There was once a time in America when you could safely assume that "artists" were famous people who lived far away, on vineyards in California or in hovels in the West Village. Sure, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol and Antoine de St. Exupéry and Alberto Giacometti were scary, but the chances of running into them on the street were close to nil — they traveled in artistic circles, smoking reefer and staging "happenings." But now, a disturbing survey released by the National Endowment for the Arts suggests, horrifyingly, that artists are … everywhere.
That guy who lives next door who wears turtlenecks? He could be an artist! Your co-worker who once expressed a fondness for jazz? He could be an artist! Your son's first-grade teacher, the one who spends a little too much time on finger-painting? She could be an artist! In fact, the survey reveals that the number of people identifying themselves as artists — 1.4 percent of the population — is twice the size of the United States Army.
Obviously, this is a national crisis in the making. The New York Times points out that all the professional dancers in America could form a chorus line stretching nearly the length of Manhattan. What if they did? Can you imagine the carnage as lithe, leotard-wearing dancers kicked their way across the country, razing everything in their path? Thousands could perish, and the damage to livestock could cripple our nation's food supply.
What can I do about the artist menace?
First of all, stay calm, but be vigilant. If you suspect that someone you know may be an artist, alert the authorities. And don't think that just because your friendly mailman works for the Postal Service means he is beyond suspicion: According to the NEA's survey, 300,000 Americans are artists as their second job.
Afraid that your wife or husband may be an artist? Ask yourself these simple questions:
1. Does your spouse occasionally come home speckled with paint?
2. Does your spouse seem to have a natural sense of rhythm, or occasionally sing under his or her breath?
3. Does your spouse work for a symphony or repertory theater? Do not be fooled by claims that your spouse simply answers the phones! He or she may be an artist!
4. Are your spouse's love notes suspiciously well composed?
5. Has your spouse's career started with a meteoric rise, followed by a spectacular fall, followed by a rebirth and stunning comeback?
6. Does your spouse wear a beret?
Dana Gioia, the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, was blunt in his warning in the Times. "Artists have immense financial and social impact as well as cultural impact," he darkly threatened, adding, under his breath, "You cannot escape their terrible wrath."