This commentary on the state of the arts was previously published in The Berthoud Weekly Surveyor, in Berthoud, Colorado. Some comments are regional but the main point is universal. – Suz
Being an artist — whether painter, pianist or poet — is a tough calling to answer. The term “starving artist” has been around long before anorexic pop stars, and for good reason. To live by one’s art means that every little bit of money earned tends to go back in to supplies or studio rent or another black turtleneck. Food usually goes to the bottom of the list and thus, a cliché is born.
Appreciative art lovers may really want an original painting to adorn their wall, but first they have to spend eighty dollars filling their tank to get to their own day jobs. And since the average person doesn’t enjoy starving as much as the average artist, it takes a lot more green to fill their grocery cart with greens. That masterpiece just went from whim to wish and may gather dust in the local gallery.
Musicians still waiting for the big break – and who missed the auditions for that poor excuse of a show “America’s Got Talent” – are looking for a paying, playing gig to fill the gaps. Clubs trying to keep their expenses down will forego the live music. Why pay for a soulful crooner when karaoke is free. Obnoxious, but free.
Writers can bide their time between book deals by exploring the wonderful new world of blogging. If they don’t mind the need to shower hourly, there is certainly an available cesspool for political commentary these days. Unfortunately, the Internet might provide a huge audience but the pay is as intangible as cyberspace itself.
Sadly, it is a difficult time to be an artistic type who hopes to make a living doing what our souls can’t live without. Dramatic? Maybe, but it’s true. And as an arts writer, art seller, artist and friend of many artsy types in general, I feel qualified to expound on this matter. Those who aspire to spin gold from their chosen endeavors are getting bloody fingers these days, but regardless of their success they still gotta do it. It might be done after the day job or the housework, but there’s a cubby hole in the house or a corner of their lives where they squeeze out some product … even if it’s only for themselves.
You see, it doesn’t matter what acrobatics our economy is performing or what war abroad our country is fighting or even who will emerge from the muck in November to run it all. Creative souls have to create.
People may not be motivated in hard times to go out and embrace the arts, (too expensive, too far to drive, too frivolous) but the hard times have never kept the artistic spirit down. Why do you think the blues remained popular even after the Prozac kicked in? And the Great Depression, the symbolic era that defined tough times, produced some of the most amazing cultural expression in our country’s history. Painters like Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper depicted the mood and courage of the times with stark, mesmerizing imagery. When theatergoers stopped buying tickets to big productions, they flocked to the newly talking movies to be entertained by the optimistic likes of Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. Broadway themed pictures replaced the actual theater for a long time. Musically, the depression gave birth to the masters of Tin Pan Alley and today’s artists still integrate folk and blues into their work.
No, a civilization – much less a country – does not fall to its knees, creatively when gloom and doom are the battle cry. If it did, I’m afraid our museums would be chock full of Thomas Kinkade paintings, Abba would rule the airwaves and only numerous versions of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books would fill our libraries. People often say they don’t regret the bad things that have happened to them, because it made them who they are. Same thing, bigger picture.
Berthoud is working through its latest growing pains amidst the housing crisis, rising costs, etc., right along with everyone else. But the arts are being hit particularly hard. Mountain Avenue Pottery has been in apparent limbo for months since it’s brief period of business. A few beautiful pieces still sit and hang to be admired in the window. Jellyfish Glass on Third Street has scaled back to offer glass blowing classes, kids art workshops and viewing by appointment only. And one of the biggest losses was the cancellation of Berthoud’s Arts and Crafts Festival held every June for 34 years. Berthoud Arts & Humanities Alliance (BAHA) took over the event a couple of years ago and I’ve been told they plan to bring it back next year. We sure hope so.
Whether it was lack of vendors, poor economy or road construction, there is still a healthy appetite for art. The sculpture and art show held this week in Loveland are already reporting great numbers. One Berthoud art lover said she may be a little choosier, perhaps buying fine or more durable art, but she is definitely still buying art. Another theory I heard – and liked – is that with the gas prices rising, folks stay home more and before long they feel the need to nest; surround themselves with things that make them happy. Wildfire Community Arts continues to offer a broad range of culture to the town and the Bridge Between Show Choir are singing and dancing their way into people’s hearts, just to name a few.
I like all of these optimistic outlooks when we’re in a crunch, but it really doesn’t matter what I think. Artists will always find a way to express themselves whether anyone’s buying, or not. It’s an addiction that must be fed. I actually saw an advertisement once in California for A.A. – a twelve-step program for artists, not alcoholics. Why would anyone want to overcome the need to create?
So go out this week and feed a local artist – they might need a new black turtleneck before the temperature drops.