nyc artist economics

Paddy Johnson is doing a series of interviews about "survival in NY." A recent one is with Marcin Ramocki. It reminded me of a Q&A I did with a journalist shortly after the Crash that had some similar themes. I never heard back from the writer after sending off these email answers: probably this isn't the sort of crap he wanted to hear.

What brought you to New York?

For a painter it's a necessity. This city has the largest concentration of professionals devoted to the field and unlike music, video, or writing, which can be enjoyed and critiqued long distance, everyone pretty much needs to be looking at actual, physical paintings to make judgments about them. The same applies to sculpture, installation, or anything else presented in a physical space.

How has being in New York aided your career?

[long brag about accomplishments]

Has it been detrimental to your career in any ways?

No. I like it here!

What is it about New York that makes it worth the extra costs involved in living here?

See answer above about painting people all needing to be in the same room, more or less, to evaluate what's going on. Then add that you are rubbing shoulders with equally substantial communities of musicians, software and tech people, writers, filmmakers, and that you have interesting crossovers and bleeds among art and all those other fields.

Has time spent making the money required to live in New York taken away time you might have spent making art if you lived somewhere less expensive? Are you able to support yourself entirely off your art? How realistic is it today for the typical artist to expect to be able to support themselves entirely off their art? Has this ever been a realistic expectation for the average artist?

Most career artists have cycles where they are making money and cycles where they are not making money. Those artists are also navigating the shifting realities of part-, full-, or no-time work, high paid vs low paid jobs, late shift vs early shift, cheap rent vs good location, personal frugality vs needing to spend for art and lifestyle, with the goals of maximizing both their studio time and their "access time." I've been doing this balancing act like everyone else. At the moment I am making in the low billions, thanks for asking.

How were the recent boom-times in New York a good thing for artists in the city? Many things (perhaps most prominently real estate) became much more expensive. Presumably, though, some of the money being made also went towards buying art. Is there an ideal balance where there is enough money in the city to support a thriving art scene but not so much as to inflate costs of living to the point where artists are priced out of the city? How close to/on what side of that balance were we during the last 5 or 6 years?

After being deeply immersed in Chelsea in the dot com era I mostly checked out during the Bush years and have been working and playing with [cyber and net artists from around the world]. A particular focus has been how work made by this group can be shown in gallery spaces. Brooklyn has been the place for these experiments but it goes on in Chelsea as well. This is a small dedicated group that is largely unaffected by the auctions, fairs, etc. I will say the trend of showering money on newly minted MFAs was bad and I hope it's over for a while.

How is the ongoing downturn hurting artists in the area?

See my calculus above re: balancing work, living, studio--it means more day job work or moving to crappier lodgings to keep their art work going. The semi-serious will move on.

But it's really too early to say since I don't think we've felt the full impact of the Greenspan recession. Go out in Brooklyn on any night and there are still lots of people yocking it up in the bars.

Will the downturn be beneficial in any ways? (Some people I’ve spoken to have suggested a renewal of a sense of community in the art world that they’ve felt has been missing.)

I can't speak to that having found my own community during the dark Bush years.

Do you think the larger economy affects the type of art being made in a given era? Does it affect the quality of art being made?

The quality, not really. You will see more art based on scrap-picking: assemblage, bricolage, and yes, more people moving their studios online.

In the popular imagination, at least, there’s a sense that there have been certain “Golden Ages” for art in New York City – times and places where the city was particularly hospitable to artists – like, say, Greenwich Village in the ‘60s or the East Village in the early ‘80s. Is there any truth to this? Or is it largely a matter of myth and selective memory. Do you think, for instance, that Bushwick of the last five years was a fundamentally less hospitable place for making art than the East Village in 1980? Has it been a better place for making art in any ways?

As long as you have masses of students moving here after school and finding each other, in whatever neighborhood, you will have an ongoing Belle Époque.