It is hardly news to anyone in Seattle that humanity over the entire planet is experiencing an unprecedented rate of technological change. In Seattle this is visible in entire neighborhoods replaced in the last ten years. According to Governing Magazine, Seattle has experienced a 50% gentrification rate since 2000, compared to a 40% rate in the 1990s. Cleveland, in contrast, has experienced a 6.7% rate since 2000. In Seattle, to travel to a new city, you only have to spend an afternoon watching a movie. You will find a new skyline when you go outside. Major shifts such as the movement from stone to metal tools, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, or from human labor to mechanical labor, once took place over millennia or centuries. Since the end of the 19th century, however, we have experienced a continual and increasingly rapid succession of equally large technological shifts: the internal combustion engine, the rise of machines capable of computation, nuclear power, global communication networks, the spread of pervasive data collection, and automation of complex information and physical systems.
During the last four thousand years, where art existed at all, for most artists making a living meant begging from those in power. Historians call it patronage, though most of it went without saying, part of the facts of life absorbed by osmosis. Some rich person, king or noble, bishop or abbot, cardinal or pope would be approached by an artist, a painter or sculptor or poet, and if the rich person liked what he saw, the two might arrive at an understanding whereby the artist would be clothed and fed, perhaps given supplies and a stipend along with a series of commissions which were really command performances. He might also sometimes be given a tedious, responsible job as personal secretary or teacher of the rich man’s kids, in return for his work being sponsored, tacitly approved, owned and enjoyed by the wealthy man and his family. If the artist remained properly subservient, the arrangement might be lifelong. To some extent patronage still goes on today, politely veiled through a couple of mechanisms I will come to in a minute.