Tuesday, December 23, 2008

sign of the times

This article in the New York Times - reporting a French Master of the Universe committing suicide, perhaps illustrates the big shift in the lives of the Haves. It took me back to a time – was it only ten months ago? – when the divide was so clear and so sharp that I could hardly say a word to the rich when they sat right next to me.

I was in San Francisco, a city of chance meetings with the beautiful and the transient. I sat in a downtown French bistro, a likely place for a single woman to have her meal at the bar. Next to me sat a Frenchman and we began some light talk.

He was a hedge fund guy. He tried to tell me that his business was just like being an artist and he was creative like me. I said to him: “Well why aren’t you making a living at art then, all things being equal? If it was all the same, then you could try to be an artist. But you don’t really know if you’re an artist or not.” He laughed and conceded that this was true. He didn’t know if he could be one. Sounds weird to recall this, but Baby you can have a lot of shit when you’re a hedge fund manager, but hands off my uniform! You got your jets and many homes and expensive women and now you’re telling me you get to be an artist too? Greedy boy.

But of course I didn’t say that. After he stopped laughing he told me he lived in Soho. “A cliché, I guess” he said. “Yes but you enjoy your life,” I feebly returned. It might not have even been true anyway. Neither of us could look at each other at this point.

During that entire trip to SF the contrast between the classes kept rearing its ugly head. The beauty of SF could only gloss over so much. I got the feeling it was the have-not masses who join all those pot clubs (medical marijuana) so well advertised in all the weekly rags. Ten months later, I wonder how that French hedge fund manager is doing today. Things are getting kind of hungry over here but at least we’re still artists and maybe they're a little less likely to say that they are too.


namastenancy said...

It's interesting to get your view on SF. I guess that because I live here I've been inured to some of the poverty although not so callous that I don't do volunteer work and give when I can. I know what you mean about the sharp divide between rich and poor; you don't even have to be very poor to feel the contempt and distain of the the rich for us "lower depths types." I sense it in our studio where there are 40 of us artists in one warehouse and the ones who can travel to Bali or Italy are sure to make sure to let the rest of us know where they've been. As for the suicide in France, I suspect that this may the first of many; Madoff's schemes will bring down many from a high place. For those of us artists who never were at a high place, we keep on making art. But then, artists always keep on making art. Unlike most hedge fund managers, what we make is from our souls; what they TAKE is from other people's souls and bank accounts.

Sheree Rensel said...

I read about that suicide too. I felt nothing. This is strange because I cry during Hallmark commercials. I too have rubbed elbows with the rich. In fact, some of them have bought my art. I remember attending openings back in the 80's that were catered for those people. On the exhibition opening hors d'oeuvres table, there were shrimp as big as my fist. I remember using my purse as a doggie bag. I told my daughter to fill her pockets too!

During that time, I felt like a court jester. The rich people were on one side of the room and the artists on the other (as entertainment?). I was so jealous until I had a very profound experience. This one patron would drive to my studio in her Jag. I couldn't think when she was in my studio because I was so worried about her car being stolen out of my ghetto parking lot. She invited to me to her Grosse Pointe mansion. I felt uncomfortable walking on her white carpet and I made sure my little daughter's hands were clean. I kept telling her "Don't touch anything!" While we were there, her son came in and asked if she would be attending his soccer game. She said "NO, Nanny can do that”. Right then and there, I realized I am far richer than she will ever be.

The sustainable Life said...

the funny thing is that's not so much if you are rich or not but if you hang your morals at the coat rack at the fancy places
but you are right the air is getting thin on top

Anonymous said...

I've got no problem with the rich per se - sorry if I came off like that. (Someone has to buy these paintings!) What I disliked was this idea that because he could make money so well, he could do anything else really well too - like make art. We know that many people are actually lousy artists, whatever they call themselves, and there are new tests you've got to meet every single year just to keep at it. He actually said to me "Oh, I could be an artist too." A couple of good ideas on the fly doesn't make you one, but he had this idea that he was entitled to the endeavor since art was so hip and he lived in Soho.