One reason is that I have little confidence in economic recovery anytime soon. Despite some positive signs, and despite pundits saying that things are looking up, I see a lot of doom and gloom for at least the next five years, probably more. Back in October, I wrote a blog post about the federal budget. It noted that the current federal spending accounts for over 25% of the US gross domestic product (GDP), but only takes in about 15% of GDP. Both levels are significantly different from their historical levels of about 20%. In other words, we're spending at levels not seen since WWII, and taxing at unsustainably low levels. To get the budget back in balance, Congress is going to have to cut spending by about $630B and raise revenues by about $540B. So far, both parties are doing a lot of posturing and doing little or nothing substantive, but the substance is going to come one way or another. The ongoing battle in Wisconsin is just the opening skirmish in what is going to be a long, difficult, and ugly period. These government cutbacks are going to come at a time when private industry is sitting on massive amounts of cash and doing little or nothing to actually build a solid economic recovery. Not a good combination.
The budget problem is going to hit retirement pay hard. Many private companies have managed to duck their pension obligations and local and state governments are looking to do the same. I think this will probably hit the federal government as well. Military retirees (like me) have already had our retirements frozen at current levels. I can see the day when Congress tries to actually reduce it or take it away.
And Social Security is tied up in the mess. Economists, Social Security administrators, and anybody who can add one and one and get two have been warning for years that the structure of Social Security is unsustainable and must be fixed. But in the recent lame duck session of Congress, instead of fixing it, they made the problem worse by cutting payroll taxes and putting Social Security into red ink permanently. I fear for Social Security over the long run.
Meanwhile, many economists and business leaders have been predicting a rise in inflation. Ben Stein (whom I often disagree with but always respect) made the case pretty succinctly in a piece on 60 Minutes yesterday morning, anticipating high inflation with a stagnant economy. I remember well the previous "stagflation" period of the 70's. It was pretty awful, and unfortunately it looks like we're heading there again.
So I think our economy is going to remain in the toilet for years. As an artist, that's pretty devastating. Artists are the economic "canary in a coal mine": we're the first to get hit in an economic downturn and the last to recover. (In fact, the art world had not recovered from the relatively mild recession of the early 2000's when the economy tanked in '08). Since returning from Iraq in May of last year, I've seen little sign of hope. From visitors to my studio, to galleries, to discussions with other artists, to my proactive ventures into public art, there's no real indication that the art world is on the rebound.
As a result, I've decided that the best course of action for me is to find full-time employment. For the past two months, I've spent about half my time on researching opportunities, talking to friends and potential employers, putting in applications, and revising my resume on a daily basis. I can't say it's fun. Actually, it's a bit dispiriting, particularly when I get turned down for a job that I could do in my sleep. But a job search is a numbers game. You gotta keep at it and explore every opportunity. Sooner or later, something will come through.
I do NOT consider this a failure as an artist. My art is quite good: my paintings, drawings, and original prints are well done and have important things to say. But if the market is not there, that's something beyond my control. Some people have told me that I should do this or that type of artwork, something that would appeal to a wide population and sell. Unfortunately, I seem to be genetically incapable of doing that. My mind puts up a solid concrete wall when it comes to creating decorative items for popular consumption. Give me something with some meat to it and I'm on a roll; give me a mission of creating fluff and I fall on my face. Steve Jobs said something memorable when he was recruiting John Sculley away from Pepsi to run Apple: "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?". I can't do sugar water. My contribution to changing the world is minuscule, but I'd rather do that than make art just to sell.
So now I'm looking for other ways to contribute. I've got a lot of irons in a lot of fires right now and more coming. Many more. Meanwhile, I'll continue to work in the studio. There's an exhibit coming up next month that needs to be prepared, a new painting in progress, and some more workshops and classes to be taught. And a few of the "irons in the fire" are art projects.
But if you're looking for somebody to help you change the world, give me a call.