On the Art of Making

The king makes a book, not because he writes it with his hands, but because he sets forth the reasons for it, and he amends and corrects and improves them and shows how they ought to be done; and although the one who he commands may write them, we say nevertheless that the king makes the book. And again when we say that the king makes a palace or any other work, it is not said because he makes it with his hands, but because he ordered that it be made and gave the things that were necessary for it.

A History of King Alfonso X the Learned, late-thirteenth century, author unknown

The readings for this week’s Japanese Art History discussion group are giving me a lot of food for thought about the nature of creation, collaboration, patronage, and the art of making.

According to a number of scholars, the concept of artist and patron is something of a false dichotomy—or at the very least a distinction whose origins are wholly modern and whose applicability is limited to the contemporary era (if it can be said to apply perfectly even now) (1). The artist/patron distinction remains a subtly tenuous one; in some cases it is clear cut, in others less so. What, for example, is the role of the editor of a short story volume and of the authors who write to said editor’s content specifications? And what of creators like Amanda Palmer, who blur the lines between artist and patron with crowdfunding and projects-by-Patreon-committee? Naturally, in the age of litigation, intellectual property rights, and questions regarding the nature, value, and ethics of such creative endeavors as sampling, mashups, and fan fiction, it is perhaps best to err on the side of caution and draw clear lines between artist and patron (and fan) for everyone’s sake. But the criteria that make someone a maker are far more fluid than they seem, and they have always been so.

1) Therese Martin, “Exceptions and Assumptions: Women in Medieval Art History,” Reassessing the Roles of Women as ‘Makers’ of Medieval Art and Architecture, ed. Therese Martin (Leiden: Brill Publishing, 2012), 1-33.


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