This morning Amanda Palmer shared an article on Facebook about whether or not it is still possible to survive as an artist in America. The article references a book by Scott Timberg titled “Culture Clash.” I have yet to read the book, but the article alone was enough to get me riled up to write here. There is too much to say as a Facebook comment and after reading the article I even feel dirty about writing it as an internet blog post instead of shouting it from a soap box in the street.
Society’s love, lust, respect and appreciation of the arts is dying. I’m not even sure they’re dating anymore, maybe they’re friends with benefits, but there is no romance. On the surface it seems that way. On the surface it would seem that iphones have made everyone a photographer and web based magazines and newspapers are slowly killing their printed counterparts, but that is the problem. People aren’t digging deep enough to see what is happening underground.
That’s where the real art seems to happen now, we’ve taken a proverbial page out of the books from the punk era, we can’t be published so instead we publish ourselves. Cutting, pasting, drawing, handwriting, shooting film and photocopying, stapling our words, our art, our well being together. We create zines, we create communities, we have clubs of artists where we pool our ideas together to create something bigger. We play our music in the streets, we paint our murals on walls and abandoned buildings, we sell our zines on the bookshelves of indie bookstores, screaming our souls into microphones at poetry slams. We peddle our work anyway we know how, finding new ways by going back to the old ways.
I was ashamed for being amazed, but this Summer in New York City, I was amazed to see artists on the sidewalks selling their paintings, their songs, their art. I thought it was amazing that such a street arts community still existed. It’s not that way everywhere.
Today being an artist, surviving as an artist, identifying as an artist, is hard. I graduated college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Rhode Island into an economy recovering from an ongoing war and in an economic nose dive. I moved across the country to Arizona where I worked folding clothes, answering phones and working in the HR office at Target for 3 years. I didn’t draw, I didn’t paint, I didn’t write. It was like the creativity in me had shrivled up and died. I then decided to move on to something that paid better than the $9/hr I was getting at Target. I sold my soul and worked in a tiny cubicle in a giant maze of a gray call center making $11/hr and was completely, utterly, listlessly miserable. Anytime someone asked what my degree was in they would laugh at me. I didn’t go to college to become an artist, I already was one, I went to college for the piece of paper that would make me legitimate to society to teach art. Instead, I’ve found I would have been better off without the student loan debt and without the mocking laughter. I quit my job at the call center to pursue being an artist full time.
Of course, that is the point of the article above, that it is damn near impossible to survive as an artist in today’s world. I haven’t given up yet. In fact, I often push myself, feeling that I haven’t connected all of the dots yet, and there is a way to make it work. There is a balance to creating and living. I think the secret is in the underground. The secret is in letting down barriers, the secret is in collaborating together again, the secret is in the revolution that is going on all around us. There are people everywhere feeling the same way, we need to connect, to come together in a common cause and stand up, to build. We are not individuals, we are a force to be reckoned with. We need to rebuild the centers for art, we need to stop vilifying art and artists, and raise them up.