“Nobody wants me to do anything, so I’m just doing what I want.” So boasted one Liz Fallon of Portland, Maine in a recent survey conducted by the New York Times, wherein artists were asked to respond to an economic climate that has effectively leveled the livelihoods of many who work in creative industries. “That is, in all seriousness, the best attitude towards the recession that we’ve heard in a WHOLE YEAR,” cheered media blog Gawker, championing the painter’s defiant attitude. Posted to its website, the Times’ request for artists’ personal stories drew a flood of responses from which emerged a trend: It appears that artists are faring better than expected, all things considered.
As a quick glance through the annals of American art history clearly proves, wars, recessions, and other such calamities tend to bring out the best in the arts. President Roosevelts’s oft-cited New Deal forged a sense of camraderie (and competition) among unemployed artists, while inadvertently shifting the course of art history — Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, and Jacob Lawrence are but a few of the artists that were employed under the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.
Perhaps the difficulty of making a living wage off of one’s work serves as a psychological buffer of sorts: One can’t miss an opulent lifestyle that never existed to begin with. (Try delivering that line of reason to collectors following last week’s auction results!) While certainly not enough to assuage the damage to the endowments of even the most prestigious arts organizations, President Obama’s promised provisions for the National Endowment for the Arts — $50 million to bolster the organization’s $145 million annual budget — have certainly delivered his proverbial message of hope to struggling non-profits. Ultimately, the arts community may have simply reached a saturation point — “all recession, all the time” becomes a boorish topic of conversation after a spring benefit dinner or ten. What else to do then, but eat, drink, and be merry anyway?
[Image courtesy Flickr photographer niznoz]