There is a delicate balance between patron and artist; clearly the patron
can withold payment or attach conditions to payment, but the artist has
some power, too. After all, the patron WANTS the art or he wouldn't have
come to the artist in the first place. The artist can also bully the patron
a little by accusing him of interference, undermining creativity, etc.
The artist NEEDS the mediating influence of either the patron and/or the
culture at large. Artists such as Kafka, who created for himself and a
small group of admirers is very much the exception (Kafka ordered his best
friend to destroy his manuscripts when he died. The friend disobeyed.).
>So the students and I discussed under what circumstances a patron might
>have the right to dictate specifics to an artist, and how does one decide
>whether something is appropriate or not. One of the contemporary people
>in Veronese's picture is picking his teeth. When I asked the students if
>the patron would have the right to require Veronese to change that as
>disrespectful, most of the students vigorously defended an artist's right
>to decide on interpretation. But when I asked if their opinion would
>change if Veronese had depicted Jesus as the figure picking his teeth,
>most of them (as you are probably not surprised to read) said that would
>be disrespectful and objectionable. So we got into a heated debate over
>who gets to decide what is objectionable and under what circumstances.
>There was no overall consensus at the end, except for the suggestion that
>all artists and patrons should have a good lawyer writing the commission
>contract if he/she may have strong opinions on what is to be depicted!
>Any comments I should pass on to my students from the list?
The patron gets to decide what is objectionable, but the artist has the
right to withold his labor. All artists are well advised to understand
their rights and obligations before beginning a project. The idea that a
patron simply dishes out the money and has to shut up and take what he gets
is a silly fiction - it happens ocassionally, but total artistic freedom is
another of the destructive misconceptions associated with contemporary art.
In the applied arts (illustration/commercial art) there are well
established conventions to guide the relationship between artist and
patron. The Graphic Designers Guild Handbook is an excellent resource for
these guidelines and is available at almost any good art materials store.
Too bad Veronese didn't have a copy!
-- Mike Reed