April 24, 2012
Scott Timberg, writing for Salon, with a compelling essay on the financial struggles of America’s creative class:
Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen write anthems about the travails of the working man; we line up for the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson hold festivals and fundraisers when farmers suffer. Taxpayers bail out the auto industry and Wall Street and the banks. There’s a sense that manufacturing, or the agrarian economy, is what this country is really about. But culture was, for a while, what America did best: We produce and export creativity around the world. So why aren’t we lamenting the plight of its practitioners? Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession. But when someone employed in the world of culture loses a job, he or she feels easier to sneer at than a steel worker or auto worker.
The piece has gotten a lot of traction on the web, and the comment board responses over at Salon are themselves a gripping read.
…even in good economic times, artists often had other jobs. Ashbery worked as an editor. Wallace Stevens was an insurance agent. Being an artist is, contrary to popular belief, not a cushy or elitist life. We’ve got to find ways to get that truth out there. People are artists because they have to be, even if they can’t make a living doing it. It is hard, I guess, for non-artist types to understand that view.
Didn’t the likes of Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Mozart, Handel hire themselves out to Cardinals, Popes and aristocrats — the rich CEOs of the time? Weren’t Shakespeare’s plays aimed at — marketed to — the tastes of a populace far less educated and informed than the modern moviegoer and considered bawdy and low-brow? The great works of European architecture were paid for by the church & the aristocracy and much of the labor building them coerced. Isn’t the Mona Lisa a portrait commissioned by a rich merchant? How would such work, say a portrait of a Walton wife, be regarded in today’s art world? Would the NY critics and gallery owners even regard it as art, give its artistic worth any objective assessment or would they dismiss it a commercialized pandering because of its origin?
I’d say self-indulgent pretty much sums up the problem.
God Damn the market — let them eat religion! And [Jonathan] Lethem knows that all writers live under one constraint only — the auspices of silence. Write only those things worth dying for, or that which makes other people want to shoot you. And if the market comes to find you, after all, tell them that no man or woman can be a prophet in their own country.
“Struggling creative” means hipster. People don’t like hipsters. Let their parents continue to pay because the “creatives” want to extend their liberal arts campus to Northern Brooklyn. Someone is not an artist because they say they are an artist. They effect a Bohemian lifestyle and therefore they must be artists. True art will find its audience, it always does, but one need only look inside some of the studios and in Bushwick and Williamsburg to see the works of people “playing” artist. If my kid brought some of this stuff home from preschool I would walk up and have a word with the teach. By the way, in this Internet connected age they don’t have to practice their “art” in the most expensive places on earth. Go home, hipster.