Today’s Bottomliners coincidentally echoes some rumblings on social media, which I think started …
… with this piece that graphic novelist Nate Powell posted about two weeks ago …
… but which, in the last 48 hours or so, was joined by this article, which ran last May at Comics Beat, in which another graphic novelist explains why financial pressures and realities have caused her to turn away from the form.
The joke in that top cartoon, of course, being that deciding to major in art or sociology is not the path to riches or even to self-sufficiency.
And it wouldn’t be funny if you had to explain it, but you don’t. Or you shouldn’t.
There was a point, two or three years out of college, when I considered applying for an MFA program, because freelance writing was not paying the bills and I couldn’t see selling vacuum cleaners and flipping burgers as sustainable career moves.
But a friend asked, “If MA stands for ‘More Academia,’ what does ‘MFA’ stand for?”
We both laughed and I directed my efforts elsewhere, because what the degree offered was preparation for a career teaching other people to be writers so they could go broke and then become teachers of writing.
I had the great good fortune to have married a woman who was willing to be the financial support while I stayed home with the kids and wrote, and by the time we broke up a dozen years later, I had pushed my annual gross earnings up to about five grand.
So I went to work at a newspaper for, as I recall, about $20k, which, at the time, was just enough to live badly upon.
Fortunately, I found that, while I hadn’t been successful at writing fiction, I was a good reporter and really enjoyed the work.
Having also worked in advertising, I can honestly say I would much rather flip burgers during the day than churn out ad copy. But reporting was fun, and, while journalism doesn’t pay well at all, I’d have done it for free.
Which I think is the critical point, though there are plenty of writers in the opposite situation. Probably better to do something unrelated than to apply your talent to something that pays the bills but shatters your soul.
I’ve heard people say that everyone should have a guaranteed income, which I don’t think is economically sustainable, but that was basically what newspaper work was: My room and board was just barely covered and I got to have fun working at a job I loved.
Now newspapers are failing and a bunch of us are blogging more or less for free. I make about a buck an hour doing this, and that’s quite a bit more than I was making nine years ago when I started.
So what else is new?
There are layers in the arts. There are a very, very thin slice of writers and artists who make a handsome living at it.
And, BTW, the idea that successful artists are sellouts is childish snobbery. Yes, some writers and artists get rich on crap, but others get rich doing pretty good work.
After all, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was a commercial gig. He got paid for it, sure, but the client had final approval of the design.
And Michelangelo wasn’t the only person trying to make it as an artist in those days. He’s just the one you’ve heard of.
There were probably a bunch of them setting up their easels in the marketplace, doing caricatures and feeling pretty damn good if they brought home even a skinny, tough old chicken at the end of the day.
Want the romance of the Paris art scene? Grab a free Kindle edition of “Of Human Bondage.”
Maugham’s characters are not entirely fictional and also bear in mind that while Hemingway was going to bullfights and drinking out of wineskins, he was filing news stories for the Kansas City Star to pay the bills.
And James Joyce was teaching foreign languages and Toulouse-Lautrec was doing commercial posters for night clubs.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Meanwhile, back in the real world
Martin Luther King’s birthday was Tuesday but I guess his holiday is next Monday. For starving artists, holidays are just days without mail, so they can sneak up and slip past.
But David Horsey‘s cartoon is a reminder that MLK didn’t sell out, despite the warm, comfortable caricature he has become.
Yes, he marched and sang in Selma, and preached non-violence until younger militants deserted him, but that was only one chapter in a too-short life, one piece of a much larger, sustained crusade for justice.
And perhaps we ought not to celebrate until that victory has been won.
I agree with Scott Stantis that the verdict clearing three Chicago cops of falsifying their reports in the murder of Laquan McDonald was a travesty, transparently so in light of the conviction of his killer.
It’s been more than half a century since I found myself in the middle of a bloody police riot in Chicago, more than half a century since I was routinely bullied and harassed by Chicago cops for long hair, but I still feel my stomach clench when I see those checkerboard hat bands.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a black citizen of Chicago and to read of this corrupt, illogical defense of governmental accessory to murder.
Juxtaposition of the Day
Nancy Pelosi cannot visit the troops or consult with NATO because we can no longer fund flights on military planes, but Melania took one to Florida, and, boy, do I wish that were our biggest problem.
As Rogers and Whamond suggest, Trump and his favoritism and his tantrums are being encouraged and enabled by a Senate Majority Leader who has long placed party loyalty above the best interests of the nation.
Trump is not the problem. He is only evidence of the problem.
Can you feel those windows shaking yet, Mitch?