Money, Art, Money
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Money, Art, Money

Here in L.A., many people sacrifice to pursue art. Others sacrifice to pursue money. Then of course, lots of folks swing back and forth: Tick Tock, Tick Tock. It's the pendulum that drives plenty of clocks in this town: Art/Money. Money/Art. If we ever truly gave up one for the other, we wouldn't be happy.

Except, apparently, for my friend Jack.

This evening, the Urban Man strolls the deck of Jack's large, hyper-modern house in the Hollywood Hills, watching the little colored lights spring up across the basin. The doors to the living room are open, and streaming out, instead of music, comes the sound of money men laughing. Yes, they seem upbeat, and they're again discussing things like double-payback credit swaps. Unfortunately, these are Jack's friends, not mine. I try to pick up a tip or two, to swing my own pendulum, but I don't quite understand what they're saying. Something about China. Yes, apparently China's still the ticket.

Now my host wanders out with a bottle of good cabernet, and as he fills my glass, I ask, "Jack, what is it, precisely, that you do these days?"

A happy smile overtakes his face. "I've given up art, you know, once and for all. Now I take care of other people's money." Jack used to scene-design independent films; in fact, maybe you remember...oh never mind. These days his house overhangs a mountain road, and just now headlamps flicker through the trees, lighting his features as if by campfire.

"When I was doing film, I barely earned a living," says Jack, "but I still had no life. It was nonstop travel. Nonstop meetings. The crisis came Christmas Eve, a few years ago. I was about to head home to my kids, when this producer starts a long ‘creative' conversation. He goes on and on, never thinking that I might, like, want to go home. And I thought: I'm missing my kids grow up."

At this we both glance over to Jack's daughter, 16, and just now brooding darkly at the far end of the porch.

"She hates me," he notes.

"You don't miss film?" I ask.

Jack fixes me with a boozy grin: "The happiest day of my life was the day I gave up Art with a Capital A. What do you think's more stressful: making art or making money? A money manager is judged every quarter, but an artist, a writer, an actor is judged every day, often in public. Every day, everyone wants to see if you still have it. Think how many people suffer to be actors. Hey, think how many people suffer to write novels. Do you know how many Americans actually earn their living solely from writing novels...without, like, a teaching job on the side? Nine hundred. That's it. Nine hundred professional novel writers."

"Oh," replies the Urban Man, recalling one or two unpublished manuscripts in his drawer. In fact, soon Jack has me weighing the times I sacrificed for art against the times I sacrificed for money, and I admit I was usually happiest when going for the cash. I say, "You know, a few people do have it both ways."

"You know what I hope?" finishes Jack. "I hope the paradigm is shifting. Maybe as the internet makes it easier to publish art, but harder to make a living in the arts, we'll go back to a time when art was principally an avocation, a thing that every educated person did on the side: piano, poetry, watercolors. Maybe then we'll enjoy it more. Really: If we stop trying to make ‘art' a profession, we might be happier people."

At this, Jack's daughter gives him another baleful look, but Jack just shrugs and heads back to the living room.

As for the Urban Man, well, he leans on the rail and reaches out over the city lights to swing the pendulum one more time.

Copyright © 2010 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved. Names and circumstances have been altered to protect the author.

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