Our daughter lives in Oakland. She is still reeling from the recent, unimaginably horrible fire at Ghost Ship. Like many of the thirty-six who died, she is an artist who struggles with finding an economic base from which to create art. For her, it is more than just making a living—she has found life without being able to create art is simply not possible.
I suggest art is as essential to life as food or shelter, as is demonstrated in many “primitive” cultures and “poor” countries where gorgeous artistic expression typically blossoms. Just give kids chalk and a sidewalk and follow the footsteps to successful artists.
The fact that the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts is less than $150 million is a good indicator of how we’ve brainwashed ourselves that art is not necessary or, at best, a luxury few can afford. How telling that $300 million was spent on art during a single auction in NYC last spring, and the year before Christie’s sold nearly $1.4 billion worth of art in two sales. Fascinating that collectors are the ones who ultimately profit from the work of the poor artist.
Despite the fact that I’ve shown my work in nearly thirty shows or locations in the past year, I’ve not sold enough of it to even pay for the new camera I bought to replace the ones I’d worn out. I’m privileged to not need to cover these costs much less make a living as an artist but most artists are not that fortunate.
The price we pay for not including art in our life can be challenging to notice in the daily struggle just making ends meet. Imagine a world that was simply gray where all the “art” was the same. So much of the “art” we might see in our modern culture is disguised as marketing and advertisements, and it comes with an unacceptably high and manipulative price tag—which, by the way, we pay! Coca-cola, for example, spent a billion dollars on marketing this year while Proctor and Gamble spent five times that much. Despite Warhol’s famous work, I’m not willing to call all advertising art.
Too much Federal spending? Well, don’t get me started on the cost of military hardware: a single new F-35—which will be based in Vermont if it ever actually comes into full production—will cost over $100 million with the whole thirty-year boondoggle priced at a trillion.
Imagine if we took the money, another one trillion dollars, we are scheduled to spend in the next thirty years on upgrading our country’s weapons of mass destruction and spent it, instead, on a secret “weapon” called art. Imagine building not more bombs, but affordable artist studios—a memorial to the 36 lives lost in the fire—all over the country. Or adequately funding art in our public schools. Perhaps a tax on the sales of art or at least on the appreciating value when it is resold at these exorbitant prices. Imagine artists making a fair living for their work and even, as artists can do in Mexico, paying their taxes with donations of their art.
If you are still with me, I apologize for this rant, at least the length of it! The short and simple thing I want to say is art is essential to life, especially in these times of doubt and fear. Thank you for doing what you can to create art, SUPPORT art/artists, and/or to create more safe spaces where artists can work.