I worked my way through college doing jobs in student government and living communally. Afterwards I moved to New York in 1974, wrote art criticism for a living for a couple of years (imagine!), and then set type freelance (job now obsolete). Rent on my tiny place was super low, and I made video and films on the extra. Despite intermittent grants and shows, these projects never fully paid for themselves, much less paid me. I also distributed artists video (starting in 1986). For several years this was nearly, but not quite, a break even venture – with no salary for me, but pay for one worker, and a thin stream of bucks to the artists. Afterwards, for over a decade, it has been a dead loss and archival albatross.
After I married we moved out of town, and I went back to school. Through school I was supported by my wife and parents. I began to teach academic art history as an adjunct, but could not write, so I quit that. That pay was shit. (This has since improved, I am told, and also the benefits picture – but not a whole lot.) I had to shortchange the students or cheat myself. The control by regular professors and officious staff was impersonal and alienating. Finally, I had two years fulltime out of town, well paid visiting appointments with full freedom, great support, much agency, and had loads of fun. Now I have been nearly three years off interspersed during which time I have been living on the parental subsidy, traveling, and staying rent-free with my wife.
I don’t regard this as a comfortable situation… I like working full=time and look forward to doing so again. Adjunct teaching was useful training, but not a way to live and advance intellectually unless you can teach what you want and know best. My trade is gone, so there is no easy way back to the world of cognitariat production. This year I will work hard to find alternate income sources and stabilize my situation. I have used the years out of work to write and produce projects my institutional peers could not do. (None of my writing or projects pay, and in fact I pay for the projects myself.) While it does not feel comfortable to me, I am very sensible that I enjoy great privilege now in my means of living. I try to do work that responds to this, work that others cannot or dare not do.
Why go on? I believe in art and artists as perhaps society’s last free agents. Artists and children augur change, and no one listens to children. (Besides, I don’t know what else to do!)