As an artist, I strive to make exceptional work that continuously pushes the boundaries of what I could do previously.

With each artwork, I aim to raise the bar higher, and build upon both the successes and failures of the last. As my skills improve, the barriers to bringing into physical reality that which I see in my mind begin to disappear. As those barriers disappear I can take my art to whole new levels. That is what excites me.

Excellence and Sustainability

I have begun to see that it is only through a full-time, intensive practice of my art that I will be able to understand my true purpose and potential as an artist, and ultimately to honor the gifts of artistic talent I have been given — and share the result with the world.

The goal of a full-time practice, then, is a pursuit of artistic excellence. I want to produce art that inspires and informs, stimulates the mind, and tells a story. I want to show you, the viewer, something about our world that maybe you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to see or know about. I have artistic vision and I believe it can add something of cultural value to our world. I am dedicated to this.

I’ll be honest, though: I do not aspire to be a commercial artist, and never have. When I first picked up a pencil as a child and started drawing pictures, it wasn’t with the thought that someday it might be a profitable venture. No, I was captivated by the idea that I could see images that formerly only resided in my imagination come to life on the paper before me. The process felt divine. It was like channeling something from the realm of the gods.

It still feels that way today, and it’s that spirit that I hope to summon every time I come to sit once again at my old drawing table. Somehow, bringing money into the equation has always tainted the process for me, and in a way, even trivialized it. In my art studio, I’m here to invoke the Divine Muse in hopes that She will rescue me even for a brief time from my day-to-day misery and show me something sublime — and I, her servant, will oblige her dutifully and produce marks on paper or canvas for hours or days or weeks at a time until the vision is satisified. I do it for her, and I do it for the pleasure of sharing it with the world…not for the money. That said, like everyone, my bills must get paid somehow and so I recognize that, in order to continue serving the muse, the other part of my job is figuring out how to make it financially sustainable.

Art & Business make odd bedfellows

At my core, I’m an artist, not a businessman. For me, art and business have always been like oil and water; I’ve never figured out how to mix them well. After 20 years of experimenting with different models of actually supporting myself as an artist, I understand the equation that selling my art should equate to being able to make more art. Sounds simple, but in practice (divine considerations aside), this equation became complicated and problematic to me for several reasons:

  • the need to price my art high to cover costs kept it out of reach of the audience for whom it was actually intended, and that didn’t feel good;
  • constraints of notions of commercial viability tainted the creative process and limited experimentation, and that didn’t feel good;
  • at times I was spending way more time on the business of selling art than on actually making art, and that definitely didn’t feel good (not one bit, sir).

As an artist, I’m driven by a weird necessity to continue finding ways to make art, even when nobody seems to want to pay for it. Perhaps it’s because the Muse begrudges me when I stay away too long (I hate disappointing her), or perhaps it’s because I have a belief that someone, somewhere, even just one person, will also find beauty in it and thereby validate my entire existence in the world (see, I told you, it’s weird).

As an artist, I’m driven by a weird necessity to continue finding ways to make art, even when nobody seems to want to pay for it. Perhaps it’s because the Muse begrudges me when I stay away too long, or perhaps it’s because I have a belief that someone, somewhere, even just one person, will also find beauty in it and thereby validate my entire existence in the world…

Today, nearly four decades after I first embarked on this journey as an artist, I continue seeking opportunities to invoke the Muse, and try to find ways to support it. I’m still looking to simplify the equation of how I make and share art, with the ultimate goal of producing more art, at an ever higher level, and making it accessible to more people. I even believe that it is my calling to do this, perhaps because the world needs it (even if it doesn’t know that it does — how will it know it needs it until I create it?).

Making art at a high level takes hard work, passion, diligence…and time. I am capable of the first three. The last one is where I always seem to need help. Like all artists, in making my artistic goals a sustainable reality, I need some sort of financial support, plain and simple.

Enter…Patronage

When I was in art school, I slept through many of my art history classes (hey, I was pulling all-nighters making art and needed to sleep sometime, and it was always so nice and dark in those lecture halls) — but one thing I did not fail to notice was that, throughout history, this thing called “patronage” always played an important role in sustaining the arts. Indeed, many of the great artists in history were only able to produce their master works because of the support they received from patrons. To some extent, every culture has some system of patronage whereby creative artisans have been supported by some subset of society who recognized the inherent value in what they were doing.

Today, if the Arts are to continue to thrive in our modern society, I believe that patronage must again play a role. Despite a historical precedent for its importance in keeping the arts alive, today there is often a stigma attached to patronage, at least in American society. Artists asking outright for financial support are demoted almost to the status of beggars — get a job like everyone else, freak! I’ve come to realize and accept, however, that art is my job — and if history tells us anything, it’s an important one, and artists will always be compelled to do it. I work very hard at it, even if I can’t always explain why I must.

I’ve come to realize and accept that art is my job — and if history tells us anything, it’s an important one, and artists will always be compelled to do it.

Some forms of patronage have, over time, been “baked in” to our social fabric, so much so that we don’t even recognize it as patronage. To use an example from another subset of low-life, blood-sucking leeches in society — yes, I’m speaking of my brethren in the music world! — there has come to be a culturally accepted way for these creatives to find some level of financial support, and it works like this: talented musicians seek out venues in which they can perform their art — whether it be a bar, café, nightclub, or even a street corner — and they are (to varying extent) supported by the venue itself and/or by patrons throwing money into a tip jar or guitar case. This is patronage, and it’s just about as direct as it gets. I’m not saying that this always translates into a sustainable living, but my point is, there is a venue, and there is an exchange.

For the visual artist, however, what is the venue, and where is the opportunity for support? Sure, artists can hang their art on café walls in hopes of catching a sale, but how many people actually drop hundreds of dollars on a piece of art on their way out of getting their morning coffee before work? Artists can try to find their way into high-priced galleries to sell their work to wealthy collectors, but those opportunities are becoming more and more scarce as the internet renders them obsolete. And plus, many folks and would-be appreciators of art just don’t have the money to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on an expensive piece of art in a fancy frame. In highbrow galleries, artists must pander to a relatively small subset of society (the wealthy), and that level of exclusivity may not always acceptable.

So for many artists today, the internet itself has become the go-to venue for having their work seen and noticed. While the potential reach may be greater, the problem is, there is no tip jar into which appreciative observers can throw a few bucks, and the internet isn’t commissioning artists to show their work on its virtual walls. When we see beautiful art on the web, we don’t really know what to do, in terms of offering support. We just click the Like button and move on.

Sadly, getting lots of “Likes” on our art does not pay the bills.

The Internet has changed everything…again

We live in an amazing era where the internet has changed the landscape for both artists and musicians in unprecedented ways. On the one hand, the internet has indeed “leveled the playing field”, allowing artists (and anyone) to share their creations with the world faster and more easily than ever. That’s a really cool thing, and the possibilities it has opened are great indeed.

On the flip side, however, I believe that the new culture of the internet has also devalued the physical product of art, because now people can view and appreciate art for free on the web anytime they feel like it — which could be good or bad, depending on your perspective. In an online landscape that is inundated with work of varying quality, artists have become desperate for exposure. We compete for the same visual space as funny cat pictures and endless memes. We freely give away our art in exchange for email addresses and likes in the hopes that we can cut through the noise and bubble to the top of the news feed and be appreciated for what we do. Our standards have been lowered.

We freely give away our music and art in exchange for email addresses and likes in the hopes that we can cut through the noise and bubble to the top of the news feed and be appreciated for what we do.

The general public has come to expect that they should be able to access art, books, and music instantly and for free. While this is great for the public, it’s not so great for the artist trying to produce high-quality work that stands out from the rest — and still pay the bills. Corporations and mega-artists are the only ones who currently profit from online streaming services and the like. Ad revenues on web sites or YouTube chanels have never proved to be reliable sources of income for practically anyone. There is a gaping hole in our new model of online sharing, and it is in the shape of actual support for real artists.

This is why I believe that, after a brief hiatus in the history of art, the concept of Patronage of the Arts will become important in our society once again.

And indeed, a new breed of patronage is emerging today, with web sites like Patreon.com, that could radically impact how art is made and supported. Behind it is the idea of micro-patronage: leveraging the power of online crowd-sourcing to obtain ongoing support for artists from a wide range of people (in the form of affordable, small pledges that start at $1 a month). This idea is significant because — if it works — it shifts the responsibility and (dare I say) privilege for supporting a vibrant creative culture away from the wealthy few and back to the people. In a way, it’s a democratic form of art patronage. It empowers anyone and everyone to “cast a vote”, if you will, for the kind and quality of art that gets supported, and, hence, sticks around.

Art for art’s sake is valuable

I would argue that not all art needs to be commercially viable to be successful as art. It’s just that we have to rethink our definition of value, and of the role of art in our lives.

I would further argue that asking artists to limit their work to fit into the narrow confines of what the market currently views as viable is generally a bad thing for art. It jeopardizes the true function of art. Thinking in terms of commercial viabilty forces the artist to think reactively in relation to what is already popular in the marketplace, instead of encouraging that artist to act purely on vision and inspiration. An artist who produces in response to the marketplace is, in essence, making yesterday’s art.

Human societies need works of art that were never bound solely to a commercial goal. These works can fill other needs in the grander scheme of culture creation, and enrich our lives in ways that can’t be given a price. Filling those deeper cultural needs has always been the role of art at its very purest: art can and should provoke thought and stir the imagination. It should inspire conversation and even debate. Art can express the pain and joy of living, explore the mystery of our very existence, and celebrate the diverse range of thoughts and emotion that can exist in human cultures.

…art can and should provoke thought and stir the imagination. It should inspire conversation and even debate. Art can express the pain and joy of living, explore the mystery of our very existence, and celebrate the diverse range of thoughts and emotion that can exist in human cultures.

That is why “Art for Art’s Sake” has value. Its success is not measured in the same way, or on the same scale or timeframe, as a commercial product. An artwork’s impact can sometimes not be truly understood for a long time. The marketplace can do what it wants with it; the marketplace lives in the past anyway.

Liberating Art

As an artist, I no longer have the desire to think and create reactively to an arbitrary commercial market. What I desire is to push myself towards artistic excellence free of the perceptions of what will and won’t sell. In striving for that excellence, I will surely make some art that succeeds and some that does not, but in either case, why not liberate both artist and viewer from having to gauge that success in such a limited term as monetary value?

Let’s reclaim art and talk once again about what moves us, and what makes art “good” or “bad” on its own terms. I’d love to invite you to the table for that conversation. At that table, my failures will be just as important as my successes in my education towards creating works whose value is measured otherwise. That’s where I need your voice and participation. Why not share the ride together? Perhaps we can all learn something and inspire each other to live more deeply in the process. Hard to put a price on that.

Entering the ring

Patronage from supporters, then, can enable artists (like me!) to focus on the task of making increasingly better art, for art’s sake. For my part, I humbly hope that I can create something with cultural value that enriches YOUR life on some deeper level. If I can afford to eat and have a decent roof over my head in the process, it will have been a good swap. Seriously, I don’t need much.

If, in the course of this journey, I happen to make something of commercial value and it provides me with greater means, then perhaps I can offer that same support to other artists facing the same challenges. You see, I am an artist, but I aspire to be a patron of the arts as well. I want to support the creation of art and music in my greater community because, selfishly, I prefer to be surrounded by healthy, vibrant culture. Who doesn’t? But beyond that, I really do like people and believe that supporting each other in actualizing our potential is an act of love. And there’s nothing greater than that.

So, I’m throwing my hat in the ring. Without a whole lot of fanfare, I’m announcing my candidacy: I’m running for Artist, with Patreon as my campaign support. Please vote for me. I believe that, with your support, I will serve this office quite well.

This is no small thing, I know: in moving away from a commercial model towards one of patronage, I’m asking for you, my audience, to believe in me, and I’m inviting you to participate actively, because I think that it can add something of intangible value to both of our lives. If you will help me, I will commit to this. I hope that the work you see on this site is proof of my will and ability to create something of value. What I have accomplished up until now is just the beginning.

Won’t you become my patron, and perhaps of some other deserving artists as well?

Dave Kobrenski
July 12, 2016

The artwork on this site is made available for free thanks to my supporters on Patreon. Learn more here.