Blog / 2009 / Collectors or Patrons?

May 13, 2009

It’s the art collectors who make headlines and who have dealers and artists falling all over themselves to make a good impression, but it’s the art patrons who actually fuel art-making.

Art collectors come in every wallet-shape and account-size, but, big or small, their impact on the front lines of art-making is minimal. Sure, they can set trends and lend the weight of their entire collection to an artist’s oeuvre, but, in the end, they don’t keep the art world making. Rather, it’s those unsung heros, the art patrons, who deserve the credit.

Art patrons don’t have extensive collections. They’re not buying art that will disappear into a mass of half-loved and relatively forgotten works. Instead they’re buying a few select pieces that mean the world to them—and not just for the sake of owning the work, but to enjoy it.

Whether or not these patrons could afford to buy more art isn’t the point. They’re not hunting for the next piece that will build their collection in a certain direction: they are looking for special in the one or few pieces they do buy. And, despite the fact that, as individuals, patrons may not be the biggest spenders in the art world, their sheer numbers make them more important to the ongoing creation of art than collectors of any ilk.

painted portrait of an elderly man
Gwenn Seemel
Bud
2007
acrylic on canvas
21 x 17 inches

Though I’ve made my living as a working artist for six years now, just one of my works belongs to an art collector. Bud, whose commissioned portrait is shown above, is like most of the people who own my work. He is a patron, not a collector. He’s someone who saw something he liked in what I do.

There are lots of people like Bud—people who love art but who haven’t found anything they want to spend their money on yet. The middle class art market, like the patrons who often belong to it, is just aching for artists to value it.

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