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« They Know Too Much | Main | La Mort du Cinema Francais? »

August 25, 2003

Guest Posting -- Rick Darby

Friedrich --

One of those post-college surprises: how much time and energy attending to basic maintenance eats up. Given that fact, and given how few people manage to do the time-effective thing of making a living at some kind of satisfying arts job, how do arty people sustain their interest in the arts? And how do they organize their lives so they manage to keep the pleasures of art alive?

Rick Darby, one of our most enjoyable commenters, has enlightened and entertained with observations about many topics, from Vedanta to immigration. In an email exchange, he also volunteered this:

I used to be in the culturebiz, quite a few years ago now. Did PR and advertising for the Boston Ballet Company (where I discovered that I adored ballet ... for the first 10 minutes of a performance, after which it put me to sleep) and the Albany Symphony Orchestra (it wasn't the Vienna Phil, but it wasn't bad either). Eventually I had enough of artistic temperament, arrogant rich board members and constant crisis. These days I'm a writer and editor at the Flight Safety Foundation (, encouraging airlines to transport their passengers to their destination in one piece, if that is at all possible.

I've found that there aren't many good jobs for writers. Journalism -- especially, daily journalism (my parents both wrote for AP) -- is a ticket on the express to Burnout City. Advertising is a crazy boom-and-bust business, champagne one week when the shop lands a new account, clean-out-your-desk notices a few months later when a client hits the bricks. I've worked as an advertising copywriter and radio commercial director and quite enjoy the work itself, but it's mostly the biggest agencies in big cities that have full-time copywriters these days, and I don't like big cities. Anyway, copywriting is becoming something of a lost art ... advertising is all about graphics and animation these days. I enjoy those too, but I hardly ever see a well written print ad these days, and I miss them.

Working for the Boston Ballet and the Albany Symphony Orchestra was interesting -- it's fun to see behind the scenes and meet the artistes -- but the PR people at arts organizations get low pay and nil respect. Plus lots of people in arts management are (perhaps understandably) paranoid, always afraid they're about to get the chop. It doesn't make for a friendly work environment.

I was also a sort of in-house freelancer in the PR department of WGBH Boston, which produces Masterpiece Theatre and all. The people in the department were very talented and intelligent, and the coldest mob I've ever met. There seems to be an idea that you can eliminate some of the insecurity by being rude to anyone who might conceivably replace you.

Although the subject matter isn't as interesting to an "arts guy" like me, I've actually enjoyed for the most part working in technical or semi-technical fields as a tech editor. Engineers and such aren't generally the most learned or witty people, but they're usually pretty calm and polite. That counts for a lot. I've had my lifetime capacity of temperamental asshats like the then-conductor of the Albany Symphony, who seemed to think that being obnoxious to his musicians made him Toscanini.

The writing and editing I do professionally is hardly creative, but aviation safety is interesting, because a lot of it really comes down to two issues: the amount of money we as a society are willing to pay for small increments in safety, and psychology ("human factors" is the aviation-jargon term). Technical innovations -- the jet engine, the traffic-alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) and the ground-proximity warning system (GPWS) -- have been godsends. But there seem to be no more major technical fixes; what we're left with is improvements that would be technically feasible but cost bags of money for a tiny improvement in the accident rate, such as crashproofing aircraft, and finding ways to reduce human error (very difficult; to err is human).

I do hope to get involved in the arts scene again, probably on a volunteer basis, when I reach retirement in five to seven years (I'm, unbelievably, 58!). But not so involved that I can't say, "Piss off," if somebody gives me too much grief.

So how does my co-blogger, FvB -- business owner, hubby, dad -- clear out a little time for the arts? I'd love to hear how our visitors manage too.

Our thanks to Rick Darby.



posted by Michael at August 25, 2003


The arts? What are they again?

Anyway, I can't complain. A few years ago I had lots of spare time, but I got this weird desire to have another baby. As a result, I don't have so much spare time, but what the heck, the little guy is totally worth it. And doing this blog at least helps me keep my finger in, so to speak.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 26, 2003 12:52 AM


When I was in little league soccer, my coach had the hardest time explaining to me the concept of going backwards. The idea is that often the most effective strategy to reach your goal is to go in the opposite direction with the ball.

I'm a very culturally inclined person, and I'm now up to two novels a week. But, this is only because I'm a stay at home dad with a home based business. Before this, I did years of 60 hr workweeks in an economic consultancy and got about 1/4 the arts and culture input I now receive. Still, I had a masters in economics and I was supposedly doing something challenging and intellectually interesting. Supposedly. It just didn't turn out that way. Most work was all about your image with the client, and there was never any time to hatch new ideas or do much besides the corporate equivalent of fire fighting.

My father, on the other hand, is a dentist. He works 25 hrs a week, has a salary over six figures, and lives in a low cost area. With his spare time, he could easily be a novelist himself.

So, what I'll tell my children is this: forget about the supposed "stimulation" you'll receive in the "big jobs". And forget the satisfaction you'll have being the janitor at the local ballet. It's all about a Hegelian like quest for personal freedom. If you find something you're passionate about do that. Otherwise, look for niches like carpentry or certain branches of medicine. Something that has a skill that you can build and improve and satisfies a perenial demand in society. THEN, once you're in control of your own time, go and art out.


Posted by: Robert Holzbach on August 26, 2003 10:37 AM

FvB -- I know you, and you're being coy. Somehow you manage to find an hour or two here and there. And, given the art-reading and art-looking you do, more than the occasional hour or two. I've got one friend who's a bizguy and a family man. He's also an avid fiction-reader and music-listener. And he's worked out a deal with his family whereby he gets an hour in the evening to himself. It works great -- he gets through more books than anyone I know outside of professional book reviewers. Are you as systematic as he is? Do you just squeeze it in when you can?

Robert -- What a perfect way to put it, thanks. That's the view I've come around to too. Too bad I've arrived at it a little late in the race -- no going back to vet school for me now! Congrats on the new business, which I hope is working out well. Tomorrrow, it's back to my job as a janitor in the culturebiz, sigh...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 26, 2003 11:30 AM

Do the basic-maintenance stuff last, not first. (unless you count relaxed meals with friends as basic-maintenance). The actual life-maintaining stuff gets fitted in somewhere, and if you start doing it first it will swallow all the life-enjoyable stuff.

Posted by: Tracy on August 27, 2003 5:09 PM

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