R U T H  N I N E K E

To make a living in art and not feel like dying.

Sex Acts And Emotional Problems

“What’s the New York art scene like?”

“It’s very much like the entire population of human souls on the planet: way too many overall, and only a small selection are influential, powerful, and talented. And the three hardly ever overlap in any way that counts.

“The New York art scene is this very pretentious lifestyle that’s split between the money galleries in Chelsea, the historic museums on the Upper East Side, the for-profit non-profits, and expressionist twenty-some-things in Brooklyn, with their studios and festivals and loft parties.

“Everyone is an artist and no one is any good. No one is saying anything. It’s all a big game of who you know, how you dress, who you can impress. The art scene is as colorful as it’s probably always been, but it’s boring.

“There’s no work for an artist, no reliable income for your creativity for its own sake. Art isn’t a career unless you’re grant writing, or curating, or designing, or running promotional campaigns. And I suppose that’s what people go to art school for. But talent for its own sake isn’t lauded.

“Art is so dead, so fake. Like a friend of mine, this guy Caitlyn’s dating…”

“We’re not dating,” Caitlyn corrected her.

“Whatever,” Paula waved her hand. “He finished his graphic design program really fast. I mean, he sped through it. And he’s good. Technically, he’s good. He understands what he does and he can tackle any visual design project easily. But most of it is intelligence and the arrogance that comes along with that. Like he believes he can do anything so he gets it done.

“But he could never create anything moving or inspiring, you know? He started his own consulting firm and I work for him. You know, we make logos, and build websites, and design product packaging for independent businesses because that’s the only way to redeem your soul in art – by helping independents.

“But we’re not actually creating anything that matters, nothing people can feel to remind them to be alive.”

“Is there money in what he’s doing?” Sam asked.

“Michael came from money,” Paula told them. “He had enough to invest in himself, in the business, marketing, et cetera. He’ll be okay. I think in the long run he’ll make a good name for himself. He won’t hurt for money and he’ll probably pick up larger clients when they start calling.”

“You sound turned off by that,” Sam observed.

Their server returned with two plates of calamari for Caitlyn and Paula, a dish of octopus for Carol, and zucchini croquettes for Sam.

“A little,” Paula sipped her wine. “But that’s Michael’s life. And that’s the way you have to make a living in art and not feel like dying.”

Caitlyn didn’t understand.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean the creative life is imagination, you know? We’re day dreamers. We want to sit and color and pretend all day and then go make something.

“But the world around us makes everyone go to school, get a job, and play by the rules of the field they’re in. And Art is a field too. And ‘the scene’ has a texture, but it lacks substance. You know, ‘the scene’ is cool. But it’s not Art. And it’s disgusting to me, to have to consider and carve out a place for myself inside of that, to have to play by society’s rules inside of Art. Creativity is a beast. I want to let it out and play with it. But society, the scene, is like this cage within a cage within a cage.”

“How do you expect to live?” Carol asked like an astounded parent.

“By breathing in through my nose,” Paula replied, “and out through my mouth.”

“Seriously,” Carol pressed as Paula drank her wine. “You have to earn a living right? Why stay in art school if you hate the field? Why work for Caitlyn’s guy if you don’t respect what he does? Why not find something that doesn’t disgust you?”

Paula set down her glass and looked directly at Carol as she spoke.

“Art doesn’t disgust me,” she explained crisply. “People disgust me. Society disgusts me. Economics disgust me.”

Paula stabbed a piece of calamari with her fork, and put it through her lips.

“Michael is a good friend of mine. I respect him and what he chooses to do – which is to embrace his strengths and work for himself. He knows I’m the better artist, it is what it is. I work for Michael because he needs the help and it’s off the books and it’s easy for us both.

“I’m not going to reject art-work just because I loathe the scene and its similarity to every other income-related facet of our culture.”

No one added to the conversation and Paula continued.

“All our society cares about, bottom line, is money. Capital gain has always been the number one American value. It’s the reason why doctors pump patients full of pills that give them symptoms that need more pills to be treated. It’s the reason Sam and Caitlyn will be paying off student loan interest until they’re at least thirty-four.

“Art isn’t exempt from the system just because it’s essentially the most simultaneously human and divine activity any of us can participate in besides sex. But money’s pulled all divinity from sex, and the humanity from art.”

Paula pointed her finger at the glass windows to her left.

“It all comes down to money out there.”

“Money is a necessary tool,” Carol countered, “toward gauging value and worth, and achieving our goals. It’s not nearly as soul-sucking as you’re trying to make it sound.”

“Value and worth?” Paula asked. “You said yourself…”

“Paula,” Carol bit into another croquette, “I don’t want to debate with you.”

“Wait,” Paula protested, “now I’m going. You said the North East was depressing unless you worked at the top of media and show biz, or finance right? So I don’t think we’re debating. I think we’re agreeing on a real situation from two distinct perspectives. I think the entire thing is depressing.

“It shouldn’t be so difficult and unfulfilling at the same time to be comfortable and working class. I grew up with money too. My parents have a really nice house out in Queens, and make good money. They had me and my brother in their early thirties. And I lived in that house my whole life, and they pay my rent now.

“But it’s not the same world for us now that it was for them. We won’t get away with our dreams, or having a good life just by working hard. We’re working from the negatives and we’ll wind up slaving for crumbs and morsels.

“When I’m out of school, if I stay in New York, the only good,” Paula made finger quotes, “opportunities I’ll get are behind a desk, in front of a screen, in an office somewhere in SoHo, or on 11TH Avenue somewhere. And they’ll pay great, and I mean really great for the amount of skill I’m gonna have if I ever decide to graduate.

“Except, I don’t want to be ass-to-knuckles with smelly, miserable working class heroes every day on my one-hour, two-train commute into shiny, advertising covered Manhattan for my 50K a year and health insurance.”

“So you don’t want an office job?” Carol sought clarification. “No matter how well it pays?”

Caitlyn had always known Paula’s thoughts on art, and society, were sardonic. But she’d never heard them detailed to this extent. She listened prudently to her friend’s exposition.

“God no,” Paula replied, “because no matter how well it pays it will steal something more valuable from me – my creativity, my originality, my identity. My bosses will mold my work into their brand, and I’ll learn to conform my thinking and adjust my process while I perform mind-numbing mouse clicks for nine to eleven hours a day.

“My coworkers will be little competitive idiots who will envy any superiority I demonstrate – even unwillingly – over them, regardless of us all being crabs in the same bucket. And the only ingenuity I could exercise that might possibly benefit me would be plotting against and undermining them on my way to the top of the ad or gallery world.

“I’m not doing that shit. I’m going to fucking France and staying in art school for the rest of my life. I’ll paint in the streets and sell my work right there to whoever wants it and I’ll let my school show my work and if no one cares, no one cares.

“But I’m not gonna eat shit for it, ya know? I’m not gonna give myself a heart attack over anyone’s stupid bullshit deadline for some vector-based seven hundred square pixel graphic I don’t give a shit about. I’m an artist, and I was born to paint.”

Paula finished her speech with a shrug and devoted herself to the squid in front of her.

Carol’s brows came together as she made a bewildered face at Sam, then Caitlyn.

Caitlyn shrugged and returned to her own dish. She figured, for the most part, that Paula meant everything she’d just said. But she didn’t understand how, or even necessarily believe that, Paula intended to spend the rest of her life in school while she painted the streets of France for cash, like some Technicolor love story.

“Seriously?” Caitlyn set down her fork and turned to her friend. “You’re going to paint in the streets of France? That’s not going to make you any real money.”

Paula popped a piece of calamari into her mouth. She chewed slowly, thoughtfully before cupping her fingers beneath her wine glass.

“Money,” she looked into Caitlyn’s eyes, “tastes like cum, and I don’t swallow. The grind, the struggle, the trial of endurance is the longest, hardest, most unfulfilling blow job you will ever give. Society shoots its lumpy hot load into your mouth and after what feels like an eternity – the duration of your employable life – what you’re left with is the bitter sticky taste of your own submission.

“You know that one percent those hippies and crusties in the park were talking about last fall? They’re real. There are really people in the world hoarding the majority of the wealth, circle jerking this massively degrading giant bukkake of taxes, interest rates, corruption, war, propaganda, and sickness onto everyone else. And the world is lapping it up because we just want to be touched so badly we don’t care how one-sided the fucking is.

“I don’t want that money. That money isn’t real. No money is real. It passes around and everyone thinks they want some, but I don’t. My most valuable currency – and I think you can appreciate this, Carol – is my mind. That’s the real tool. That’s what’s valuable and worthy and I’m not going to sell it.”

Caitlyn finally understood why Paula believed people were compelled to engage her.

The more she spoke, revealed her thoughts, the more the other three listened and probed for ideas they couldn’t digest. Paula finished her wine and set the empty glass on the table.

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