Don’t be a Starving Artist in the Rust Belt: Starve Somewhere Else–But Is There Anywhere Else?

Ah, the rusty belt. A belt so rusty that when you tighten it (which you’ll need to do if you’re truly a starving artist) it falls apart, letting your big, round stomach protrude out while your pants fall straight to the floor.

Ha ha! The emperor’s got no clothes! Well, no pants anyway. You didn’t lose your shirt at least. But how’d you get that big belly when you’re a starving artist anyhow?

“But I am a starving artist! I am I am! (Sam, I am!) And I do need to tighten that belt!” you say.

Well, tighten away, my friend, but don’t do it in the rust belt. Sure, cost of living is cheaper, but it’s cheap for a reason. Unfortunately, in today’s world we often get what we pay for.

Here are some reasons why, in spite of the high cost of living, creative people should remain in or at least near a major city and stay flat out of the rust belt–especially when they’re first starting out:

— Emotional support: We creative artist types are a sensitive lot. We need encouragement and feedback from others. Surrounding ourselves with artists who are equally or better talented than ourselves inspires us to create  more and to create better. It pushes us out of our comfort zone when we realize that someone else did something we thought was impossible. Hmm… What’s impossible? Could it be that I too could create something much greater than I thought possible? Yeah, I can do better than that guy/gal/animal/mineral/vegetable…

— Like-minded peeps: Creative people are treated like a minority group in our society. Like women, people of color, immigrants and other minority groups, we’re viewed as the other, frequently misunderstood and unappreciated. “Why don’t you get a REAL job?!” is what we hear from friends and family.  We get plenty of discouraging words as it is.

It’s ironic, I think, that artists are typically more sensitive to criticism than the average person yet we also receive more of it. We put ourselves out there. We take the risk of showing people our work–our babies, reflections of our inner selves, our secret desires, hopes and dreams written about in poetry, painted in painting, danced away, performed away, sung as a song.

We seem confident and often people envy us, but we need support and encouragement desperately. We need to surround ourselves with other artists, talented and brilliant artists and be supportive of each other so that we can learn from each other, so that we can grow.

— Affluence: For better or worse, art receives most of its appreciation from affluent communities. Art requires a higher way of thinking about the world. Creativity and imagination take time, and leisure time is something most blue-collar, working-class folks don’t have. Often they work at back-breaking jobs and while they may appreciate a song or two after work, their concern is with escaping reality, so they want a beer; they want to watch the game; and if they want to hear music it needs to be the tried and true–the same songs they’ve already heard over and over again throughout their lives. It’s comforting to someone who works incredibly hard and for low wages to just hear the same songs, watch the same TV shows, and not be pushed out of his/her comfort zone.

But we creatives like moving out of our comfort zone, and we need to be around others who also are open to new ideas, else we won’t get support for our work.

— Education: There’s been a brain drain in the rust belt. The “best and brightest” typically leave for better paying jobs elsewhere. In the rust belt city where I currently live, only a tiny percentage of the population has above a BA degree—and there are many colleges in this town!

Since education is outrageously expensive here in the United States, most people hailing from blue-collar backgrounds can’t afford to attend college anymore, and they don’t want to accumulate debt. Working at miserable jobs, they settle for a simple life and prefer to keep it that way. Obtaining an education and spending time in the arts is just not practical.

For better or worse, educated people are more likely to appreciate good art. Creativity and imagination are not necessarily straightforward endeavors. We see what’s in front of us. Animals can also see what’s in front of them. But we humans are unique in that we are capable of seeing what could be and what could have been. We can also take the initiative, even if it’s out of character and not instinctive, to create change based on what we imagine could exist.

Intelligent people also inspire us by feeding us with new ideas and developments.

— A shortage of youth and youthful ideals: Look, I myself am no millennial, yet I think of myself as a fairly open-minded person, so this is a generalization, of course. But the reality is that young people are more likely to be open to new ideas, this means new music, original songs, artists who are not yet established. Young people need to move where the money is. Far from retirement age, they leave the rust belt seeking better job opportunities and a better future.

I’m sure not all rust belt cities are the same. I’m also sure that some creative artist types enjoy living in the rust belt, but… Hmm…

But overall, if you’re a talented artist living in NYC or another major city and you’re thinking of moving back to the rust belt in order to save money, well, think again. Think twice. And thrice. True, cities like NYC are becoming unlivable for the average person, and I would like to see that change. This is something I’ll need to write about in a future blog.

However, moving to a poor city in the rust belt is not a solution for saving money.  Again, rent is cheaper there for a reason. Jobs are scarce, salaries are low and the atmosphere is uninspiring, to say the least. The rust belt will demoralize, deflate and discourage you. Don’t do it. Your art and inspiration will suffer, maybe disappear completely. Find a suburb or a city that is commutable to and from NYC (or wherever.) Share space with another person, if you need to. Find a way to be near what you love and whom you love.

Creative people need to start helping each other instead of competing with each other, but with fewer opportunities for creatives it’s understandable that some artists become self-centered. Overall, the United States itself is becoming an undesirable place for creative people.  Again, I’ll need to write more about this in a future blog.

Until then, I’m stuck here in the rust belt. Gotta suck in that belly!

Don’t let this happen to you!!!

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