The Digital Age and Arts Patronage: Part 2

In a previous post, I argued that one of the ways we can understand the digital age’s impact on arts patronage is in terms of the shift from the patron as connoisseur to the patron as participant. In this post, I want to continue the discussion and explore what I think is a deficiency in digital patronage that deserves theological critique.

While the digital age has resulted in exceptional mediums for creating both the opportunity and the space for the active participation of the patron, embodied relationship between artist and patron is largely missing. Websites such as Kickstarter have linked artists who need funding with patrons who have funds to offer. However, the interaction between artist and patron remains mostly virtual and impersonal. They may never know each other in any tangible way. Conversely, embodied participation leads to human interaction and, I think, bears theological weight.

Christian theology provides a critique to human interaction that remains virtual and impersonal. Especially through the incarnation, we are reminded that God participated in this world as a fully embodied person. The Gospels are clear to document the human interactions of Jesus, and Luke clearly argues that Jesus’ resurrected body is real and fully human, even able to cook and eat fish with his followers. If this is the God in whose image we are created and the Jesus we are called to imitate, surely embodied participation becomes our guide for how we should interact with one another, even in our patronage. I’d like to offer one suggestion to that end.

Christian theology suggests that “[t]o be human is to live freely and gladly in relationships of mutual respect and love.”[1] Guided by Christ’s example of humanity, embodied patronage is a relationship of mutual self-giving and sacrifice of time, energy, talents, and money, among other things. Why embodiment is important to this relationship is better understood when we consider what the word ‘patron’ means. Patron stems from the Latin patronus, meaning ‘protector of clients’, ‘advocate’ or ‘defender’.[2] Applied to this context, the patron is the one who protects, preserves, and enables the artist to create. It’s conceivable to imagine a patron in this role as protector while still maintaining a disembodied, virtual relationship to the artist (such as protection of the arts through government patronage where the individual artist remains unknown to the patron). However, understanding the patron as protector in light of embodiment challenges both artist and patron to become more like Christ. To protect, one must risk the possibility of sacrifice. To be protected, one must acknowledge vulnerability and need. Embodied patronage moves both artist and patron towards the position of self-giving, sacrificial action.

Embodied patronage has the potential to be much more than a means to see artwork realised.  It can be an opportunity for conformity to the image of God.

[1] Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2004), 141.

[2] Marjorie B. Garber, Patronizing the Arts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 2.



  • Sara Schumacher is the editor and a regular contributor to Transpositions. Prior to life in academia, Sara worked as a graphic designer in Oxford where her experience as an artist and a Christian raised many questions, ultimately leading her to pursue further study in theology and the arts at St Andrews. Sara holds a B.S. in Graphic Design and an A.A. in Cross-Cultural Services from John Brown University and has recently completed an M.Litt in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Andrews. She is currently working on a PhD at St Andrews, focusing on church patronage of the arts.

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