In my perfectly planned, yet joyfully chaotic dream world, everyone would have health insurance and the sense of security this would instill would generate a wave of creativity throughout all levels of society. Suddenly, Walmart workers and baseball players, part-time employees and full-time investment bankers, would be on a level playing field, at least when it comes to seeing a dentist. With this basic need fulfilled, there will be that much more room in their lives for the arts, both as observers and participants.
The impact of universal health care on the art world would be profound. Too many artists, arts writers, curators and gallerists for that matter have to aim to major commercial success just to earn enough to cover their insurance costs. With that no longer a worry, artists would no longer have to be distracted by teaching jobs, critics would turn down mindless catalogue essays, curators would declare their independence from mainstream museums, and gallerists, well, I’m not sure what they would do differently but it would be fun to see.
Of course, such a change would transform the lives of so many creative practitioners, generally freelance workers or independent contractors, who have to pay for their own health insurance, usually at a steep cost for individuals without a group plan. I am thinking of a close friend of mine, a photographer, who was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease after suffering for many years. He delayed going to a doctor and getting treatment because he didn't have health insurance. By the time he got help, the disease had caused permanent brain damage, affecting his ability to stand, sit up and walk.
But, I am also envisioning the sweeping change in aesthetics that would occur once we all got a taste of good health care. No joking. When artists no longer have to spend so much time worrying about basic care, there will be such a rush of energy released that repetitive gestures and appropriation strategies will seem oh-so-last year. Instead, there will be a revival in the original mark, packed with new ideas, new styles, new mediums, and new techniques. We may even find it necessary to revive the term “genius.”
BARBARA POLLACK is a visual artist who has been writing about the art world since 1994 for many publications including ARTnews, Art in America, Village Voice, New York Times and Time Out New York.