The life of a broke millennial is not particularly glamorous. Maybe you’ve got some service industry job to support your pipe dreams, maybe you just graduated and you’re working some internship that will never pay you, or maybe you work for a start-up and just spend a disproportionate amount of money on rent, bar tabs and Takis. You’re on a track, but from the outside looking in, your life isn’t particularly impressive and your parents are starting to ask questions about what’s “next” for you.
So what do you do? How do you bide your time, appease your family and fend off criticism to continue freely living the life of a Brooklyn 20-something? The answer is simple: Become a performance artist. Or, rather, retroactively declare yourself a performance artist. Ashamed of your choices? Well maybe those aren’t your genuine choices, maybe they’re your artistic choices. Are you undateable or is your singlehood a statement on the illusion of love and society’s need to fill a Freudian void? That’s up to you.
Celebrities have already been doing it for years. Shia LaBeouf rented out a whole movie theater to suggest that his so-so career was an act; Adam Sandler regularly just films his vacations and calls them cinema; Joaquin Phoenix got to try rap without looking dumb! To get you started on your personal rebranding campaign, we’ve got a few sample projects and accompanying customizable placards so that even the philistines know what’s up.
Calling your parents
Maybe you haven’t talked to your dad in a few weeks and he’s starting to worry or maybe you need to ask your mom for a little money because you’re living outside your means again. Well, turn that conversation into art by taking to the street corner, calling mom and/or dad and pacing awkwardly around your block with your artist statement proudly printed out before you. Soon passersby will understand that what looks like a phone call between a man-child and his parents is actually a complex statement on familial responsibilities, the plight of the starving artist and probably the patriarchy. Simply post the following placard somewhere prominent near which you can lean awkwardly and continue hearing about what your siblings are up to:
______, _____ (b. 19__)
Mommie Dearest, 2016
Cell phone, guilt.
With Mommie Dearest, the latest in an ongoing series of phone calls, the artist calls their mother to “see what’s going on with her” and, eventually, ask for some help with rent this month. An unapologetic takedown of the U.S. economy, this piece finds the artist’s bank account purposefully overdrawn as a protest against the unrealistic accepted living wage. Notice how the artist first asks about the rest of the family, then expertly turns the subject to Cheryl, who basically pays for her son’s whole life.
Gift of _______ and _________ in memory of the self-sufficient child they could have had.
Working your day job
It’s part and parcel with any kind of creative life that you’ll have to log some long hours in the service sector. But you want to be taken seriously as an artist while slinging lattes? No problem! Hang one of these bad boys on the counter to explain that while you could have pursued a more practical major, your liberal arts degree was part of a larger project. While you’re at it, add a bit of your own flavor to make sure it hits home: Affix your B.A., M.F.A., or any remnants of your scholarly past (I used a certificate of honorable mention from my college’s literary journal) to your tip jar to ensure that the viewer understands the full context of your work.
______, ______ (b. 19__)
The Modern Sisyphus, 2016
Canvas apron, espresso stains, Dr. Scholl’s insoles.
The Modern Sisyphus examines both the state of higher education in America and societal classism towards the service sector. Despite the constant pleas of their parents, the artist chose a degree in ___________ to spark a conversation about our perceptions of liberal arts vs. science or business studies. Now, with this installation, rather than get a job they like, the artist works as a __________, encouraging the viewer to think, “What, there are no good jobs in _________? Have you thought about going back to school? OK, well I guess I’ll have a latte, then.”
Gift of the _______ company in lieu of an employee without another pastime.
Not having much luck dating? Bad at Tinder? Worried that all your friends are going to hear about that weird thing you said? Fear not; just explain that whatever embarrassing things you’ve done romantically were on purpose to make us really think about modern conceptions love. Just type this guy up and send it over to a recent ex or a Tinder match that never went anywhere. Then, if they still think you’re an asshole, they just don’t appreciate art and really that’s on them. I found that most Tinder matches that received this one mysteriously disappeared shortly thereafter, but that’s probably just a coincidence.
______, ______ (b. 19__)
Ready to Mingle, 2016
iPhone 6, generalized anxiety disorder.
In preparation for this project the artist has been purposefully abstaining from meaningful relationships for years. Now, with Ready to Mingle, they invite the viewer to reflect upon love, sex and dating from a first hand perspective by “dating” the artist. The viewer (often friends, acquaintances, coworkers or strangers on the Internet) will find the artist performing in character as an awkward, over-aloof and emotionally unavailable partner to highlight our own unrealistic romantic expectations. At any moment the artist may abruptly end the work, or “ghost,” not from anxiety or arbitrary loss of interest, but as a subtle nod to the so-called “ghost soldiers” of World War II.
Gift of the artist, as no one else wanted all that they had to offer.
Getting flack for drinking too much in the middle of the week? Find a spot at your favorite local watering hole and leave the following placard a seat over to explain away your behavior:
______, ______ (b. 19__)
Post Up, 2016
Beer, shot, beer, shot, beer, shot, beer, shot, beer, shot.
In Post Up, the artist returns to _______ bar to imbibe heavily on a Tuesday night, despite their early shift on Wednesday morning. This work simultaneously participates in and calls attention to the necessarily self-destructive nature of the New York City bar culture. Watch as the artist talks to the same two friends rather than meet anyone new, a clear comment on the paradoxical isolation of life in a city of 8.4 million citizens. The artist chooses solely Miller High Life (only coincidentally the cheapest on the menu) to demonstrate first-hand the beverage’s damaging effects on the human body and spirit. Notice how the artist wears the same plaid shirt as the day before, a subtle nod to society’s clothes-as-status obsession.
Gift of the bartender in exchange for money.
Maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum; you’d rather hang out at home watching Netflix and drinking wine with your cat but you don’t want to be judged for it. Well isn’t staying in really just the greatest act of protest anyway? It is now, so long as you post the following on your front stoop and text it to any friends inviting you to venture outside just because it’s the weekend. If your friends are anything like mine, they won’t have the energy to argue with your nonsense.
________, ________ (b. 19__)
Binge Watch, 2016
Television, pizza, wine, cat.
With the ongoing series Binge Watch, now on its 14th week, the artist stays home on a Friday night to watch television in sweatpants. Admire the restraint of the artist, who obviously would much rather be outside, wearing normal pants, talking to people, but chooses not to in protest of something. The pizza represents the push and pull and the modern American political climate, first luring one in with its appetizing smell and then trapping them with carbohydrate fatigue. Note again that the artist hates wearing those gross old sweatpants but they continue to wear them out of pure artistic dedication.
Gift of the Netflix and Dominos corporations.
So print these out, give ‘em a try and soon you won’t be that friend everyone’s worried about, you’ll be the impressive artist they’re bragging about. And, if none of that works, it’s time to apply for grad school.
Follow Sam on “Twitter,” 2016, gouache and ink canvas: @SamHWeiss