Becoming a Patron of the Arts (ft. Sven Bjorn Fi, Creative Coder)

In a world where various forms of algorithmic advertising are in our face every second of every day, it’s all too easy to fill our lives with products from the companies with the biggest marketing budgets. The look of our living spaces then isn’t a reflection of our we are, but rather who the average person is. At that point, to differentiate ourselves from others it’s a race to be first to the next hotly talked about “thing”, and then a race to avoid being last, repeated ad infinitum. That modus operandi is a hamster wheel, and while it may be fine for the bland and naïve, what are the people who want a life that reflects originality and boldness and durability supposed to do?

Okay, how bout this: In looking for that distinct type of spirit, is there anything that achieves it better than being a patron of the arts? That’s rhetorical, there’s not. And by the by, did you know that in the history of the world it’s never been easier to get involved with the arts? Oh, some of you did? Okay, for sure, but there are plenty here who didn’t, so I’m gonna explain anyway.

Ahem. What does it mean to be a patron of the arts, you ask? It’s the relationship between wealth and beauty.

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“The Last Judgment”, by Michelangelo (1536-41). A fresco painted in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, it was commissioned by Pope Clement VII, birth name  Giulio de’ Medici.

Many of our most famous paintings and sculptures today were produced during the Italian Renaissance, when wealthy families like the famed House of Medici identified skilled artists, like Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and commissioned them to create work on their behalf. Why did the Medici family do this? For one, humans are and will forever be attracted to beauty in all its forms. But deeper than that, humans are naturally status monkeys, keen for ways to separate themselves from others, even in death (hence why people are so concerned with “legacy”.) Having the most beautiful things that cost the greatest amount of money is a signal of prestige.

Now I know what you’re thinking: these names mentioned above are the 1% of the 1% of the 1%, so how is any of this relatable to the average schmoe? The answer is it’s not, not at that scale. But how things were isn’t how things are, and with the help of the internet anyone can use the Medici’s outline to trace their own cost-effective version and obtain beautiful artwork for a fair price.

My story:

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I found myself spending long hours on Etsy, flipping through hundreds of pages in a quest to find the perfect fake Matisse poster that these shops had all stolen from each other and were now competing to sell. For some reason I’d gotten it in my head that the presentability of these posters meant that I could gift one to my sister to hang on a wall in her office without any issue. In essence, I was defending against the downside of making a bad choice instead of optimizing for upside. I’ve come to accept that it’s a base trait of mine to go down the wrong path before course-correcting to the right one.

I love Matisse and his work, and these posters look well-made, but they’re ultimately inoffensive to the point of being flavorless, and I would guess a depressing number of people who hang them can’t tell you the artist’s first name.

Thankfully before I pulled the trigger, a bolt of inspiration struck me and I realized that instead of choosing between these highly tolerable shams, I could make a much more exciting choice by tracking down a working artist and commissioning them to create a piece.

I immediately got to work on this idea, and the first thing I did was create parameters for my artist search, or else I’d be trying to decide on someone well into the new year. This was a fairly simple process, as my ongoing fascination with generative art bubbled to the surface of my mind and instantly made me excited to share my love for it with my sister.

Quick pause for the uninitiated (this time, I know that’s most of you); generative art is computer code written in such a way that when the code is run it produces images. This process is also known as “creative coding. So what qualifies these images as art? Well, maybe that’s just what you call something done for its own sake.

“Archetypes” by Kjetil Golid. A 600 piece generative art series on Art Blocks that investigates rectangle partitioning. In a randomly selected 8-output grouping, it’s easy to see how many forms this simple concept can take. The more generative art series I see, the more I grow appreciation for how clean yet brilliant this one is.

Obviously given their medium of creation, these generative outputs are digitally native. But there are a multitude of ways to bring them into the physical realm, and the method I find most interesting is done by that of pen plotter. What this means is that the digital device the generative code is stored on is hooked up to a mechanical arm holding a writing utensil, and the machine follows the code it’s given to draw outputs to precise specifications. Here, it’ll be easier to show how it works:

An incredible video of a pen plotter at work.

With my focus set on finding a piece of generative art brought to life by a pen plotter, I reverse engineered my search and started on the subreddit r/PlotterArt, where those most dedicated to the craft swap stories and share work. It wasn’t long before I discovered an artist named Sven Björn Fi discussing his process and showcasing his workflow, both of which hooked me. I tracked down his website and saw that he offered commissions, and I messaged him instantly.

Sven informed me he was in the midst of hosting a plotter exhibition in his home of Paris, France, so communication would be a bit spotty till it was over, but it reinforced that I’d found someone who was walking the path to mastery. In the meantime, I perused the various generative projects he had on offer to create unique outputs from, and I realized I was grateful to have the extra time to make the tough decision.

Options for the Vibrations series.

When Sven was ready to consult with me, I’d settled on the intense simplicity of the project called Vibrations. A thrilling aspect of connecting with the right generative artist is they open their process to make it a collaborative effort, thus deepening the connection to the final piece of artwork. To that end, Sven worked with me to customize pretty much anything I wanted, from the density of the lines, to the colors of the pens, hell, to the material the package was shipped in!

Sven snapped a photo of his packaged artwork in front of the Louvre on his way to the post office.

When the box arrived at my doorstep, I was blown away by how intricately crafted its contents were. The final piece was (of course) gorgeous and packaged delicately, but Sven went above and beyond to add small written details and printed notes to explain and commemorate the work for anyone who wanted to know more.

This can be oriented vertically or horizontally, but I prefer this way and requested Sven sign his signature (lower right corner) to reflect such. He also signed the back. It’s still so interesting to stare at.

I mentioned up above that everyone can engage in art patronage for a fair price, and in an effort for transparency, I paid £65 for the Vibrations output. While not 1% of 1% of 1% pricing, it’s still a lot higher than the amount I want associated with accessibly engaging with the arts. This piece was a special Christmas present that doubled as a physical gift for my sister and a first-hand experience for me to watch an artist of Sven’s caliber from the inside. There are a variety of tiers in which to be a patron, and I promise there are a multitude of talented artists with shops on the internet and locally in every city who are charging reasonable prices in order to get their artwork into the world and support themselves. I’m looking forward to utilizing the artists near me to decorate my own space with attractive, thoughtful and unique artwork.

To close:

I wanna zoom out with a big idea. Diving deeper into the fiscal side of art has only emboldened my outlook that artificial intelligence will act as an immaculate conception for the average person’s relationship to art (i.e. where there was none, there now is.) With AI abolishing the barrier to creation by removing the pre-requisite for technical ability and the need to buy materials to create with, people will soon realize their only limiter to composing well-crafted pictures will be their own imagination. My personal experience with AI art has been earth-shattering, as I’ve found ways to express myself that I never would’ve had otherwise, and in the aftermath it’s caused me to look deeper into myself for more material to work through.

Past that, the more I create for myself, the more interest I’ve found in studying and appreciating artists and the history of the craft; as the French say, “L’appétit vient en mangeant” — Hunger comes as you eat. Just think, as more people enter the space and build their own creative process, they’ll come to understand art from the inside, growing the pie that then gets shared when we engage in mutual patronage. Whether the bulk of that support for one another will be through micro-transactions (probably via cryptocurrency), or art swaps, or maybe just giving it away to anyone who asks, we’ll be reinforcing one another on emotional and spiritual planes that have never existed. On top of that, we’ll have the option to interact peer-to-peer, cutting out centralized middlemen, AKA the corporations that treat us like anonymous cows that they milk for money. While this long-term prediction may be difficult to comprehend now, if there’s one thing I’d feel comfortable advising of anyone, it’s not to bet against the digital sphere when it comes to radically altering everything we know about modern life.

We humans are visual creatures, so it’s important to be thoughtful about the images we surround ourselves with. The goal is simple: find an artist who resonates with you and go become a patron of theirs by buying a piece of work. Art doesn’t have to break the bank to be meaningful, and as you discover your own taste you’ll learn to identify quality work within your price range. It only takes one to start, but the more you participate in this exchange, the more others will feel compelled to follow your lead (status monkeys!) and the whole world gets brighter as it’s filled with more original art.

Remember: Life is experience. Start today and go discover who you are and what you like. That’s a worthy goal.

Leaving on a comfy and elegant note, in the form of a piece of art I co-created w AI.

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