A Life in Art, LA Style

“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap and still comes out on top”
—Claes Oldenburg

Nearly everyone who has ever written about art in Los Angeles has had to face the question I’m facing now: Should I write this by the pool, or stay in bed?

This is a Los Angeles question. Other Los Angeles questions: Should I get tacos, and if so should I get the tacos from the cheap place that I know is spectacular or those other tacos with the glowing sign that are supposed to be important special tacos from Boyle Heights? Should I try sweet potato tacos? Should I fuck a stripper? Should I do it before I write the column? And which one? And if she wants to swim, should I swim, too? Assuming—briefly and for the sake of argument—that there’s more to life than these things, would that be good and should I care?

If I was in New York right now, it would not be a 106 degrees in mid-September. If I was in New York right now I’d go to the Met and look at small ivory guys from the Middle Ages, then go upstairs and see the portrait of Juan de Pareja. I’d try to get to the Neue Galerie if it was still open, then eat lunch while talking about what I saw with my friends and try to talk until the talking made the experience of talking and seeing and talking about what we’d been seeing be a thing that I did. And I would hope, on the way to the bathroom, that something would happen and on the train home I’d read a book.

My point is not so much that my New York day would be worse—I might meet someone the next day, after I went to the indie-record swap meet and before I realized I could hear all these albums online without going to Greenpoint—as much as my New York day is very well all made of art. The Met, the Neue, the talking, the reading, the albums—if I go home and make some art, and put that art into Oldenburgian competition with everyday life, it is very easy and tempting, in Gotham, to construct an “everyday life” made mostly of art.

It’s easy, as a New York artist, to imagine art as your only competition. You can get art about art, art that advances dialogues that only exist in art, art that develops themes only visible to art people. You can get art that sees itself as the next move in a game only visible to other experts in your deliciously special field.

It is very hard to do this in a convertible, or after seeing a cop kick a Mexican for touching one. Los Angeles will lie to you longer and harder and about more things than the worst boyfriend with the worst, oiliest hair and the silverest douchiest M3, but Los Angeles will not lie to you about how much of life is constructed things by committed dreamers and how much of life is life. No one comes to Los Angeles “just to work on” anything or “to get away from” anything. Your dream grinds against the dream of the next dreamer on the freeway or the weird bus.

The working artist in New York is looked on as a person being successful in one of the niche jobs you can have in New York. The working artist in LA is looked at as kind of magnificent cheating genius: Wait, you make things but nobody is telling you what things to make? There’s no committee? There’s no ratings? Damn, that’s so cool—I’m hosting a party this weekend in Venice, we’re gonna have an elephant made of iron and drugs you should totally come RSVP this number.

But here’s the thing: in reality, every artist is facing that same competition. The audience for the New York artist is no less just-a-click-away from a brutal, glitzy Otherworld than anyone else with a TV or an Internet connection—the New York artist is just more used to pretending they aren’t.

The LA artist has no choice but to squarely face the problem no one can avoid for much longer: they compete with the most distracting everyday crap humanity has yet devised—they may not yet have won but if one day they do it will be a wonder to behold.

Illustration by Alisa Yang