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The United States has a fine tradition in many aspects of the arts. Despite this, creative artists have always worked outside the American mainstream. The federal government and state and local governments do promote the arts to an extent, but less so than in many other western countries. When governmental budgets need to be cut, the arts often suffer first. Faced with a free, unsubsidized market for their services, artists with real talent have to struggle to make a living. Lifestyle compromises artists make include teaching art, working as commercial rather than fine artists, or working in unrelated professions.

Large arts-oriented cities like New York and Los Angeles are a case in point. They attract many young people with aspirations in the theater, films, dance, music, or the visual arts. Of course, many of these people, although they may be reluctant to admit it, have no talent. For those that do have talent, the competition for attention is fierce. Artists who succeed are usually the same types of competitive people who would do well in the professions or in business. Even among this group, however, the art-buying public has the final word. Outside the large cities, tastes in art are not particularly sophisticated. When artists do succeed in generating broad popular appeal for their work, say in the case of painters, they are commonly not among the avant-garde. The enormous success of the American painter Thomas Kinkade, who specializes in broadly realistic themes, is just one clear example.

Ultimately, the position of creative artist does not enjoy a very high rank in the American social structure. Unless they are artists themselves, American parents do not commonly dream of their children becoming painters or ballerinas. Americans born with talent will continue to express themselves nevertheless, despite the long odds.

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