Two months after launching a Patreon account I pulled the plug. I wrote thank you notes to all the contributors (most of whom read this newsletter, so, thanks again!) and shut it down. There are many reasons but it boils down to the queasy feeling I got every time I opened the Patreon page. It just never felt right.
I never got a handle on what I should be doing there once people committed to sending me money. I sent out a bunch of art and books as rewards, somewhat haphazardly. Posted some art and writing I was working on. It all felt nebulous. No beginning or end.
Someone told me recently that people are making a bunch of money off newsletters these days. But I can’t bring myself to paywall mine. I use it as a kind of sketchbook, in addition to sharing news. I don’t know that it would feel right to charge readers for such an incomplete, unpolished thing. Over the last five years, since I quit Twitter and Instagram, this newsletter has been my main online soapbox. I get more out of writing it than readers get out of reading it I suspect.
There was none of the same satisfaction with the Patreon. It reminded of the worst aspects of Kickstarter and social media. That insatiable need for reaction and approval. The sense of a shapeless, ever-growing organism that swallows all one’s efforts with little acknowledgement, aside from the implicit, drug-like need to continue.
The newsletter has never felt this way. By having to put it out every Monday, I have a kind of structure to my week. Every week starts with a new newsletter. All the Patreon did was add stress. In order to offer something worthwhile to readers there I’d need to take something away from the newsletter and that was too high a price to pay.
It may seem crazy to turn down money. Considering I only promoted the thing here, my Patreon could’ve been judged a success. Instead, it felt like a dead end. I wonder sometimes about other eras, when artists had patrons. What and how much did they lose by submitting to their sponsors’ wishes and whims? If Patreon is the cyber era Medici, did those Italian painters feel as crummy back then as I do now coming hat in hand to ask for help?
I’ll continue trying to figure out ways to get by from my work. The low-price art sale I started last year will continue. Just about any painting I have on hand can be yours for $200 or less. I’ll keep carrying my books in my bag everywhere, in case I meet someone who wants to buy one. What else can I do? I’m open to suggestions.
The same day I pulled the plug on Patreon I got an amazing package in the mail. Lynda Barry sent me a signed copy of her new book, along with a note about Soviet Stamps, and a check. It was the most flattering feedback I’ve probably ever received. The fact it came from a certified genius was icing on the cake. I sat at the coffee shop with tears running down my face rereading it.