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Tales from the downturn

Post #1352 • May 20, 2009, 11:59 AM

While pundits of highly variable degrees of qualification have expressed hopes that the art world will be improved (according to their own tendentious ideas of improvement, naturally) by the economic downturn, Robin Pogrebin took the trouble to assemble, if not data, at least a plural of anecdotes on the matter.

Liz Fallon, 30, a visual artist in Portland, Me., started selling her paintings and drawings to private collectors about 10 years ago, when she was still in college. She has not sold an original work in almost a year. But in the Portland area, Ms. Fallon said, there seems to be a kind of artistic renaissance under way as various groups, like photography cooperatives and drawing collectives, form to connect creative professionals with one another.

“As for myself, freed from the constraints of creating for a specific buyer,” Ms. Fallon wrote, “I’ve experienced my own surge in creativity and have been producing a great deal more than I used to. While it would be nice to still be getting paid for my work, the need to be more resourceful is having a beneficial effect on the arts community around me.”

In a follow-up interview Ms. Fallon said she supports herself working as a customer-service representative for a direct-marketing firm, and that the lack of commissions has enabled her to pursue new projects, like illustrations of classic children’s literature.

“Nobody wants me to do anything, so I’m just doing what I want,” she said.

The message throughout is one of optimism: survival is possible, freedom is at hand, and this too shall pass.

“It is making me want to pursue my career as an artist more forcefully than ever,” wrote Cadine Navarro, an artist in New York and Amsterdam. “I feel that artists are well equipped to deal creatively with such situations and with a bit of persistence and optimism, can turn this recession into a point of strength.”

There are also stories of colossal student debts and freelance gigs drying up, which is no joke, to be sure. But I want to couple the article as a whole with something that Lynda Barry said in an interview last year:

In the last six or so years, things have gotten better. I got dropped by my publisher and nearly every newspaper I was in. The only way I could make a living was to sell pictures on eBay. It turned out to be a wonderful thing! All of a sudden, no one seemed to want anything I did. And if no one wants what you do, there are no expectations. My work got interesting to me again. So I really owe a lot to eBay. I would have had to get a job otherwise. I also owe a lot to my belief in this one simple secret to happiness: low overhead and no debt.

Words to live by. (To keep overhead low, Barry lives near—near!—Footville, Wisconsin.) Supergirl and I are fortunate that we're in a low-overhead, debt-free situation ourselves at the moment, and it makes the creative life look thinkable. The case seems to be the same among the success stories in Pogrebin's article. Good luck out there.

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