What Is Art to Americans?

And why, oh, why can't I simply live as an artist? Why do all writers and poets and painters and sculptors and photographers have to schlep grocery bags and work in neglected shabby record stores and teach composition to lazy teenagers, just to survive? Why isn't art a self-sustaining profession? Why isn't it more valued in our culture? Is it the definition of social utility? Art = culture + critique. Art = politics + revolt. Art = unapologetic egocentricity + codified sexuality. What's more useful than that?

The biggest complaint I have about art is that only rich kidz and the bourgeoisie can afford to not work and make art all day, and strangely enough, only rich kidz and the bourgeosie have enough money and time to consume it too. For the rest of us, for almost all of us, we have to work at a bread factory, or teach world literature seminars, or sell used furniture, or give 50 somethings manicures, and each and every day, there is a work of art, another story, another photo we didn't take or write or make, and before you know it, we are haunted by the ghosts of our own creativity, we live in a world of shadows where the things we couldn't create because we're human and we need to survive, end up outnumbering the things we actually create. Only music and cinema are self-sustaining, but that proves it's not about the utility of art, because a movie is no more useful than a sonnet; a slick R&B song, is neither more nor less important than say, a still-life, or a short story. But we're willing to dish out 10 bucks for an album, or a flick. So what do artists have to do so that cultures are willing to invest in them everyday? Has art strayed too far from the mainstream for the public to relate with, identify with, and escape into it? Is this a question of entertainment? Emotion? If art could make people cry, or take them back to their childhood, the way a song does, would the human response be different? If art could hold someone's attention for 2 hours, and make them travel to new places, would they go on that journey? And why can't or won't artists engage people this way? Are we too indier-than-thou? Do we despise the public subconsciously? Are we alienating non-specialists, or trying to please critics and editors too much? How does art become a robust part of our evolving artistic mainstream culture again without selling out and compromising its ferociousness? Is this what we're afraid of, being consumed and understood by too many people? As artists, are we creating out own division of labor? Do we lose our special place in the world if a soccer mom from New Jersey is moved by our work? Was Andy Warhol wrong to make caricatures of rich people and then take their money afterwards?