnson's letter to Chesterfield, with its proposed definition of a patron. You might be better off exploring grants. I don't know where you live, but in the UK there's the Arts Council - with only one poem published you're unlikely to get much support from them, to be honest, but they do have lists of other organisations you could try.
posted by paduasoy at 2:21 AM on July 21, 2007

I just found this through backtagging:

This fella argues that to be a good writer (and by extension artist of any kind) you have to be out in the world of work and humdrum living.

The link is broken but you may find the discussion interesting.
posted by paduasoy at 2:53 AM on July 21, 2007

Art patronage has its own limits and constraints. Even Michaelangelo, had his troubles with the Pope. Having been where you are, Galen, I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to tie my creativity to the possible whims of a patron (or, in my case, an art market) that might change the way I think and work.

So I took teaching jobs to pay the rent and went about my artwork. The idea is to get a job that doesn't impede with your creative needs (btw, I thought that one could work part-time at Starbucks and still get health insurance --that sounds like a good deal to me).

I pieced together teaching jobs for twenty years. It worked well for me until we started to have a family. When I was offered a full time job (in a creative field) I took it for the security and the good benefits. With a full time job and a full time family, my personal creative time diminished. So I found a more sustainable creative outlet (I went from being an art photog to writing). It was a personal choice but it allowed me to continue to be creative and take care of my new (and bigger) responsibilities.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 4:08 AM on July 21, 2007

Here's the catch: I've only been published in my university's journal, for an experimental poem. I want to continue experimenting in poetry and eventually write an experimental novel.

Thus, getting an advance from a publisher is out of the question (publishers aren't to be trusted anyway).

I think you're confused about how publishing works - even though it's called 'an advance', it's actually a retroactive payment for the work you put into producing a work of art (book, set of short stories, graphic novel, whatever). The only people who get paid before laying pen to paper are writers with a proven track record who go to their editors and pitch a story idea. Even then, it's not a whole lotta money, they'll pay said best-selling, productive reliable authors enough to get them through to the scheduled end of writing the book. There are deadlines. And proof reads, and monthly emails from editors. Then there's a chunk of advance money (advance here means 'in advance of us printing and selling your already written book', not 'in advance of you noodling around with book ideas while we pay your way'.)

Seriously, the world is full of thousands upon thousands of people who honestly believe that if they were only free from the grind of daily work they'd be able to pen the Next Masterpiece. There are a smaller subset of people within that group who, while believing that deep in their soul (and perhaps having it as an endpoint goal), get on and write their book anyway. It usually sucks, so they write another one. And another one, and another one.
Within that continuum of people who wish they had the time to write, people who get on and write anyway (and keep writing, despite long hours or form rejection letters and everything else that comes with trying to make a living from art) there's a very small group of people who actually get their work accepted and published and within that group, there's a final, tiny minority who make enough money to live on.

You're basically looking for a way to skip that and get straight to the being paid to pursue your art. Highly unlikely.

Also, linking to that lame-ass stunt with Jane Austen as OMGPUBLISHERSKNOWNUFFING!?!! is pointless. That article, and your question, both completely misunderstand the nature of publishing as a business.

And if you're somehow offended at the nature of publishing as a business that needs to make money to sustain itself, don't engage with it. Write your poems and have 'em bound at Lulu.com and stick them on your shelf.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:19 AM on July 21, 2007 [6 favorites]

I just found this through backtagging:

Also, if people want to read that essay about how writers should, necessarily, have worked and been out in the world in order to write well, it's been moved to here
posted by Happy Dave at 4:23 AM on July 21, 2007

Also, I think this is an amazing read for anyone who has any aspirations to creativity:

Hugh McLeod's 'How to Be Creative'

Simultaneously deflating and inspiring.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:44 AM on July 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, and final clarifying point:

there's a very small group of people who actually get their work accepted and published and within that group, there's a final, tiny minority who make enough money to live on.

Within the world of poetry only authors, I dunno, there's maybe four or five people worldwide who could, maybe, make a (meagre) living solely from poetry, and they've all been writing for 30+ years, regularly publish enormous books of 200+ poems and usually hold down lectureships, teach writing and generally work their arses off (I'm thinking of guys like Seamus Heaney here).

Okay, I'm done now.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:51 AM on July 21, 2007

There was an article in the globe and mail last week about a website called SeekingArrangement.com which is supposed to hook up sugar daddies and sugar babies. Seems like that's what you're looking for.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:16 AM on July 21, 2007

A couple of problems with your plan:

(1) Hardly anyone has "more money than they know what to do with." Even the rich feel as though they should have more money than they have, so they are not keen to part with it. In fact, many people are rich precisely because they are tight-fisted with their money.

(2) People with lots of money do not tend to understand or appreciate "experimental" fiction and poetry. They are likely to regard you as a flake and a dilettante when you describe your works. They are more appreciative of writers like Stephen King and John Grisham, whom they will admire for being big commercial successes and whose works they have possibly read.

(3) The rich typically are very impressed with "hard work." And they will be deeply suspicious of any attempt to bypass hard work through the use of their hard-earned money. Your letter will probably results in hoots of derision from 99.9% of its recipients, and they will think you are a fool; the ones who do not hoot in derision are the ones who are elderly, are hooked up to oxygen tanks, with pain-killers coursing through their bodies, and they have other people managing their money.

(4) As someone said in a comment above, arts-giving tends to be formalized and bureaucratized. Given the time and effort it would take to find a patron willing to sign on for your plan, you would already have five or six novels under your belt if you just focused those energies on writing.

So, I am not sure there's any phrasing of a letter that would accomplish your goal. A better plan would be to work on strengthening your writing resume --- go ahead and write that novel --- and then start applying for grants, because it's the grant-giving bodies that receive the money of the rich, not individual artists.
posted by jayder at 7:14 AM on July 21, 2007

My dad's been a professional artist (painter, not writer) for 40+ years. He has paintings in major art museums and has a regular client list that includes some of the biggest names in Hollywood, politics, and business.

It didn't happen by accident, it didn't happen in his 20s, and it most certainly didn't happen because he wrote a few letters to generate patronage from the rich and famous. It happened because he has painted every day of his life, whether or not he was making money from the painting directly, AND because he simultaneously worked every related job he could to support himself and his family. In other words, in addition to painting every day, he was a college professor for 15 years; he also, at various times in his 20s and 30s, worked as a signmaker (his father's trade), a police sketch artist, and a courtroom sketch artist. He only started painting full-time, with no secondary job, in his early 40s; in his early 50s, he and my mom eventually opened an art gallery. Now, in his mid-60s, they've retired from the gallery, and he's back to just painting.

My point is this: to be a working artist, you sometimes have to work at a lot of things. As has been said upthread, art is a business; it's a job, just like any other. It doesn't make you a special snowflake because you want to create art, and people aren't interested in giving you money to satisfy your personal creative desires. If creating art brings you satisafaction and meaning, that's wonderful -- but don't expect anyone to foot the bill just for the sake of your satisfaction (and seriously: no one needs to sponsor a poet to brag to each other's friends about or to install at parties to be gawked at. Trust me, writers are not so rare a breed that the rich need to buy one, like an exotic pet). Do your work because you enjoy it. Work because you need to make a living. Eventually, those two things may become the same thing.
posted by scody at 11:06 AM on July 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Help me convince the rich that paying for me to live comfortably will serve humanity.

How will you living comfortably serve humanity? Unless you can articulate that, this question sounds like "Help me convince someone else to support me so I can do whatever I want." And if you can crack that nut, please let me know.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:53 AM on July 21, 2007

Happy Dave, the How to Be Creative link is more than awesome. Thanks!
posted by The Deej at 2:03 PM on July 21, 2007

Deej, my pleasure - it's one of the few things I've found on the web that has warranted printing out and keeping - I gave it to my fifteen year old brother when he was first starting to get creative with a camera, and he loved it.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:09 PM on July 21, 2007

I gave it to my fifteen year old brother when he was first starting to get creative with a camera, and he loved it.

And I'll do the same with my 17 year old daughter. :)
posted by The Deej at 5:07 PM on July 21, 2007

I often consider McLeod's "How to be creative."

Thank you all for the myriad of advice. There's quite a diversity of opinions. Together they make a good case for keeping a job -- perhaps my goal should be not to omit a job, but to find one that adds to my creativity instead of leaving me exhausted. I don't wish for a patron so I can be lazy, but so I can focus. I'm rarely lazy when I have free time: my curiosity compels my continual exploration and learning. I hope you don't think poorly of me for wishing to pursue my interest without distraction.

Thanks again.
posted by Galen at 9:59 PM on July 21, 2007

My roomate works two nights a week at a bar. Two nights. The rest of his time? Writing.

Find a job that suits your life, not a life that suits your job.
posted by Freen at 7:25 PM on July 22, 2007

The construction/realtor idea didn't work out? I just learned that one of my ex-roommates from college who was an English major now has a construction business that involves building large, complex structures and blowing them up in a variety of spectacular assaults. It's an army gig - the Pentagon is his patron. He signed up, did the Balkans, got a good network going, and now wins contracts. Know what he likes to do in his spare time? Poetry.
posted by meehawl at 5:52 AM on July 26, 2007

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