It's not that artists can't live or create great work here, but their art careers certainly aren't going to go anywhere if they confine themselves to the Chicago city limits. In order to be shown at one of the better galleries in town (note: there are no great galleries in town) they must belong to a very small clique of individuals that graduated from one of three academic art programs here (although if you don't have an MFA, God help you). So we're talking about a VERY small number of artists here that are accepted as such. They all know each other, they all support each other, and they all ostracize anyone who isn't in their clique. Here's the really fucked up thing, though: Despite having spent an insane amount of time and money on art school, not a single one of them has any real artistic skill. They can talk your ear off with big words and run art theory circles around you, but in the end, their actual ART is crap because they were never taught how to make art, they were taught about art theory. That's okay, though because their main objective isn't to make great art, it's to climb the art world ladder. So, in summary, the Chicago art world consists of a small number of emperors, all wearing no clothes.
The gallery owners here know the professors and help to promote the grad students when they graduate; it's a closed system, and I have no chance of breaking in. Besides that, my art isn't trendy enough, and it's too aesthetic. I don't deal with all of the conceptual drivel that the emperors were taught in school, so my art isn't relevant here. If I remain in Chicago, I will always remain on the sidelines, showing at alternative spaces, garden walks and cafés, and never allowed to play with the big kids.
And aside from all of that, there are other big problems for an artist living in Chicago.
People who live in Chicago don't buy art. This is a town of hard working people who don't have time for culture. We go to the bar, we watch the game, we drive our cars, we go to the movies... we don't buy fine art. And the tiny handful of eccentrics with deep pockets that do, certainly aren't going to buy a piece from the guy down the street, they're going to get their art from New York or L.A. or London or Berlin, because then it's For Real. And really, who can blame them, with all the nude Chicago emperors running around calling themselves artists? I wouldn't want to buy art here either if I didn't know better. But the bottom line is this: if you're an artist living in Chicago, you're either showing your work in New York or LA, or you have a day job you're never going to give up.
I've seen what this town has done to world class artists who have tried to stick it out here and make things work, and I'm getting the hell out now. Why Berlin? Well, why not. I don't see myself living in either L.A. or New York, so I'm looking to other parts of the world. London's expensive, and Paris doesn't interest me. I love Germany, I love Berlin, and I feel at home there more than any other city in the world besides Chicago, so Berlin it is. People tell me the art scene isn't what it was 10 years ago, but that's no reason to give up and remain in a City that pushes me to the sidelines. I refuse to be overlooked because I didn't spend $100K on an art education that doesn't teach anything about how to make art, and I refuse to grovel at people's feet and beg them to accept me and let me join their awful little clique.
While I'm sure Berlin will have it's own issues, and I can't imagine they'll all great me with open arms and a red carpet, it's at least an international cultural hub with a lot of stuff going on. Chicago will never be culturally relevant as long as the ruling clique continues to squash original thought and look to bigger cities to give it cues. It's turned into a city of ambitious imitators, one of which I could never be.