Economic Hard Times May Be Good For Art

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I will be happy to see every American become a construction worker and a solar-panel installer. I mean, I will be happy to watch them do that because every American who won't put on a hard hat will have to do something easier and funnier — like Art.

The best art flourishes during two kinds of civic situations: 1. When everybody's at work and the artist is asleep; and 2. When everybody's depressed and there is a general depression and a whole lot of free time.

I've seen four decades of art-making in America. In 1968, there was art everywhere and there were artists on the streets and crashing on the floor, and there was new music, new poetry, new enthusiasm for secondhand clothes, street theater, and lots of love, not exactly free, but love anyway. There was also a recession and a stupid war started by pudgy-faced white men.

Then came the '70s, and there was a lot less art because there were a lot more police officers. There was also a lot less imagination going around because artists were being fished off the streets by the agents of God who descended to Earth in a mind-boggling variety of forms and drafted America's youth for nonprofit religious scams.

Then came the '80s, thank goodness, and art expanded again in a multihued explosion of expletive music and street action driven by raw rage and extreme amusement. Artists felt free not to give a hoot anymore and since nobody could make a living anyway, everybody felt free to manifest like a flaming phoenix wherever there was a spotlight. That's when new bohemians sprouted like fleas on dogs in every city. There was also a recovery and a new gentler police and a general makeover of the American image from snarling bully to smiling prosperity engine.

The smiles got so wide in the '90s, artists joined the general hallelujah chorus and quit making art with everything they had, preferring instead to produce precious saleable objects to contribute to the general esthetic health of the self-satisfied McMansion.

When all that ended, just a few months ago, artists started remembering again what they were for, which is to not be like anything else because they have a job making everything else both more interesting and more real. So it's art time in America again, because everybody's broke. And if everybody gets a hard hat, we should get one, too, to dodge, hopefully, what the citizens will be hurling at us.



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