I read “The Real Humanities Crisis” by Gary Gutting which you kindly sent me this morning. Well, I skimmed it. I appreciated the sentiment, which I interpreted as a show of support and sympathy for the path that I have chosen, the life of an artist. I write this response sipping coffee and wearing a black turtleneck, but I assure you that is mere coincidence. The article itself, well, it’s almost as hard to swallow as my coffee.
This is the kind of article that gets stuffed into papers to remind us, lest we have forgotten, that the arts are important and the economic system we live in does not support that. Well, eh… that’s kind of baloney. Honestly, things are much better for artists now than they have ever been. The image of a wan, tortured soul suffering from syphilis in the cold corner of his apartment in Paris has been replaced by a gal with big glasses clutching some sort of analog recording device and sipping expensive coffee she traded with some guy at the farmers market she works at. Really, there hasn’t been a better time for us creative kids to support ourselves because we live in a service economy. I overheard a guy at Home Depot who worked at the paint station giving a woman excellent advice on complimentary colors. Turns out he’s an illustrator. My colleague at the bookstore is an animator. I have friends who are musicians and support themselves by tutoring kids. And me, well I’m using my car as a taxi, stuffing envelopes, hustling for film gigs and writing to you. Yes, I tape my shoes together, but I do it from my two bedroom flat before walking out to my new car. I sometimes work till 1am, but it’s Monday morning and I have the luxury of enjoying the cold winter light cascading over my down-stuffed l-shaped sofa.
I’m getting distracted from my point, which is that article is written by someone who is seeing the world as it was, not as it is. The job market is totally different now. The idea of employer and employee has been turned on its head by websites and apps that connect people that need things with people who can do things. So yes, I may pick up someone in my car and drive them to a bar, but they’re the person who fills my order out when I shop for dresses online. I work for dozens of people in a year, but they aren’t the ones who set my schedule. And what’s more, writing and illustrating and making videos or music is the kind of stuff a lot of companies want to pay for when they’re building a brand. And that’s great, because one week of work matching grain on photographs is two months rent and expenses for some of us. So even if I don’t make $75,000 a year, or even a quarter of that, I have the freedom to pursue what I love, sleep in late if I need to, live comfortably, and try something new every day. If I want to make more money, I just have to work more, but it’s a choice. And, I get to do that because I live in an economy that supports it.
There isn’t a crisis. Few artists have ever been able to support themselves by their craft alone. And, who is to say that it’s best to spent 12 hours a day every day staring at a blank sheet of paper waiting for inspiration. I’d be just as miserable doing that as I would staring at a computer screen in a fancy office. It’s all about finding balance between your material needs and your need to express yourself. As an artist yourself, I know you understand.
I’m going to go pay some bills and build boxes for my cool new prop closet.