Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On the Road Again

Regret some choices made and roads never traveled. Would have been cool to photograph rock groups for a living. Played in bands, roadied for some, and snapped a number of famous groups in concert. After taking classes, already had a couple of small, well reviewed shows. Could have carried it off with a small investment and stuff owned. Would’ve needed a better paying day job to afford darkroom supplies. Saw director and star Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) chasing Life Magazine photographer Sean Penn by bicycle through Iceland, a dream adventure and personal avocation neither of which will ever happen. Was lured into and met success in filming and writing, even produced a documentary that aired on PBS. Realized that life moves and millions of amateurs lessened value of still images, but videographers were rare competitors until technology and Youtube caught up. Rarer still are those who can transport you right to where events occur so you can seek vicarious thrills from safety of your ivory tower. Cyclists snap shots en route to share on websites, but viewers experience none of the endorphin highs that triggered taking otherwise drab vistas.

Once exhibited at craft shows. The only “artist” who made any money painted frogs on mirror tiles and sold them for cheap by the thousands. Those who demonstrated real effort and skill couldn’t afford to sell bargains below costs, therefore didn’t cover expenses. Finding a way to profit in the arts seems impossible until you assess just how much consumers spend. Movies totaled $11 billion in box office sales last year. Music raked in $7 billion. Porn beat them both at $18 billion. All complain that sales have steadily declined. In 2013 fine art sales hit a record at $66 billion, but artists who produced paintings and sculptures were long deceased. NFL cheerleaders actually pay to get noticed while dancing for a pittance. People admire anyone who starves and suffers, usually after they are dead from abuse and neglect, proverbial fish floating in filthy aquariums. So, not performing or producing but promoting and selling art constitute the profitable part. In the last 12 months, the top earning actor made $75 million, only 7.5% of the $1 billion his top grossing films earned. Shed no tears, since it exceeds salaries of all but top three American CEOs: Chienere Energy’s Souki ($142 million), Gamco’s Gabelli ($85 million), and Oracle’s Ellison ($78 million). Nevertheless, on average, CEOs received 331 times the wages of workers, $16.94/hour, about $35K/year.

Do well to find facts, but just what do you do with them? Figure you’ll always earn little unless you start your own business. Began 3, each with limited success, which can only be declared honestly by expanding and hiring others. You need to feed community, customers, employees, stakeholders and stockholders, but most are managed by either establishment or government. The best clients have the deepest pockets, so getting onto some corporate, federal or state payroll should be your first foray into business. After trillions spent annually on energy, food, insurance, savings, shelter, taxes and transportation, public has little left for discretionary spending. Although hundreds of thousands of entertainers in film, music and sports split a couple of hundred billion per annum, IRS alone takes in tens times that; in addition, states take in twice as much. Big and small businesses nationwide turn $16 trillion, over 100 times what the arts take in collectively, although life would be unlivable without them. Pharmaceuticals, most of which you can do without, outsell expressions of emotion. Artists sometimes blow cash on pills and supplies compulsively producing more art while they go hungry and jump from one loft to the next. Others perfect or revive existing techniques nobody else considers worthwhile. Good manufacturing practice requires producer to develop around clients' needs. Innovation which propels marketplace can only be derived from careful communication with and observation of end users. However, the disconnect between corporations and customers has never been profounder. Prospects get ever fewer and poorer.

On the Road comes to mind over and over. Some might see Kerouac’s peregrinations as a series of fuel wasting vacations crisscrossing a continent, but it’s really desperate wanderlust that sought authenticity and redemption through, “...all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it...” You hopelessly wish to connect with own tribe. When nobody cares, all you have is the allure of blacktop ribbons, which gladly swallow your identity whole. Hour after hour bicyclists begin to blend back into corporate drones and landscape dust then disappear forever.

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