Once the ramifications settle in, he slyly drawls, "to grasp the total picture would make you wish you could go back to 1960 when things were a bit slower, almost like the Dark Ages."
That dizziness finds a counterpoint with fledgling film director Michael Mohan on a cold December night in Westwood. His youthful exuberance contrasts with Ruscha's measured bemusement: "It's not like it's going to be crazy; it is crazy, right now."
Mohan has reason to be excited. His first feature, "One Too Many Mornings," about two twentysomething guys who reignite their high school friendship, which he shot over two years' worth of nights and weekends with a budget well under $50,000, will play the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in a new category dedicated to low-to-no-budget filmmakers.
Where Ruscha recoils at the opened floodgates of the Information Age, Mohan gushes: "There's an audience for everything . . . if you say I want to express myself and people will see it, yes, that's what in 2010 you can do."
So even in the face of prolonged war and bitter recession, it seems 2010 is a pretty great time to be a young artist.
Ubiquitous communication and cheap digital technologies are empowering the striving artist who steadily cultivates his or her craft, challenging the cliché of the starving bohemian, or the superstar. At the same time, say many artists, an avalanche of output and constant accessibility might push them to rediscover the merits of handcrafted work, the necessity of disconnected contemplation and the joys of face-to-face human contact.
A recent nationwide survey of artists commissioned by the nonprofit group Leveraging Investments in Creativity found that more than half reported a decline in income from 2008 to 2009, two-thirds had at least one day job and almost 40% didn't have adequate health insurance -- challenging times for a group 63% of whom reported income of less than $40,000 a year. However, an increasingly hyper-connected world might be stoking artistic enthusiasm: Seventy-five percent said it was an inspiring time to be in the creative arts. With access to new tools, you can create exciting work and reach new audiences; you just might not get paid well for it.
That doesn't shake 35-year-old Brooklyn-based painter and digital animator Brian Alfred as he prepares for his 2010 show "It's Already the End of the World" in New York: "If you chose to become an artist because you thought you were going to be the next Jeff Koons and make a trillion dollars, you might have picked the wrong field."
Alfred doesn't necessarily see an exodus of money from the art market following the financial crash as a negative. "That excess will probably be curtailed, thank God . . . a skull with a million diamonds on it, is that really what it's about?" Now that he's a father, he is simply grateful to put food on the table for his son and show his work to others: "I didn't have any great expectations besides wanting to share my work with as many people as possible, so I'm happy as can be."
Up to the task
For others, these crazy, hyperkinectic times are a challenge to be met with brio. "I think it means you have to be scrappy," says Eliza Clark, a young playwright who just moved to L.A. from New York. "In some ways there's a freedom in that kind of uncertainty, you just have to try to make it work . . . it means thinking nobody's going to give me opportunities, I have to take them."
In 2008, she and her friends raised $20,000 to put up her play "Edgewise" in New York. The play got great word of mouth, they sold out practically all their shows, and now Clark has come west to work as a writer's assistant on AMC's thriller "Rubicon." And what was her play about? Three disaffected teenagers working at a fast-food joint in the middle of World War III.
So this brave new world might also be great material. Despite the post-apocalyptic title of his show, Alfred finds inspiration for his work in the rapid pace of change as he grapples with the ways technology breaks down barriers and brings exhaustive coverage of events with a mere mouse-click. "Information is experienced and shared in real time . . . we have so much stuff to see now, what do we actually take in?
"At the same time, that's exciting because you can share ideas and information and images from all around the world instantly, and it sort of opens your eyes to all the things that pre-Internet, pre-technology deluge you never would have known about."
This has stimulated him to move beyond his empty urban vistas to paintings of world flags, opposition parties and landscapes of political significance.
Veteran artists marvel and sympathize with the challenges facing the younger generation.
Theater director Peter Sellars lauds this engagement with the world as an imperative : "All the important things are not being discussed, while everything that is trivial is being discussed at exhaustive length." He cites the conflict in Afghanistan, the California penal system and the drug wars as examples of under-examined crises. However, Sellars sees this as an invitation for artists to explore solutions creatively: "[As an artist] you're supposed to make everything that's unthinkable finally thinkable for people." Still, he also cautions that the sensory overloads of YouTube and Wikipedia ring hollow without art to bring information to life: "What the Internet can't give you is . . . what the feeling in the room is, what the vibe is."
Anne Ellegood, senior curator at the Hammer Museum, sees that social awareness increasing among artists. "With the surplus of digital communication that everyone is experiencing -- many people can't even keep up with the number of e-mails -- there's this desire to sit down, have a coffee and have a conversation."