If you’re an upper-middle-class American like myself, you’ve probably wrestled with the following question: how do I while away the odd decades before my children are conceived? While other nationalities and social substrata might labor under obligations such as “learning a skill” and “pursuing a useful trade,” this lucky sliver of the American population is able to spend the bulk of its twenties more or less fucking around, or as some have rationalized it, “chasing a dream.”
Due to an alarming overlap of this demographic with the blog-reading community, I dedicate the following column exclusively to these laterally-mobile citizens. Raised with the understanding that any years not directly spent keeping a tiny, helpless person alive may be flushed away in the pursuit of some artistic goal, they have been called “Hobby-Capped,” “Persons Living with Dabble-Abilities,” or, more bluntly, “Art-tarded.” While most of them will never see their goals come to fruition, that doesn’t ease the difficulty of deciding precisely which gust of wind to piss in. As someone who has failed at more things than most people have ever tried, I feel qualified to give a brief overview of the options available in the pursuit of self-expression, self-exploration, and running out your biological clock.
“But Jamie,” you say, “I’m in my twenties. Can’t I express myself and get laid?” If this is your response, then music is the art for you! A hedonist’s dream, success in music is possible and often easier to achieve when under the influence of drugs, alcohol and spectacular overconfidence. Playing music for a live audience is probably the closest you can come to actually fucking someone with your art (unless your creative passion involves the construction of ornamental dildos. See next week’s review!). It’s a lock for those that demand an immediate, visceral reaction from their patrons, one that often ends in unprotected sex. Downsides include loneliness, tattoos and early death. All in all I give music a 7. It’s the greatest artistic thrill imaginable, but if you fly that close to the sun, you must be prepared to conceive a child with it in a urine-soaked bathroom.
Let’s say that you lack the technical skill for music but still crave the adoration of the masses. If you feel comfortable speaking English out loud and happen to be eye-meltingly gorgeous, then acting might be the art for you! Considered to be minor gods in most developing countries, successful actors have combined exhibitionism with knowledge of words and a staggering ability to be looked at to become the most celebrated artists in the world. For those interested in acting but without the benefit of good looks, spin-off pursuits such as performance art and stand-up comedy offer the self-indulgence of acting without the perils of payment or recognition. Try this easy test to find where you fit: snort baby-aspirin and attend a concert by a moderately successful musician. If you wake up in your own bed, the life of a television actor is probably not in your future. However, if you have the face for it, acting is a dream job in every sense, easily scoring a high 8. Some claim that there are large drawbacks to the actor lifestyle, such as a total lack of personal privacy and crippling sex-addiction, but these people are by and large very attractive jerks attempting to corner the market on godhood.
But maybe you’re not a people person. Maybe you’d prefer that the adoration of the masses doesn’t begin until years after your death. If this is the case, then visual art is probably your best choice. Visual artists can spend years in isolation, crafting masterpieces with their own blood, sweat and tears (often all too literally). While lacking the popularity and visceral response elicited by music and acting, visual art compensates with a total lack of any quantifiable criteria for success. Most people are able to identify bad music or bad acting, but bad visual art can almost always be hidden behind a compelling explanation. Almost anything, from an unpainted canvas to a small amount of human feces can be passed off as visual art, as long as the artist exhibits expansive sociopathic tendencies that can be interpreted as an “aesthetic.” Whether you’re a little eccentric, a future serial killer, or just plain like to draw, visual art is a safe, relaxing choice that earns a solid 9.
Of course if you’re blind and tone-deaf with a face that frightens even the bravest children, you can always try writing. Writing is widely regarded as the lowest art form, and it’s a little known fact that up until the late 16th century the terms “writer” and “leper” were interchangeable. Beside the fact that it requires almost no preparation or materials and can be performed under any circumstances (for example, while sitting in my underwear, picking cheez-it dust off my hairless upper thighs), writing has very little to recommend itself as an artistic goal. It elicits no visceral response from the audience, garners little praise or recognition, and works within a network of grammatical conventions through which bad writing very apparent quickly becomes. Considering that, if current trends continue, within 10 years all written work will most likely be limited to 140 characters, this artistic pursuit is lucky to walk away with a score of 2.
I hope this condemnation will not go unnoticed, especially by those sunk deep into the dabble-ability of writing, such as New York Times columnists, and the producers of “Mad Men.” To these people I say, it’s never too late for you to switch gears and try something else. Join a band, get some headshots, poop on a pedestal. And if you need someone to wallow through your pathetic writing jobs once you’ve abandoned them, I can begrudgingly offer my services. After all, I’ve tried everything else. And I’ve still got a little more time to kill.
Jamie King is a writer and comedian from Washington State, based in Brooklyn. Recently, his work has appeared online in McSweeney's Internet Tendency and onstage at The Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre, New York. More essays, videos, and propaganda can be found at www.kingjamie.net.