Sunday, March 8, 2009

Era of Economic Gloom

detail of Era of Economic Gloom| 12"x18" | Shredded currency and newspaper on canvas panel | 2008

I have been in a recession for the past eight years. It all began when I was about to graduate in 2001. I feel like all the requirements for a successful entry into the workplace were irrevocably changed my senior year of college. I had once inhabited a world where all you needed was a Bachelor's degree and it could be in anything. But by the time it was my turn to look for a job, everyone was very specific, specific about majors, specific about experience. Gone were the signing bonuses, the cars, the wine-and-dine whirlwind interviews my predecessors told us of just a year before. Eventually my career counselor washed her hands of me and told me to sign on with a temp agency.

So now I know what it's like to spend 8 years waiting for knockoffs and discounts and end of season clearance sales. I never get manicures. I give myself pedicures when I want them. I have never once paid for a spa treatment. I have been taking “staycations” since before that phrase was coined. I have gone without these small luxuries out of necessity. Now there is a term for women like me: “recessionista.” Now I see articles by the self-appointed experts in this newly invented subculture. Perhaps I could be writing “recessionista” articles, too. If only I believed the hype.

Yes, you can get by with cosmetics and pantyhose from the drugstore, and you can save money by getting your canned goods and condiments at Wal-Mart. You can shop at thrift and consignment stores or take advantage of your AAA membership or your bank’s affiliate program to get discounts. And a plain old cup of Campbell's chicken noodle tastes absolutely delightful with a few sprigs of fresh parsley and cilantro and some diced green onion stirred in. And you could even grow those herbs yourself in your very own windowsill if you don’t have a garden.

Of course, you could work at a store where you like to shop so that you will qualify for an employee discount, but no article addresses how torturous it can be when you are constantly surrounding by things you cannot afford. Nor will they warn you that you may be in danger of turning your whole paycheck over to your employer, or that you may not be able to get the discount without having a store credit card account with your employer, or that such an arrangement is akin to modern-day sharecropping.

But eventually there will come a time when you will resent the fact that you don’t have a choice. This is not the option you have selected of your free will, but a decision that was thrust upon you. Sure, you can get by selling your unwanted possessions to consignment shops, but eventually you realize you’re getting a fraction of what you paid for them. You can even do eBay and other online auctions, but don’t expect to become a millionaire.

The problem with living on a shoestring is that it will eventually fray, and then break, and who will be there to help you when the federal poverty line has been drawn so low?

And what of the unspoken expectation that you will achieve more financial success than your parents? What is to be made of those who have earned college degrees they never get to use? And what of the debt accrued to finance such and education?

These articles tell nothing of the quiet heartbreak and desperation of downward mobility. They do not mention the years of indefinite delay, the projects to be financed by a better job that never comes. Eventually you will come to resent the fact that all your possessions are leftovers, imitations, and hand-me-downs. At some point experts may suggest you take antidepressants to help you better adjust to the world when actually it is the world itself that needs to be readjusted.

These articles will try to convince you that your reversal of fortune is a wonderful character builder. They try to make you feel that things are not so bad. They try to make you forget the useless sacrifices you made for your education and your non-existent career, all the time saying like Pangloss or Pollyanna that “everything is for the best” and we are in the best of all possible worlds--and job markets. For such is the palliative effect of the mainstream media, the new opiate of the masses.

But eventually you will become aware of the widening distance between what you’d like to do and what you can afford to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, a matter of life or death, or just a much needed vacation. But it will remind you of how long your dreams have been deferred. Not all deferred dreams dry up, fester, or sag like a heavy load. Some really do explode.

And so it is with this in mind that I come to the studio and create images with shredded money. I am a recessionist painter, not a recessionista.


  1. I really feel for you. I grew up at a time when nobody had anything (the 1950s) and so there were no comparisons. It must hurt to feel that you've done all the right things and that circumstances have caused you to be 'different'. However, with the downturn in world finances you'll probably find that you're the resilient one!

  2. Wow! Your post really hit home.

  3. Thanks so much for your comments! I am glad you liked this post.

  4. Good post! There are many in the same spot and it doesn't help to know that... This is a timely 'listen up' -

  5. Thanks! I am glad you liked it. I'm not trying to be a downer in a time of so much bad news, but at the same time I hate to see the public being lulled into a false sense of complacency by the media.


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