I moved to New York to be an artist.
But I left New York to make art my life.
New York was (and still is) a great place for those who love art. The museums and galleries are everywhere, and the quality of much of the work shown is second to none. LA has some decent museums, and some decent exhibits, but whenever I go to NYC for a visit, I binge on art. I hit up the Guggenheim and the Met and the Whitney, often more than once.
When I lived in NYC, I’d take entire afternoons to wander the streets of Chelsea, exploring gallery after gallery, usually with no fixed destination.
But when it came to making art, there was no way to live off it in NYC. When my band played shows, if we got paid, maybe we’d get $50 to split between us. I exhibited photographs at several different venues, but I don’t remember selling a single one. You performed for the love of it, you made art because it was your passion, not because you aspired to survive from it.
Art was what I made on nights and weekends, after work, after errands, whenever I could. Eventually, as I grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of time, and therefore my lack of progress, I first negotiated with my boss to work half days on Fridays, which, after a few months, became my days off. I agreed to get all my corporate work done Monday through Thursday, so that Fridays could be my official work-on-art day. So art happened Friday through Sunday, and bills got paid Monday through Thursday.
Now, when I say bills got paid, keep in mind that I was living in a fifth floor walk-up, with my living room rented out to a nice boy named Josh. I biked everywhere to save on taxis and subways, and I bought most of my produce in Chinatown, where it was a fraction of the cost.
But it was all worth it because I was an artist — and I was living in New York.
But then it got less important to live in New York and more important to be making art, which is why I moved to Berlin. There was one day, as I lugged my suitcase up five flights of stairs, that I asked myself why I was doing it. The struggle is all worth it if the end result, the thing you are struggling for, is dangling in front of you. But as I lugged myself and my suitcase up those five flights, I suspected that the thing I was striving for could no longer be found in Manhattan.
I wanted to be a full-time artist, and I suspected New York would never give me that opportunity. When I moved to Berlin, I told myself that, if I couldn’t make a living as an artist, I’d leave. Because as long as I was splitting my life, the work-to-live part over here, and the work-to-love over there, there would be no advantage to Berlin over New York. Amazingly, I did manage to survive as a full-time artist (sometimes by the skin of my teeth), and so I had that experience artists dream of, where all twenty-four hours in the day belong to you.
This article, about how expensive cities are killing creativity, argues that “New York — and San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where cost of living has skyrocketed — are no longer places where you go to be someone. They are places you live when you are born having arrived…Creativity — as an expression of originality, experimentation, innovation — is not a viable product. It has been priced out into irrelevance — both by the professionalisation of the industries that claim it, and the soaring cost of entry to those professions.”
I don’t agree that you have to be born into wealth to survive in NYC, but I do believe that New York is not where go to become someone. It’s where you go when you already are someone. It’s where you live when you have arrived. When you have the degree and the impressive base salary. Now where you go when you’re still shaping yourself and building your career.
I still love New York, and if I had the impressive base salary, I’d move back there in a heartbeat. I just don’t think I can ever live in a fifth floor railroad (even with a nice boy in my living room) again.