Friday Tips for Artists: Where to Live


As I discussed in the book,�nothing beats living for awhile�in�Europe, since in the end there is no substitute for a month in Florence, a summer in Provence, or Prague in spring.

Europe, for the most part, is a place where art is woven into the fabric of the culture.� America, with our particular love for the commercial, is a place where art remains largely outside our culture.� This is less true on the coasts than in the Midwest and South, but it remains true overall.� It is also a flaw that, at last, is slowly changing.� More every year, in small towns and large, in suburbs and urban centers, I see art becoming an accepted aspect of education, a valued part of life?even if only in a minor way.� This doesn’t mean we’re on a par with Italy or France yet, but it does mean we’re making progress.�

Still we have a long way to go, and many barriers of ignorance to overcome.� This is less evident in the big cities than elsewhere, but it remains one of our great stumbling blocks.� It is a flaw we must address if we’re ever to live up to the vision that the founding fathers laid out for us (Although Mark Twain felt we’d blown any chance of that long ago).

As for living in this country, if you live in a small town distant from any major city, it will be much harder for you to break out in the arts than otherwise.� Sure the internet and Fed Ex have made the world smaller, but there’s nothing like living in reasonable proximity to a city where the galleries are active, the museums varied, and the art community alive.�

In most cities where the population exceeds one million, this is often the case.� Living in one of these cities–especially New York, Chicago or Los Angeles–can be fascinating.� In fact I consider it an unparalleled experience.� I’m not recommending that you become overly transient though, since in the long run you’ll likely do your best work in a studio you’re comfortable with, in a place that feels like home.� Wherever that place might be, do your best to become acquainted with the bigger cities, and the art communities in them.� You’ll find that that’s an education in itself.�

As for suburbs, God help you if you live in one.� These are essentially designed as safe places in which to raise children, in a lifestyle that is primarily conformist, reflecting a frame of mind that is often complacent.� It is not for obscure reasons that Western suburbs–and by this I mean many European suburbs as well–have often been referred to as sterile.� How would I know?� I live in one.

I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to subject my kids to the whims of my artist wanderings.� For that reason, I moved us into a rambling bungalow that the developers forgot to destroy when they built our Kansas City suburb.� My wife and I could barely afford the joint, but it set my children up in a friendly neighborhood with excellent schools.� The suburbs wouldn’t teach my kids independence of mind, or the need to question authority, or even the need to on occasion raise hell, but I would.

The drawback was, I could never seem to write in that place; suburbs have always deadened my work to me.� So I wrote in the gallery.� My first gallery was downtown, amid the bums and office workers and traffic and trash.� This was a great place to write.� The people were fascinating, the neighborhood was good for inline skating, and I was surrounded by old architecture that whispered of older stories.� My current gallery, near the Plaza, is a good place to write also.� It doesn’t have the drama or grit of the first, being in a more prosperous district, but it still beats the suburbs.��

In prior years I always lived either in the heart of a city, or deep in the country.� Chelsea in New York; rural Connecticut.� Ballard in Seattle; a farm on the Olympic Peninsula.� Santa Monica in L.A.; a horse ranch near Santa Barbara.� If I had my druthers, I’d still live in places like that.� But when the time came to raise a family, we decided on a Kansas City suburb, feeling comfortable here, and at home.� I’m not unhappy with that decision, although I sometimes think my more fundamentalist neighbors are.� They don’t enjoy questioning their values, or beliefs, or faith, but with a rebel like me bopping around the neighborhood, they’re sometimes compelled to.��

All I’m trying to say is you should either live where you’re inspired, or work where you’re inspired.� If that’s in the suburbs, fine.� The town doesn’t matter, the state doesn’t matter, the part of the country doesn’t matter, so long as you’re in tune with the rest of the country.� Besides, once you start to succeed, you can gain representation in galleries in various parts of the country, who may wind up selling your work all over the freaking country.� Then you really will be able to live wherever you want.

How will you gain that representation, and the success that ought to accompany it?� We’ll cover those subjects another time.� With a lot of hard work on your part, and an equal measure of dedication, I can help you get there.

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