Sure I’m in debt! Ignorance is bliss so I’m not exactly sure how deeply but here’s a rough idea: My partner and I have a mortgage so we’ll be in debt for the next 27 years (but being savvy buyers, we purchased a house through a “short sale” and pay less for our mortgage than we did as renters). But having said that, we put things on credit cards that I’d rather not (like homeowner’s insurance). And then there’s the unexpected items like car repairs, or medical accidents. Here’s a terrible story: I had a backyard accident two years ago in which I punctured my left eye. I required several surgeries and fortunately I didn’t lose my eye, but did lose much of the sight in it (how’s that for a devastating injury for an artist?) I am still paying off doctor’s bills and have been unable to get follow up treatments that might improve my eyesight because I simply have not had the money (despite generous family and friend’s throwing a fund raiser for me!). (Also, the insurance company refuses to believe that the contact lenses suggested for me are therapeutic and not cosmetic, and will therefore not pay for them.) And I need a crown on a molar (another item not covered under my insurance) and I can think of a few repairs that we keep putting off… So, thousands of dollars in debt? Sure, I’ll go along with that.
Being a resourceful artist, I cobble together a patchwork financial picture. I work part time at a job in the “real world”(and fortunately, I really like my job!) and I work more than part time as an artist. (You can also count promoting my artwork as a third parttime job) I consciously work part time so as to permit me as much time in my studio as possible. I therefore go without a lot of things that people in our society deem necessary- such as new cars, regular dental care, manicures, designer jeans, eating out at restaurants etc. But that’s okay! I’d rather have the time in my studio to make art- art that often directly reflects my economic reality. Some years, I am fortunate and sell enough work that a significant percentage of my income actually comes from my art work. Last year, I received a State of Connecticut Individual Artist Grant and sold a major piece to a university collection; that was a good year. The year I did my income tax as an art project, I made absolutely nothing from my art work, which made for an easy tax return without a lot of complicated deductions and multiple income streams. Every year is different, and a challenge. My artist friends and I often joke that we will never retire but it’s not funny; we probably won’t. I have frequently remarked that no matter what the world’s economy is doing, I’m no better or worse off financially. I seem to exist in a parallel universe. I don’t benefit from the stock market’s roller coaster, nor do I get cost of living increases so my economy is pretty stable: just at the low end of the spectrum. Right now, my partner (also an artist) and I are doing okay, but that’s relative. We’re both making a modest income but he’s without health insurance and we never really pay our bills on time. But hell, we’re happy!
Several years back, before the Great Recession, I began a sort of over-arching project that I refer to as “An Artist Makes Money”. (Yes, it’s a facetious title, because do we ever? ) I started beading facsimiles of credit cards and even selected new cards for my wallet based on what they looked like. (Accidentally, I parlayed my interest in plastic money into a bizarre reality: I have a credit score of over 800 and I have scary high limits on a few of my cards- like I could buy a new car on credit. Weird). I combined this fiduciary fascination with several large collages in which I enlarged the fine print on all those credit cards agreements as a sort of public service. I made credit card quilts from all the fake cards that were being sent out as teasers (“Security Blanket” and “Crib Sheet”). In short, I might not have been directly benefiting from the main stream financial boom, but I had tons of raw material for my studio practice. When the Crash happened, I took all those wonderful phrases that suddenly sprung up (think “Too Big To Fail”, “Credit Default Swaps” “Zombie Banks” etc) and made collages and banners immortalizing meaningless words. My thinking is that’s several years from now, no one will remember what they referred to. I’ll be reminding anyone who cares to be reminded. “Sequestration”, anyone?