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.