Paying the Piper: Causes and Consequences of Art Patronage.
In exploring this question, Balfe arranges the essays in such a way as to compare the benefits and limitations of five patronage structures. Three sections deal with direct patronage: patronage by private individuals, by private institutions, and by state institutions. Two sections are devoted to indirect patronage, by city and by state institutions. The fourteen essays range chronologically from major developments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (dilettantism in the Netherlands, and the advent of literary agents), to the pre-war years in the U.S. (patronage of Native American arts and American Labor colleges in the 1920s) to the present (the National Endowment for the Arts and the European Community).
The essays (contributed mainly by sociologists and arts administrators) offer interesting analyses and serve as useful sources of information about diverse traditions of patronage and specific case studies. For example, Tia DeNora considers how self-promotion and patronage by influential people were instrumental in shaping Beethoven's career and reputation as a musician. Vera Zolberg explores the political nature of public culture in postcolonial India, and the difficulties presented by its ethnic, religious, and linguistic heterogeneity. In a different context, Esther Gelabert examines how cultural policy has proven to be an "intractable" issue in the formation of the European Community. Eight of the fourteen essays deal specifically with American cases such as the formation of groups of "Friends" of museums (Balfe and Cassily), the politics of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (Judy Levine), and the conflict surrounding classical music on public and private radio stations in the U.S. (Richard A. Peterson). Despite this diversity, however, one of the main shortcomings of the contributions is that too often the authors are reluctant to take firm positions, particularly in areas where they could afford to be far more provocative. This may result from what Balfe refers to - and praises - as "the logic of social science disinterestedness" (314). For instance, in her examination of the dilemmas faced by artists in the former German Democratic Republic, Marilyn Rueschemeyer acknowledges the ambivalence of their new position (namely, how they have gained the "freedom" of Western markets at the expense of the security of a state patronage system). But the point needs to be made more forcefully, especially in light of the evidence, presented in other essays in the book, of political control and commercial exploitation of artists in market economies ("Gentrification and the Avant-Garde in New York's East Village" by Anne E. Bowler and Blaine McBurney, and "Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions: Controversies in the Public Sphere" by Steven C. Dubin.)
A more serious problem is how the essays are supposed to work as parts of a larger argument posed by Balfe in the framing portions of the collection and the brief introductions she provides to the different patronage structures. While Balfe uses the case studies to illustrate the often unintended consequences of arts patronage, in order to "assess - and thus anticipate and counteract - the problems inherent in art patronage" (4), they are simply too diverse to where in a useful way. This is complicated by the fact that there are, in some cases, discrepancies between Balfe's concerns and those of the individual contributors. The questions she poses, and the assumptions from which she works, take for granted - and implicitly accept - an essentially American model of "patronage." Some of the contributors operate in a wider frame of reference, but only the piece by Zolberg is even remotely critical of how little government support for the arts has been available, historically, in the U.S., as compared with European countries.
Balfe's methodological assumptions are also somewhat misleading. She is openly dismissive of theoretical approaches and states: "Although these essays vary in their empirical focus, for the most part their authors remain disengaged from current debates over ideal models of theorizing and interpretation, of deconstruction, semiotics, reflexivity, and the like . . . . In the limited space available to them, in general these analysts have tried to tell the story 'straight,' historically and phenomenonologically as it has apparently been understood by its participants" (4, my emphasis). It is true that the authors do not foreground issues of methodology in their analyses, but the naivete expressed in the statement above does not do justice to the materialist and new historicist readings offered in some of the essays. Balfe's reference, later in the book, to the "mind-numbing linguistic complexity" of "politically radical postmodernists" suggests she may be confusing the substance of theoretical ideas with the language in which these ideas are expressed.
In the context of arts funding, I am more concerned with the plight of artists than with that of patrons. So while I am not sympathetic to Balfe's argument and her conclusions - that patrons have been more controlled than controlling - I would nevertheless encourage readers to judge the individual contributions on their own merits. Like many collections of essays, this one is less than the sum of its parts; however, for anyone interested in arts funding and cultural policy, its parts make for important reading.
MARIA R. DICENZO University of Guelph
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|Title Annotation:||Gay & Lesbian Queeries|
|Author:||Dicenzo, Maria R.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||May 1, 1995|
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