Sunday, December 29, 2013

Every Artist's Studio Is a Future High End Rental

I'm one of the very last working artists left in Manhattan, and I am there entirely by luck and by chance.  I have no idea how long I will be able to stay in my very affordable work space.  Despite being so affordable,  money is always an issue for me, and the arrangements under which I pay my lease are always provisional.  I've nearly lost the place a dozen times, and yet I'm still there 20 years later.  I doubt that I could find anything similar, certainly not in Manhattan and probably not in Brooklyn anymore; maybe not even in New York.  I know artists who keep studios in small towns upriver on the Hudson (Hudson, NY is fast becoming a town full of artists and galleries driven out by the high costs of New York City).  I know others who live in New York and keep studios in Philadelphia.

This article by Sarah Kendzior is one of many that have come out recently deploring the plight of artists and others like musicians, dancers, actors, etc. in cities like New York and San Francisco where the influx of the very rich drives up rents and leases to such heights as to push them out.  This is definitely something to think about as artists in New York, once a very tough breed that squatted in vacant buildings and made them livable and workable, are reduced to the status of menials and charity cases dependent on the generosity of the plutocracy.  They are still a tough breed, but there are no vacant buildings left anywhere to squat.  The recent end of 5 Pointz, the last artists' commune in New York, spotlights the demise of opportunities for resourceful scroungers.  Resourceful scroungers now must be resourceful spongers to stay afloat, writing grant proposals and cultivating patrons to stay in business.

I don't think this is limited to New York and San Francisco.  They are only the most acute cases.  The same situation is true in large cities across the country.  Even in Sarah Kendzior's own Saint Louis, rents are much higher for artists now than they were even 10 years ago.

People in all of these cities pay pious lip service to The Arts, and yet are making too much money off newly high end real estate to provide any room for the people who make the arts.  Our attitude toward creativity is like our attitude toward childhood.  Just as we sentimentalize childhood and hate kids, so we bang on about "creativity" and "innovation" and yet we despise the misfits who do all the creating and innovating.  In the USA, culture (popular and not) is the creation of the social and economic margins.  The Rich and Beautiful don't make culture.  They buy season tickets to it.  Their need for a pricey pied a terre on each coast is about to marginalize the makers of culture out of existence.

The white-washed shell of 5 Pointz in New York

There are aspects of this problem that are beyond policy fixes.  Artistic and musical subcultures are the creations of middle and lower classes.  Being middle class doesn't count for much anymore, and being lower class counts for less.  The USA is going back to a situation like the late 19th century where a few people owned and ran everything and everyone else was an expendable employee who worked hard for long hours and little pay.  Only today's robber barons are a lot less public-spirited than the ones of the previous Gilded Age.  Ayn Rand didn't exactly encourage philanthropy.  Also, art, like all other professions, is being proletarianized.  Artists are becoming dependent wage earners one way or another, just like engineers, doctors, and lawyers.  I wonder too if this is an unforeseen consequence of over 30 years worth of theoretical criticism that reduces the role of the artist in the cultural-social-economic transaction that is a work of art.  The artist in the end is just a skilled laborer in a predetermined role, according to this school of thought that still dominates academia.
I think that it is striking that so many of the celebrities in contemporary art are not artists, but collectors and curators.  The most famous name in contemporary art is Charles Saatchi who is not an artist, but a billionaire collector.


There is this poster from the Occupy movement a few years back that I think best summarizes the situation of artists (and so many others) these days.  We flourish despite being paved over.


Leonard said...

And then there is the studio at the foot of the volcano (active) in Guatemala...we do gorgeous work...few will ever know about it.
Yet I continue, eyes weaking but the spirit is willing...all for the need to reach beyond where I have been before. Good luck to you Doug, I think about your work often, amazing ideas painted into being...

Unknown said...

Very informative and helpful post. Thanks for sharing. It was nice about the Studio.

studio rentals for students in Manhattan