The Medici Principle — Why Creativity and Purpose Are Not Incompatible

Upon reading the magnificent The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, I was profoundly struck by how purposeful the Medici family lived their lives. This single powerful family enabled the creative explosion of the Renaissance in Florence, Italy. Their creativity and purpose in banking, politics and art colors the canvas of our lives to this day.

The Medici court included artists such as Piero and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo Buonarroti who were all crucially  involved in the 15th century Renaissance. The Medici family money helped these artists flourish and they also secured commissions for them from other patrons. Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo Medici and his family for several years, dining at the family table and attending meetings of the Neo-Platonic Academy.

One of the most significant times of my life came as I entered the sensory overload of the Medici burial chapel and viewed Michelangelo’s depictions of Day & Night and Dusk & Dawn. These works of genius say more about the human condition than can be absorbed in one viewing.

What if Michelangelo had never discovered a patron like the Medici Family? The world would be absent of the greatest works of art created by a single human being—David, the Sistine chapel, the Vatican, the Pieta, and so much more.

A careful study of the Medici family reveals powerful truths for creatives (and business people) that truly wish to change culture.

1.) Partying with Purpose—Lorenzo di Medici was accused of debauchery and excess by the religious zealot Savonarola for his lavish parties. However, those parties provided opportunities to bring prospective patrons and artists together, to introduce them, to showcase the artist’s work, and to create mutual community. Stone does a fascinating job describing Medici’s use of charisma, charm and ability to gather and form collaborations with diverse personalities. He always established several goals he wished to accomplish at each party. The purposeful invitation list, specific food and wine all combined to meet the goals of this artist/businessman who reveled in procuring monies for artists such as Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Michelangelo.

2.) Gathering Creative People Together—Part of the Medici genius was in gathering the right people together. The crucial aspect to these gatherings was later emulated in history during the salons of the French Revolution. The Medici’s gathered influencers and patrons from various disciplines of finance, medicine, education and religion who had the capacity to understand the need for great art and to fund it.

3.) Making Money To Patronize the Arts—Those of us who have been given the talent to make money should realize that a responsibility comes with that gift. My life coach urged me many years ago to use my entrepreneurial abilities to fund creatives. I now live to make money to train and fund artists. It is a legacy. Vincent Van Gogh said, “When you give money to artists, you are yourself doing an artist’s work.” The Medici family understood this principle perhaps better than any family in history. When was the last time you gave money to an artist or purchased an original piece of art? Do you have an annual budget line item specifically to patronize the arts?

4.) Patronizing Artists Who are Better Than You—Even though several of the Medici’s were artists, they were secure enough in themselves to patronize others who were far greater. Many would-be artists have bought into a scarsity principle instead of the abundance principle. Even those of us who are artists need to patronize those in which we recognize great talent and at rare times, genius. I daresay, even the most discerning art critic among us would be hard-pressed to name a Medici painting, but all of us can readily name a work of art by DaVinci, Botticelli or Michelangelo.

5.) Creating Enterprise To Fund Local Artists—The biblical “prophet is without honor in his own country” unfortunately still holds true in most communities. It is distressing to me when I see cities filled with creatives such as my own beloved Franklin, Tennessee who continually contract artists from outside areas, when they have local artists who can do the work and yet are struggling to eek out a living. We need to patronize our local artists by awarding them contracts, and allowing them to design our buildings and decorate our homes. The Medici family knew how to support and encourage local artists in Florence and in doing so created a lasting culture of creativity.

I would value your thoughts and conversation in this area. America is losing her creatives by the thousands. We need them desperately. What are more ways that will help us keep them here?

30 Responses to “The Medici Principle — Why Creativity and Purpose Are Not Incompatible”

  1. I cannot BELIEVE you read Irving Stone. I thought I was the last/only one.(Yet another reason we may have been separated at birth) I believe his historical fiction was trailblazing and his work on John/Abigail Adams is another of my faves. And yes, I believe in partying with purpose. I believe Rick may have left that out in his tome.

  2. Makes me want to read this book. Great points, Randy. Thanks for posting it

  3. This is brilliant, Randy.

  4. Randy, I absolutely love this blog about the Medici Family…I have been using the beautiful example of this family when explaining our passion AND vision for the ArtHouse in East Nashville. Plus, I love Irving Stone…especially Love is Eternal…

    Randy, once again, you are speaking the language of many! Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

    • @Kristy, Ah, i haven’t read Love is Eternal. I must get it!!

      Yes, the Medici’s are a brilliant example for the patronage of the arts.

      Godspeed on the ArtHouse in East Nashville!

  5. Randy… truly this makes sense! Culture can be created, changed and influenced and looks like a road map here is available. This is so much better than simply screaming to the culture about how its not to our liking as Christians. Thanks for the informative and inspiring challenge.

  6. I could talk with you for hours about this! Since that’s not an option, here are some random, related thoughts:

    1. This has parallels with Seth Godin’s Linchpin ideas of work as art, gift economy growth, etc.

    2. It’s easy to think others have more influence, talent, capital, etc. But if you look at a producer/musician like Daniel Lanois, one of his primary talents is not only bringing together the right people to make musical art. He’s also incredibly skilled at mining what he’s stuck with (i.e. the talent in the room) and creating what Brian Eno calls, “beauty from shit.” I think we ignore this opportunity with local creatives.

    3. The “local prophet” metaphor is very true. I wonder if this is ingrained in our culture to the extent we can’t change it, only work with it. For decades, UK artists knew they had to conquer America to be accepted as legitimate talent/successes back home. Likewise, companies consistently hire consultants to do the work their staff or leadership could do. Maybe the opportunity lies in the global microbrand idea artists like Hugh MacLeod, where credibility is built among psychographic, rather than demographic tribes.

    4. I’ve always loved the idea of serendipity. I believe it’s a way we let God be God, rather than us trying to be God. With a serendipitous mindset, we are free to experiment in order to allow happy accidents to happen. As benefactors, beneficiaries and creatives, the hope that something amazing could happen from #1 and #2 above breathes energy into the effort.

    Pastiche, I know. But I hope you continue to expand on this idea from your own perspective and experiences.

    • @Keith Jennings, Keith, Where have you been all my life? Where do you live? We need to have an extended conversation.

      Haven’t read Linchpin yet. Should I?

      And the idea of psychographic tribes as opposed to demographic tribes is something I have been smoking in my pipe for quite a while… need to Google Hugh McLeod…love that term “global microbrand.” I’ve never heard it before…

      Thanks, Keith, for enriching this conversation.

    • @Keith Jennings, By the way, Keith, just went to your blog. I was born in: Chattanooga/ spent most of my growing up in: Ringgold, GA. Small world.

      • @Randy Elrod, Ringgold? It is a small world indeed! Growing up, my dad always said, “You might as well behave, because no matter where you are in the world, someone will know someone that knows you.” I’ve lived in the Kennesaw/Marietta area of northwest Atlanta since 1998.

        I would say that you don’t need to read Linchpin, because from what I’ve encountered on your blog, you are one. However, it’s a great reinforcement resource for any mentoring work you do.

        Feel free to email me directly any time. I would love to carry on the conversation, or just get acquainted. I’ll tweet some links to you to save you the search time.

        Have a great Labor Day weekend!

  7. A big missing component that I am seeing in America is artists being able to remain artists when they start a family. I’m sure this has to do with the fact that once you have a family you need to take care of it with a steady income. I just find that the culture of artists is not particularly inviting to families.

    • @Vince, Yes, I agree. Reading Irving Stone’s “Depths of Glory” makes your heart break for the sacrifice Pissaro’s wife and children paid for him to paint. We need to figure this out in America or Richard Florida will be right!

      thanks, Vince!

  8. Wow! My mind is filled with all sorts of ideas. While sometimes it has been my experience that this happens organically, the idea of gathering people together purposefully to progress the arts is wonderful! It is the artists that effect culture most deeply.

  9. I’m right with you there. The notion that work can be art (ala Godin’s Linchpin) is meaningful and I very much appreciate it but as someone who was once able (prior to needing a steady paycheck) to actually BE an artist, I can’t call much of my work “art.” I don’t think this is specific to America, either, there’s only a thin layer of people worldwide who are able to be full-time artists and sustain a family.

    As much as I’d love to gripe about cultural inability to value art (with our wallets) it feels akin to a vinyl record manufacturer griping about mp3’s, some things just are. I try to look at the thin cultural margins for art as an inspiration to do better work (make that design AMAZING, make that song blow people’s minds) and it does help drive me towards better work (make it great as an offering to Christ, make your efforts like worship to Him) but I can’t deny the frustration and heaviness I feel wishing I could spend my time being an artist but knowing I can’t afford to.

    • @Jamey Clayberg, Yes, Jamey. I had to spend 30 years saving and investing in order to be freed up to be a full-time artist at 47. But looking back on it now—it was totally worth it. I am enjoying this time in my life!! It is indescribable. Hang in there and think the future.

  10. It’s encouraging to see someone approach it that way, there’s always a path to get there, right? By His grace!

  11. Amazing post, Randy… will be passing it on. Yes, I agree that you would find common ground with Godin’s “Linchpin”… in fact, Godin’s heart about marketing anything. You know, in the heyday of the patrons of the arts, I sometimes ponder what kind of paintings would have been created (and NOT created) if the artists had to please the masses for their sustenance instead of just the patron. How watered down, safe, boring creations they would have probably been… and we would not remember them, nor would they be priceless treasures we hold so precious now.

    I am heartened by niche markets turning into active ‘patrons’ of un-watered down music they love. It no longer has to be a mass audience we need to please, if the music we make can move a niche market strongly. But this demands “findability”. Artists now need to educate themselves on the way to link their music to their ideal audience. The openness of the internet is dictating the future of music business, and I believe, the more creative musical expressions will garner the stronger fanbase to support them IF that fan base can find them.

    I LOVE the quote you gave us from Vincent Van Gogh “When you give money to artists, you are yourself doing an artist’s work.” Listeners have the power to become part of the creative process. Medici principle indeed. Great blog here… will continue to follow.

  12. Wow. As always, I learn so much in a short period of time and am totally challenged to think beyond the box after reading your posts! A personal hypothesis on how to retain, or even create, more artists- teach people how to enjoy art and appreciate the artist. Do not idetify the piece or the person by their hometown, political party, economic preferences, or religious affiliation. Our culture is so consumed and driven by agenda for one thing or another; I feel like so many people have this paranoid mentality of “Ok, if I invest this much time, effort, money, etc. into this thing or that, what do I get in return?” As opposed to stopping and saying, “Wow this thing is truly lovely, and I feel more alive simply by being a small part of it.” Retaining art and artists may be as simple as remembering to take the time to see them.

  13. I find myself in tears after reading this article.

    I don’t know if it’s because I know personally the need for The Medici Principal to be in play in my own life – or if it’s a stirring of a deeper understanding of my own calling.

    All I know for sure is that I am moved beyond words!

    Thank you for sharing your heart.

  14. Hey Randy! Love this post! I’m definitely going to have to read that book!

Created by Randy Elrod

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