Human beings, of course, have been making art at least since a Paleolithic man sketched a horse on the Lascaux caves 17,000 years ago. Stone sculpture of busty women and music, made originally on animal bones, are likely even older; the late scholar Denis Dutton argued in his book “The Art Instinct” that creativity was hard-wired into the human race during the process of evolution.
So, some of us will always do this. Modern life has allowed specialization that Stone Age man did not enjoy, but it’s never been easy to survive as an artist. Still, for generations to come, young people with trust funds will head to urban centers to make it as writers, visual artists, musicians and filmmakers. A few – especially those with copious subsidies from parents – will strike gold and inspire the next generation to take a chance.
What’s changing is the ability for people to make a middle-class living in creative fields. Many are forced to go freelance because they are losing their jobs: A new report shows that even well after the official end of the recession, slashed state budgets are making things tougher in the performing arts, with a 16 percent drop in performing-arts jobs since last year.
“For the performing arts,” writes economist and Progressive Policy Institute senior fellow Mike Mandel, “this is the moment where recession turns into depression.” For authors, book advances are reported to be about half of what they were before the crash. That’s easily the difference between a viable project and something you just can’t afford to do without an inheritance.
And as the New York Times recently observed, the freelance musician has gone the way of the Southern Democrat.
“It was a good living. But the New York freelance musician – a bright thread in the fabric of the city – is dying out,” wrote Daniel J. Wakin. “In an age of sampling, digitization and outsourcing, New York’s soundtrack and advertising-jingle recording industry has essentially collapsed. Broadway jobs are in decline. Dance companies rely increasingly on recorded music. And many freelance orchestras, among the last steady deals, are cutting back on their seasons, sometimes to nothingness.”
This is all coming very soon after a surging discussion about how casual, “no collar” creative class, laptop-toting “knowledge workers,” self-determining “free agents,” and so on, would be redefining and reviving American life. Richard Florida’s vaunted creative class was supposed to be pumping its mojo into American cities.