Friday, June 8, 2012

Dear Slate: America Needs More Artists

(I scribed this parody piece in reponse to Slate's Hive post 'America Needs More Scientists and Engineers.' See Derek's In the Pipeline response, here.)

If you stare at the work long enough, you realize
that the man in the top hat sitting by the tree loves science
When I was a college Freshman - back when there were Day-Glo paints but no Instagram - I dropped by the studios of the Fine Arts professors. I asked them what the future job market might be like for illustrators. They said, if I wanted to go into the 'creative' fields, I needed to devote myself to a discipline, say, early Mayan pottery, or pinhead sculpture. Later, I could become a generalist (which I think meant starting an internet comic).

It was the best advice I never followed. Today, I'm a lab researcher, sculpting compounds, drawing structures, and loving life. I ducked drawing murals for distilling solvents, social science for real science - another political cartoonist lost to America. I wouldn't have been a great artist, but I might have been OK.

America needs Thomas Kinkades and Andy Warhols, but it really needs a lot more good artists, more expressive artists, more mediocre artists, and more starving artists.

In theory, "artsiness" has never been cooler. America sanctifies Steve Jobs (the iPod designer), and envies da Vinci (the Renaissance man-cum-robotic surgeon). There are hipster sculptors, hipster poets, and hipster, well...hipsters. There's 20x200, an entire industry devoted to finding unknown artists, and letting you buy a slice. And yet, American art is in crisis: in this economy, gigs and commissions are tough to come by. Much of our great art comes from overseas (Italy, Japan, Russia) because there aren't enough artists here at home. And many of our best visual and musical minds are snatched up by mainstream media, producing viral apps (Draw Something) or 'selling out' their musical talents (American Idol).

In this piece, Pollock foresees the 2007 recession
Source: The Well-Read Fish
President Obama says we are facing a "Calvin & Hobbes moment." In a time of struggling economic recovery, record deficit spending, and rising student loan debt, we need someone able to scream for all of us, even if we can't. Who better to capture the rapture on the face of a Fortune 500 executive, as he poses for a bronze bust commemorating his latest restructuring? Who will sketch the unemployed as they wait with them in line for assistance checks? Who will take inverted pictures of "pre-abandoned" homes in a down housing market?

How can we educate more and better painters, inkers, writers, sculptors, singers, dancers, poets, chalkers, illustrators, comedians, lyricists, or underground graffiti artists? How can we repeat the successes of 500 years ago? How can we persuade kids with artistic inclinations to stay in the arts?

All month, Just Like Cooking will be mulling over this question...while running reactions and thinking about science. Readers, if you've got a notion - a Kodachrome flash bulb above your head - submit your art education ideas in the comment section.


  1. Unstable IsotopeJune 08, 2012 2:58 PM

    I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything when I read this.

  2. I'll interpret that favorably. : )

  3. They should replace the core classes of high school (science, math, and language) with pottery, painting, and photography. Three P's, easy to remember. Plus, everyone in the country knows their home language, math is easy, ask anyone what 1+1 (or 1*1) is and they will know. Don't even get me started with how worthless science is.

  4. What America *really* needs is More Pundits Telling Us What We Need More Of, because these people are really the prime movers in our society. Right now, we might have a competitive advantage in punditry, but what if India and China start aggressively training more pundits? Truly, our educational system must take all necessary measures such that the Pundit Gap does not start closing on us.

  5. It comes down to money. People need money to support themselves and their families. If you do art and no one pays you for it, you devote your time to a day job that does support you. If you want to see more American art, find the funding to support it.

  6. Recruit more artists from overseas to fill the ranks in our art schools. We can give them full citizenship upon graduation so that they are eligible for public assistance as soon as possible. We're certainly never going to get American kids interested in creating art for art's sake. We need to look to the future of art in the US. One never knows when an emergency situation will arise that can only be solved by having a former chimney sweep with a horrible cockney accent draw one's silhouette on the pavement in chalk.


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