Writing and other forms of art are enormously time consuming and often not viable financially. The fabulous thing about the internet is that it’s very easy for people to share their art through images, videos and words, so the internet is bursting with art in its many forms. The problem, however, is that most of this content is free, and if you’re asking for people to pay for content such as books, then your book is only one of billions, and if you’re not someone who is a great marketer or doesn’t have the income to put into paying someone else to market for you, then few people will even see your book, let alone pay for it. Visual artists have it even worse. If it’s a hobby and you have some other form of support, then it’s no problem, but if you’re either trying to earn a living from your art, or you simply don’t have enough other income to cover your normal life expenses, then keeping creating becomes a problem. Why? Because the time you’re putting into it needs to be spent doing something that will earn you money.
That’s why I’m not writing books anymore. I have to spend my time editing or getting more editing work. And when there isn’t enough of that, I have to go back to causual teachings. Something I find exhausting, and my inspiration dies when I’m exhausted.
Vloggers and Podcasters
Some authors and artists earn a living from their art, but many don’t, and not because their work is no good, but simply because it is not popular. Historically some of the artists we appreciate most now were regarded as terrible in their time. They survived by getting a rich patron who believed in their work and who provided enough so that the artist could create rather than look for work to put food on the table.
Patreon and other such initiatives have brought back this idea in a modern way, and some You Tube and Podcast creators are actually making a decent living creating their stuff because people value it enough to want them to do more, or to just keep doing it. In the absence of other ways of earning from their art, their patrons are vital to their continuing presence as artists. It works. It’s necessary, or all the great vloggers would eventually just go away and find a job.
Writers usually aim to get their earnings from their books, so asking for patrons is not so usual in the writing community, but what if the writing isn’t going into a book? What if it’s blog content that can’t, or shouldn’t, be turned into something that people can buy? What if the writing is more a service in support of a cause or of people? If a community finds the writing helpful or even necesary for their cause, is there anything wrong with asking for support from those who can afford it? And what if you love an authors work, but they are no longer writing because they simply can’t afford to but you’re living on a million dollars a year? Is there some value in supporting that author so they can produce more of the kind of books that you love, or that you think will have benefit for people? Esepcially when you consider that often the most innovative books do not sell well and the most talented artists may be the worst at marketing their own work.
The Buddha and his followers lived by begging, and so do monks and nuns in Eastern countries. From a contemplative point of view doing so is part of the practice of renunciation; one’s pride had to be given up for a start, but the value of that is another post. The communities that support their local monastries do so because they see some value in their existence, and they support the monk knocking on their door because they see benefit in their practice of generosity and in the existence of the contemplative in their community. In the Christian Church the monks and nuns are supported by the church. Donations go to support the religious institution, not any one individual.
Patreon changes this. It and other instiutions like them allows the community to bypass religious institutions so that people who want to support a contemplative can do so directly. In return that contemplative can pray for them, do spiritual practices for them, share insights with them, work in the community, and so on. And maybe they even delvelop into a strong and inspiring voice for the community. Maybe.
Those who see money as unspiritual, however, will not find this an easy idea. They may even be disgusted and feel that a contemplative asking for support means that they are not at all spiritual. But how, I ask, how can they continue their role as deep thinkers that may move society forward without support? The wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism did not come from those who were engaged in commerce, but from those who sat in caves supported by one or more patrons. Why do our contemplatives have to be supported by institutions? Why can’t they be supported by individuals who value their existence? What if we no longer had people who dedicate their lives to deep contemplation an support of others?
The concern when money and spirituality come together is that the money will be misused, but isn’t it easier to keep an individual on the right track than a whole community? Besides, if you don’t trust the person to behave ethically with your money, then you just don’t give. It’s that simple.
These are another category of people who can provide a huge amount of support for people in various communities. Volunteer work often must be left until you are retired and on a pension, or it is undertaken by those whose partners earn enough to support their mate without insisting that their partner contribute to the family finances (and how many of us are in that postition? Certainly not me). In times gone past volunteer or charity work was the domain of the upperclass wife who was supported by her rich husband. Now most of us have to work, married or not. If individuals within a community value the work that one of their community is doing to support them, or working on their behalf, Patreon and others like it makes it possible for that person to have some financial support. Because of this, we don’t have to wait until we’re on the pension. We can do good work while we still have the drive and enery to do it effectively. But only if the community values the support and has some people in the community willing to become that person’s patron.
The main point
The central point here is that everyone needs money to pay for necessities or to contribute something to their family finances (at least that’s how it is in my world) and if we (if we’re able) don’t support those whose artistry and support we value, then one day there won’t be any more artists, volunteers or contemplatives. Wouldn’t the world be diminished if that happened?
The hard part is asking
I fit all of the above categories. I’m an author writing niche market stuff that will never bring me a decent income because the market for it is too small; I’m a contemplative in that I’m someone who studies, practices and integrates dharma into my life every day, and I’m a volunteer for a community cause. Since July I have spent a minimum of 4 hrs a day supporting people who have been affected by abuse, either directly or indirectly, in their spiritual community. A large part is what I write for and behalf of that community. When faced with a negative amount in my bank account and a husband who kept reminding me that he was supporting me or that I wasn’t contributing financially to the family I realised that I had to either stop all the writing, editing and general support I was doing for the What Now? community.
Then someone suggested Patreon.
My mother would probably be horrifed and tell me to forget it and go find a proper job, but the crazy part is that I do have editing work, it’s just taking me too long to do it because I’m busy with unpaid work. Instead of bowing out of the community so I could concentrate on building up my editng business again, which I was quite prepared to do, I set up a Patreon account and asked if anyone wanted to help support me. Many have given one-off donations to tide me over for a bit, some have signed up to be ongoing patrons, and a couple said it was inappropriate to ask, but those who are now my patreons have ensured that I keep up the work I have been doing. More than that, they have inspired me to continue.
The result of having patrons
What do you think? Should communities support artists, contemplatives and volunteers? How would you feel about asking for this kind of support?