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11 Signs You're a Starving Artist in NYC

New York City Student Work Entertainment
by Sean Ward Mar 5, 2015

1. Viewing art is not your priority at openings.

You are there to be seen. If you want to fit in, make sure your fashion sense is a little like your parents in the 1970s and 1980s — waist-high jeans, flannel, beards, and brown leather shoes. It’s either that or chic ‘road warrior-style’ — homemade haircuts, mostly blacks, and combat boots. It feels like a pristine charade of what the Bowery and Alphabet City used to look like before Giuliani. But if you are a fashion-forward artist, look to what Bill Cunningham is looking at in the Times. Seeing him around town on his bicycle is a sign of good luck.

2. You live in Queens and your studio is in Brooklyn or you live in Brooklyn and your studio is in Queens.

Either way it feels impossible to travel that small distance. Just trying to get from your Sunnyside apartment to your studio in Bushwick should take an hour…if only the M train would ever show up or stop getting delayed at Myrtle Ave.

3. All your furniture is made from either plywood or dragged in from the curb.

A circular saw is a dangerous, but solid, investment. You modify the nice 4×8 work table you designed and got rough-cut at Oriental Lumber for each new space you live in, slowly whittling it away. And that mattress you pulled in from the trash? You really hope it isn’t full of bed bugs.

4.You try to appreciate artwork in galleries, but — let’s be honest — you can only think about how the hell they afforded the materials to make it.

Looking at smears of oil paint barely covering an oversized, beautiful linen canvas, monolithic laser cut metal shapes, room-length digital prints and outsourced polished carved marble in the Lower East Side galleries like Lisa Cooley or Canada makes you wonder what you’re doing wrong and when your lifetime you will be able to waste that much material.

5. The rent for your art studio is as much as your apartment.

You are always trying to find a way to sleep in your studio and stop paying for an apartment, but you would still need roommates when your studio costs $650 a month for a tiny room along the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood. If you ever want to be able to afford both materials and this space for more than three months, you will need to pick up another two part-time jobs.

6. You take way too many art supplies on the subway because you are too poor for a cab.

Asking your friends to be involved in all sorts of crazy schlepping to make projects happen also becomes a norm. Just remember it is no guarantee that they won’t call you the morning, canceling their offer to help, because they went home with someone from a gallery opening the night before.

7. Your one-bedroom apartment houses as many people as possible.

A friend decides to move to New York to try to “make it,” but you already have a roommate on the living room couch. So you decide to erect divider walls in the living room, finding any space available to have another sleeping body and any way to lower the rent.

8. Friends say they can’t hang out because they are preparing for studio visits.

They never say who initially, but you eventually find its just other friends stopping by.

9. Gallery openings are your bars.

You are looking to drink as much free booze as humanly possible, unapologetically schmooze, and you are always in search of that unicorn — a gallery that serves snacks. Waiting all summer long while the galleries are on an art holiday, September is an artist’s Oktoberfest — openings every week in Chelsea, Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and Bushwick mean that the free drinks are beginning to flow again.

10. Invite lists to apartment parties are curated like art shows.

These parties are probably the least fun, most stressful affair for up-and-coming professional artists. You really just want to relax and enjoy it, but you never know when you may see curators, art writers, and gallerists chatting in a warehouse floor remodeled into a live/work apartment in Bushwick. In this environment, socializing just makes for strange, short, shallow talks about artwork, a platform for touting professional accolades and feigning humility. Then there comes a point in the night you use the teapot in the kitchen to break up a chuck of ice, only to find out that the pot was owned by someone’s grandmother. Don’t expect another invite. Your career is over before it started.

11. You have a job in a gallery.

You get to see a lot of terrible artwork resting on the walls. You think you have something better to offer, so you stay because you hope the gallery director will one day happen to ask you if you make art.

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