Where To Live If You’re An Artist In Your 20s

If you are a forward-thinking, progressive, artistically minded individual in your early 20s looking for a place to ply your trade in the United States, your options are decidedly limited. Smaller cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Austin have plenty of culture, but they lack industry. The denizens of towns like this tend to be comfortable eking out a living doing menial tasks whilst dabbling in their artistic pursuit of choice. For some, this is a satisfactory usage of their time. I understand. It’s fun to get up at 12:30 p.m., operate an espresso machine and then go to the park and drink 40s ’til 9 p.m.

As someone who has lived in San Francisco can attest, the vast majority of people under 40 in that city are perfectly happy not doing a whole lot. San Francisco is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but it engenders an attitude of respectable leisure. This is a city where even the rich are just begging for an excuse to get very drunk. Enjoyment of one’s life is crucial to sanity and emotional satisfaction, but it is also the enemy of careerism and artistic achievement. The grand old cliché is that an artist must struggle to succeed. San Francisco defies that axiom by being so relaxing that it borders on the somnambulistic.

For others, a life of comfort is anathema to their insatiable desire for success. Naturally, success can be defined in many ways, but for the purposes of this article, let’s just presume that it is defined by notoriety, the respect of one’s peers and financial compensation. Success of that nature can really only be found in a few places in America. Citizens of Chicago will swear that their chilly municipality qualifies as a zip code where dreams come true. If your dream is to eat a lot of sausage and end up temping at Morgan Stanley, then Chicago is the place to be. That leaves the great polar opposites of American culture: Los Angeles and New York.

For as many differences as there are between LA and NY, there are plenty of similarities. Both cities have world-famous architecture. NY has the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Guggenheim. LA has U.S. Bank Tower, the Bradbury Building and Walt Disney Concert Hall. LA and NY boast a bustling, multiethnic population. They thrive on ambition and desire. Great musical and fashion trends live and die in these two metropolises.

The difference is that you should live in Los Angeles if you ever want to experience anything resembling actual pleasure. I will cop to being a cripplingly ambitious person. I want all things right now, and will do pretty much whatever it takes to have them. I appreciate knowing that I am on a path to material gratification and social acceptance. Whether or not I actually am is up for debate. Only a person on the outside of my experience can really tell me if what I am doing with my life is going to assist my desire. I want to believe I am making all the right moves, but a creative impulse can only truly be validated by outside stimulus. In between all of that pressure and self-doubt, it would be kinda nice to go to the beach.

I don’t love the beach, to be honest. It’s a vast, mysterious, powerful expanse of roiling biology that mocks my frail, fragile mortality, but it’s still sort of nice to stare at when you’re stressed about selling your precious screenplay about talking robots falling in love during Winter Solstice. New York doesn’t have that same sort of elemental escape valve. A burgeoning artist cannot function on urban misery and existential dread alone. He or she needs to reclaim their connection to the natural order of things. LA has that in spades. You can go hiking, go surfing, ride a kayak through the LA River (just watch out for the garbage), or walk the numerous urban side streets of Downtown.

Living in Los Angeles is a truly holistic experience that affords you both intellectual and emotional sustenance. Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t live here or spends most of their time on the Westside. I don’t mean this to be a blatant advertisement for the home that I have made here. Not everyone will have the experience I have had. Some people come here and leave faster than Battleship left theaters. This place is not for everyone. To be honest, you don’t have to live in Los Angeles to be a great artist. It just doesn’t hurt. TC Mark

image – Shutterstock


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  • http://twitter.com/keith_pence Keith Pence (@keith_pence)

    Interesting article. I would argue that San Francisco’s relaxed nature is similar to that of Paris, which really is the artistic capital of the world (well maybe was would be the appropriate word). As someone who has lived in San Francisco, LA and New York, I’d say New York actually have a sense of culture deeper than tanning and going to the beach.

    I’m not trying to rag hardcore on LA, although I wouldn’t say I’m the cities biggest fan. But for me, being in a car for a majority of my time and having it take at least 45 minutes to go 10 miles isn’t something that I would call enjoyable. I actually dread going to LA now just because I can’t stand being in a car all the time. I don’t know, that’s just my take on LA.

    • http://twitter.com/keith_pence Keith Pence (@keith_pence)

      New York and San Francisco actually have…*

  • http://gravatar.com/dakotaballard Luca

    As a writer from Texas, California scares the hell out of me….In that huge leap of faith thing, not in the fearful sense. Kinda like when Lily wanted to go to California that one season of HIMYM. Plus side. I do actually own a beret.

  • Michael Koh

    What about Spuyten Duyvil creek/Harlem River or the East River or even the Hudson. But…who wants to kayak/canoe in there anyway.

    And Bear Mountain? Forget it, most of you kids probably don’t know where West Point is without Googling it.

    I do admit that I don’t miss the unforgiving blasts of wind during the winter but there is something nostalgic about walking around Central Park and throwing muddy snowballs at your siblings.

    I lived in SF and Santa Rosa for a few years and had pretty good experiences there. I miss the hills and the colors, and the fog and the harbor. Damn.

    • http://twitter.com/laurajaynemart Laura Jayne Martin (@laurajaynemart)

      My dad, the ranger on top of Bear Mountain, will show you where West Point is for free.

      • Michael Koh

        You just need to get to Bear Mountain first

  • Changy

    Who will be the first to take on the international follow up?

  • Matt

    You’ve clearly never lived in NYC.

  • Rachel

    You lost me when you dissed Chicago. It’s an amazing place for artists.

    • Joe

      Seconded. There’s a ton of culture there and it’s not nearly as expensive as NYC or LA.

    • Can't wait to finally get out of Chicago

      Chicago blows, if you live in Chicago and like it chances are you’re either an asshole or completely self-involved (despite your lack of merit/talent).

      • Rachel


      • Jk

        Or maybe you live in a sucky area.

    • iwriteandstuff

      I agree. Chicago actually has a lot more artistic connections than people realize and is not as crowded with hopefuls as nyc and la. Especially if you go to Columbia college Chicago. This place has already opened up so many opportunities for me as a writer. Sorry lifelong Chicagoan rant.

  • awkward

    I think you mean “Where To Live If You’re An Artist In Your 20s And Think America Is The Only Country In Existence”.



      • JK

        Ha! Agreed!!

  • Madeline

    Move to California, I hear you’ll have a better time

  • http://www.facebook.com/pritchard.kevin Kevin Pritchard

    “Don’t judge LA if you’ve never lived there.”

    Judges everywhere else.

  • Elijah Taylor

    This site has become shallow as fuck. If you are an “artist” (and everyone apparently is in both of those cities) you will create anywhere.

  • Jesse

    New Orleans will always be the most artistic city in my mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.schilling.754 David Schilling

    I should have called this article “I’m Biased.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/GypsyDave Dave Carmocan

      Well, of course, everyone is a bit biased.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.beardsley.16 Jon Beardsley

    It sounds like you’re discussing the best place to be a media whore, not an artist. Baltimore’s the best for that! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/jon.beardsley.16 Jon Beardsley

      Erm… the best for being an artist, not a media whore, hah.

      • WILLY

        Agreed. For both. ha

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.schilling.754 David Schilling

      Baltimore is best for being a whore? I’m sorry, I DON’T FOLLOW.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jon.beardsley.16 Jon Beardsley

        Although you can do alright being a whore in Baltimore.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GypsyDave Dave Carmocan

    I guess there are pros and cons of living in any city, but to say that New York (or any other city you live in) is not a source of artistic inspiration is a bit silly. You can excel wherever you are as long as you are in your element and even be famous because there is this fancy thing called the internet that has a tendency of transcending distance.

  • http://www.thebestcitiesintheusa.com/the-best-cities-in-the-usa/where-to-live-if-youre-an-artist-in-your-20s-thought-catalog.html Where To Live If You're An Artist In Your 20s | Thought Catalog | The Best Cities In The USA

    […] more here: Where To Live If You're An Artist In Your 20s | Thought Catalog ← Top 10 Cities to Celebrate Bastille Day | […]

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10025811 Alexandra Glorioso

    I agree New York is a difficult place to live as an artist. However, I absolutely love writing about it and basically just really like this city. Los Angeles seems vapid and boring to me personally… and yea I am biased.. and so I wouldn’t really like living there and therefore wouldn’t like being an artist there. I do think you can be an artist anywhere no matter how happy you are. I do get that there might not be opportunities in every city thought.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10025811 Alexandra Glorioso

      last word should be though**

  • Donald

    This article is so full of it. Have you ever been to Chicago? Steppenwolf Theater, Goodman, iO and SecondCity, the foundation of modern comedy and the source of a ton of mainstream financially successful actors. Authors abound as well. Also, it isn’t full of assholes who claim they’re artists or that their city is the only place to truly be an artist. Congrats dude, worthless read is worthless.

  • Cody

    New to the site as of right now, but having read your about page, this article is the antithesis of what this site is supposed to be about.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jon.beardsley.16 Jon Beardsley

      Yeah, doesn’t it say something about supporting journalism?

      • Cody

        Well I was referring to parts:
        1. Thought Catalog is illuminating and informative.
        3. TC contributors are smart. They’re at the vanguard of their respective fields and have published everywhere from The Paris Review to Maxim.

        This is neither illuminating nor informative, and this contributor doesn’t even appear intelligent, no matter how hard he tries.

      • Jake

        In your opinion.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jon.beardsley.16 Jon Beardsley

        Haha, well sure, agreed. But all insults aside, this doesn’t really qualify as journalism. This is like a high schooler who knows a lot of big words wrote an essay about his favorite city.

  • Michel

    “As someone who has lived in San Francisco can attest, the vast majority of people under 40 in that city are perfectly happy not doing a whole lot.”

    I strongly disagree. San Francisco’s entrepreneurial culture spans over the artistic world as well and I’ve never seen people engage in as many side projects as I have in San Francisco (NYC and Paris are other cities I’ve lived in…).

    But once again, San Francisco is a city of contrasts and contradictions.

  • nora

    Um, seriously? “…notoriety, the respect of one’s peers and financial compensation,” is attainable in any city. Of course, it might vary, but the implication that a valid artistic career can only be found in LA or New York is ridiculous. Neither art nor success is determined solely by geography.

    This post reeks of arrogance and naivete, sadly, an all-too-common combination.

    • A. Specter

      I agree completely with Nora. This article is utter pomposity. It’s not even clear to me what we’re talking about here. Art? What is “art”? I gather from the tortured English that this person fancies himself a writer. Well, sir, there’s not a city on Earth for this shit. I suggest taking your robot screenplay to another world, possibly another dimension. It appears this one is not giving you the kind of feedback you require, existential dread. If you’re not experiencing it in LA it’s because you’re too puffed up to notice. In the words of, Charles Bukowski, someone who trully understood that city, ‘what you need is a taste of death’.


    Dave, you’re the winning combination of arrogant and stupid. I know a lot of artists living in Los Angeles and New York, to be sure, but those cities’ communities are flooded with too many hopefuls – many of whom lack actual talent or the knowledge to get themselves established – and suggesting that these are the only places for artists to live is incredibly naive. It also regurgitates tired cliches and tropes.

    Chicago, for instance, has one of the most vibrant theatre and music scenes in the country. It’s produced countless prolific actors, artists, bands, rappers, singer-songwriters, authors, poets, and entire genres. Suggesting that this city-as well as others-lacks the cultural and ethnic diversity of NY and LA is completely misinformed, dismissive, and insulting.

    Also, nothing about living in LA provides “emotional sustenance”. don’t kid yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.beardsley.16 Jon Beardsley

    I genuinely thought this was going to be an article talking about great places to live, not just somebody saying “Well it either has to be NY or LA, and well, it’s LA you fuckers.”

  • http://duncansomerside.wordpress.com duncansomerside

    Totally, la is a great place for artists, if artists are only interested in being fake and stupid. None of this is true at all. I am from arizona and I hate la. The only “artists” that go there are out to become famous and make money, which to me is not an artist. You said it gives city dwelling artists the space to be artistic, yeah, if you can get out of the smog, so you might as well just live in the beautiful (and actually artistic) city of san fran. Also, I feel obligated to stick up for Chicago. Obviously, youre a stuck up weather snob who only likes warm sunny weather. For some artists this is not stimulating. Also, nyc and chicago have the best architecture, no one would say la has good architecture. I would certainly agree it does not have the diversity that nyc has, and la does have pockets of diversity but the well-known places only have big boobed bimbos. which chicago does not have at all. Nyc is by far the best city for artists in the usa, and even it is pushing out its artists because of the astronomical price for rent. The new up and coming cites are the ones you on the second tier of cites, mark my word.

  • Avlis

    +1 for this being a shit article.

  • Jake

    Chicago is where most artists get good at their craft before moving on to NY or LA, and is full of many, many talented people, be they in the theatre, improv, or music community. Chicago has the most theatres of any city. This article is incredibly naive and inaccurate.

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