Society has always needed its artists and those who support them. The artists tend to get all the credit and acclaim: painters, actors, musicians, et al. But there are usually strong minds and money behind them.
The de’ Medici’s are probably the perfect example of a group who supported the arts to such a degree that it is virtually impossible to talk about the Italian and French Renaissances without mentioning them as integral parts.
Would The Beatles have sounded so good without the production talents of George Martin or have become so famous, so quickly without the promotional dynamism of Brian Epstein?
F Scott Fitzgerald’s grammar and punctuation skills were famously bad. He was lucky enough to work with one of the best editors in publishing history – Maxwell Perkins – who also helped shape the work of other great writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe. How many people remember Perkins or have even heard of him?
Film producers are quite often thought of as money-grabbing, cocaine-snorting maniacs who don’t give a damn about art in the world of moving images. And it’s true to say there have been plenty of examples who have personified that cliche – Top Gun’s Don Simpson springs to mind.
But there are some truly classic films that would never have been made without the crusader-like spirit of a producer who believed in the worth of a certain script and its director – Robert Evans nearly lost his job and career supporting Francis Ford Coppola and The Godfather.
These days there aren’t as many Patrons willing to take time and spend money building careers with artists – the most recent example I can think of is Charles Saatchi, who spent a huge amount of money in the 1990s on the burgeoning work of the Young British Artist crowd: Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and others.
Many authors talk about the ‘good old days’ when publishers would quite naturally present a three-book deal with a large advance if they could see a spark of talent – providing the necessary space and time for the author to become a better writer. These days most publishers are very reticent to allow authors more than one go at ‘The Big Time’ and many are dropped if sales don’t meet the current industry-standard.
The club-land impresario and Visage lead-singer Steve Strange died recently. He was vital to the creation of a whole artistic movement in the early 1980s – through his stewardship of bands such as Culture Club and Spandau Ballet, New Romanticism spent a number of years dominating music and fashion. He even appeared in the famous video for David Bowie’s song Ashes to Ashes (which is often attributed as being the starting-gun for the ideology behind The New Romantics).
Strange struggled with an addiction to Heroin and, after Visage broke up in 1985, never managed to regain his position as a prominent fashion-leader. But he is important, because he took chances on people and the talents he perceived in them, and created ways and means for those talents to flourish. And he made the way young people thought about personal presentation as important to them as the quality of their work.
As someone who was a New Romantic/Futurist in the early 1980s I miss the likes of Steve Strange and the burning desire to be ‘different’ – standing out from the crowd: hair dye, make-up, etc. I look around at younger people these days (grumpy-old-man-it-was-better-in-my-day alert!) and wonder, ‘What happened? sixteen year olds seem happy to dress the same way as sixty year olds …’
I hope I’m wrong and there is a new wave just around the corner.
Daniel’s latest book Friendship and Afterwards is available as a Kindle download here http://goo.gl/3ZIWzJ. The book is also available in paperback.