Hunger Artistry’s Final Days

Art vs Commerce by Tom Giebel / Flickr

Gone are those happy vagabond times in New York City when the starving artist lifestyle was where it was at for those lost in search of something more elusive. In that idealistic utopia of body and soul, anyone who helped themselves but took too much risked ostracized despair amongst the intelligentsia.

To starve was a badge of defiance and it was tantamount to heresy to eat more than his or her daily allotment of good will, communal harmony and intellectual nourishment rich in the like of Dostoyevsky, Che Guevara and Yoko Ono. When the legendary if decrepit  Greenwich Village commune dissolved into gentrification in the 80s, the decrepit but infamous Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg became new havens for displaced and fledgling starving artists.

For over twenty years, things were going just fine through these seedy dwellings and bedraggled boondocks where starving artists could be left alone to creatively starve in peace. With a maximum of parental patronage and a modicum of doubtful  employment, starving artists could wile away their days in cosmetic careers and their evenings in frenetic delights. Indeed, true to the old Greenwich Village spirit of being all dressed down with nowhere to go but, nevertheless, appearing to be going somewhere magnificent if improbable.

Unfortunately for these latter day beatniks, the real estate market (as NYC’s need for more housing and more affluent residents increased), is also viewing such neighborhoods as attractive places to starve for people who could afford to richly starve. As it did with Greenwich Village, realtors are giving these seedy, bedraggled neighborhoods the once-over, recasting them via a trendy and glamorous make-over.  Current starving residents, in spite of their artistic endeavors, are suddenly realizing that they’re unable to afford the price of starvation without actually starving to death.

While new starving artists arrive in their BMWs, rents that had gone from $500 to $1500 a month for modest starvation are now over $3500 for standard bohemian starvation and quickly approaching $5000 a month for gourmet-enhanced starvation. Even though a major portion of this Greenpoint/ Williamsburg wonderland sits amidst a pile of abandoned warehouses, complemented by the stench of sewerage treatment plants, it’s dismal and sordid but fashionably expensive. In fact, the BMWs keep rolling in faster than the high-rises could rise up.

But many people have always starved for status, which is, after all, a curious aspect of Art…a mark of its rise as well as its decline.

(originally posted: 08/25/08)