Please allow me to introduce myself….

view all posts by Michael Masucci

a dramatic film frame with the superimposed text "EZTV Guide"

Hello all,

Vanessa has asked yet another reasonable request from us all, and it seems only proper to oblige her. She requested from us, the simple, yet seemingly daunting task of not simply lurking, or even simply posting, but to actually try, in simple terms, to introduce ourselves. So here goes…

My name is Michael J. Masucci.

I live in Los Angeles, where for over 30 years, I have worked as a media artist/curator and producer.  My collaborative work has ranged from being seen by a handful of people locally, to screenings at the Institute of Contemporary Art (London) and the Museum of Modern Art (New York) as well as here in LA, at the American Film Institute. I also have a law degree and am a trained mediator.

For many years now, I have run EZTV ,  a local pioneer in digital and desktop video, and among the world’s first video theaters and digital art galleries. We operate as a community-based, public practice, social entrepreneurship group of artists/activists.

I consider myself extremely lucky to somehow having managed to work as a professional artist for all these years. I’m not exactly sure how I was able to do it, but continue to be thankful that this has been my experience.  I occasionally have taught, but mainly have relied on producing original work, as my means of self-support. The world has changed so much now, and I doubt this would have been possible if I was just starting today, and wonder how younger people will be able to also work full-time as art-makers.

I was born in the South Bronx, which at the time, was the poorest county in the United States. These humble beginnings have given me the opportunity to learn the true value of things. Those who had so little, in terms of material possessions, I have often found to have been the richest, in terms of understanding the immense value of love, community, friendship and really experiencing life ( as opposed to simply observing it). Hopefully, this has somehow percolated into my work, perhaps, at least, in my focus as a community-based artist.

You can read my full, blah-blah-blah bio here.

 

4 Comments

  1. What an amazing life odyssey, Mick, er, Michael! As I’ve been learning EZTV was really in a focal position at a focal time. You may be right that a young person today won’t be able to follow in your footsteps… but they might turn an enthusiasm for vlogging into a career like Natalie Tran, or a fascination with networked media into an elevator to new career heights like Eric Whitacre. David Karp was only 20 and not long out of his Fred Siebert internship when he founded Tumblr. Some paths may be less accessible today but I do think there are many new roads. I’m convinced that on 4 December 2013 more human beings have a voice than on any previous day in all of human history. I’m deeply troubled by the TV-ification of The Internet — not the EZTV kind of “TV,” but the Hollywood kind (which for me is the most destructive drug in all of human history) Even so, I’m pretty sure the glass is way more than half full!

  2. Vanessa,

    Thanks so much for your great comments!

    I agree with much of what you’re saying. Especially the enormous positive impact that non-location based networked communities has offered. There has been no greater impact on human society since, perhaps the widespread adoption of the printing press. And online communication/community has implications perhaps even greater than the printed page itself.

    What concerns me is really the decline of non-commercial art creation as a viable self-supporting career. Certainly Natalie Tran is among the top earners in online video, but is often seen more in the arena of mainstream entertainment. Perhaps you disagree with that assessment. She’s of course talented, creative and accessible, but that’s not what I’m afraid is in jeopardy. It’s that type of work that does not necessary appeal to millions that may find a harder time to survive.

    I do agree that Whitacre is a viable example of how an artist has used the web to gain a much greater presence. No arguments there.

    But David Karp? I’ve always though of him as a businessperson. Not that I have any problem with his chosen life-path, nor do I begrudge him the lucrative ( some might say obscenely so) compensation he enjoys. No doubt his creative use of algorithms have given us all yet another flavor of social media, perhaps even a very much needed one. But what I’m talking about is the ability to create non-mainstream art, and to able to support yourself that way. I see that declining as a possibility for the young people I know. And these young people echo my concerns.

    Two months ago I gave a guest talk at an MFA program in Public Practice at a local school. the students had a sense of urgency and desperation about them, and many asked my advice as to how they could possibly make a living, even a modest one, as artists once they’ve graduated. They realize that the opportunity to secure a tenured job as a college teacher is very much evaporating ( see http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/24/opinion/rhoades-adjunct-faculty/ ) and has been replace here in the U.S. with largely low-paid part-time work.

    The issues you’ve raised are very important ones, and speak directly to the shift towards an ‘eye-ball driven’ reality, where all that matters is how many people know your name. This may truly be the future of our species, but it will mean the further decline of scholars researching more esoteric issues, and may further threaten the controversial, or contentious work.

    I don’t claim to have any absolute opinions on this, but I notice the changes and wonder what assurances might be developed, to protect the new, the marginal, and the not-yet proven to be commercial endeavors..

    Again, thanks so much for your comments. I really appreciate you taking the time both to read my stuff, as well as react to it.

    Best,
    M

  3. Hello my fellow blueberries. This is a very interesting conversation. Just today I came across this article, “Debating an MFA? The Lowdown on Art School Risks and Returns.” An artist friend posted it on FB: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/print/node/989814, and one of the comments shot back, “should be titled ‘Mortgaging your Future: a Gloss.'” I haven’t read the article yet, but, by the title alone, I suspect that it’s related to this conversation.

    This summer I witnessed a good friend debate and debate and debate whether or not to accept admission to film school. She had been accepted into USC and UCLA, two top MFA Film programs; nevertheless, she is 40 and not independently wealthy. It was heartbreaking to witness her tearing herself apart — her dream was in reach, but the price of tuition, even with financial aid and scholarships, was so steep. She ended up going (she could not not go), fully aware that her decision has the power and, honestly, the likelihood, to bankrupt her or enslave her to years of paying off debt.

    I’m not sure that there’s ever been a time when one could support oneself BY making non-mainstream art; hasn’t this always been more of a fantasy? In my experience it has. I started out 20 years ago as a poet, fully aware that I would probably not be supporting myself with this choice. But that was not why I was doing it. I was doing it — writing poems — because I had to. Romantic? Maybe. Real? Definitely. Admittedly, I was fortunate — I applied to MFA programs in my early 20s (for support, for community) and was accepted into a good one, but it was a state school (University of Houston), and I chose it over NYU because I knew that I could live cheaply in Houston on what I’d be paid as a TA. Getting paid as a TA and living in Houston (in my early 20s) allowed me to have ONE other job (as opposed to five) as a grad student — as an writer-in-residence with Writers in the Schools. The teaching experience and the contacts I made led me to to more exciting things and great people: I co-founded a theater company (Infernal Bridegroom Productions); I led a rock and roll band (Shag) for seven years; I taught creative writing to third graders, middle schoolers, pediatric cancer patients, and finally high school students, where I found my niche. I ended up a high school teacher “by accident” (or whatever), but it’s how I’ve been supporting myself — and my family — for the past 20 years. As it turns out, I prefer teaching high school English to teaching undergraduate composition classes, which I did for four years and was miserable the entire time. Not so in high school; in high school, I laugh a lot; I read great literature; I teach young people to become better readers and writers. Teaching is frustrating, but it’s rewarding. It’s also not exactly lucrative, but I earn a living, and I have time to dedicate to my art, which is paramount. I continue to write poetry, essays, create performances, contribute to the artistic life of Houston and beyond in the ways that I am able. To further support myself, I apply for artistic grants. Sometimes I get them; sometimes I don’t.

    Most people I know who are working artists are also people with “day jobs,” many of them education jobs. The ones who are supporting themselves making art have become “mainstream” enough to appeal to more people. Seems to me that that’s the way life as an artist is and the way it’s been for a long long long time.

    I would not want to mislead young artists in their 20s to think that it was easier “back in the day.” It wasn’t. This is not an easy path. Lots of things that are worth doing aren’t.

    Okay, now I’m going to go read Michael’s original post that inspired this convo! xo

  4. Christa,

    You are right. A career in the arts has never been easy. But in my anecdotal experience, it does seem that there were more viable options, for a professional media artist, in terms of how you could support yourself. At least that was true in my case. I know, work and are asked advice from many young artists locally, and a common reality persists- namely that they ways I was paid for my work when I was younger, is not an option anymore for these young people. More and more, art is lumped into two non-intersecting categories, either you are a Saatchi-darling, ( i.e Hirst ) who can demand seven figure prices for your work, or you are expected that everything you do will be for free.

    This is even true in the high-end contemporary art museum industry. Many young artists are still unaware that usually, when a living artist is part of a group show, even a major show at a major museum, they are usually not paid for their participation. The presumption is that such notoriety can lead to an increase of the value of their work at a commercial gallery. That is, if they are aggressively marketed by a commercial gallery ( or even have on-going gallery representation). And with ‘blue-ribbon’ artists ( i.e Koons ) selling at all-time high prices, an aggressive gallerist is more likely to invest their time pitching the work of such established artists, leaving less ‘sell-able’ ones to fend for themselves.

    But there were more ways to build relationships with collectors, especially in so-called ‘video art’, when what you were offering was a tangible, object ( i.e a physical videotape), installation or site-specific multimedia performative experience.

    Perhaps that is a function not just of the time period, but the locale as well. Los Angeles in the 1980’s, 90’s and into the first decade of this century, was a hotbed for new art spaces, alternative venues and independent distribution. As more and more work is now distributed via larger and larger distribution chains ( i.e YouTube), whose offering to the public is free of charge, and whose only chance for fair compensation is payment to the creator based on ‘eyeballs’ ( and/or via ‘ads’), the opportunity for any alternative financial systems is diminished.

    Christa, I also cannot rule out the role that sexism has also played in the past. Many female artists in LA during the years I am talking about experienced a different picture than I did. That’s why spaces such as the seminal alternative art space The Women’s Building were formed.

    Also, back then, in LA, artists were often able to find teaching positions, which I hear is a much to do today. I haven’t taught in almost a decade, and never supported myself that way, so my information is not direct, but from what people have told me. With so many MFAs out there, the competition seems to me, to be worse than ever. Again, I could be wrong.

    Again, I really do agree with almost everything that Vanessa’s critique of my ‘intro’ stated. I also do agree with her that entrepreneurs ( like Karp) are extremely creative, I just don’t see them as the type of creativity we have traditionally attributed to artists. Not that either is ‘superior’ to the other, they are just different. Future generations may completely disagree, and the publicist’s expansion of the notion of CEO as ‘creative genius’ ( as is all too often said of Steve Jobs) may become canon law.

    Warhol, in his perhaps most contentious statement said that ‘business is the greatest form of art’. I have never agreed with that notion, but as Warhol’s addiction of celebrity becomes the cornerstone for today’s pop culture sensibilities, I see that I am in a distinct minority in my disagreement with him. For me, I believe that someone, being a smart businessperson, seeing a gap in the commercial landscape and finding a clear path towards implementation, is different from John Cage.

    Thank you, Vanessa and Christa for taking the time to react/respond. I am happy that we have begun this conversation. I think we all feel it is critically important that an honest, and diverse discussion about the role that mass commerce increasingly plays on the independent, as well as academic artist, is crucial to a full understanding of the dynamics at play, and the options ahead.

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