Not surprisingly I have some thought on this. Here they are, in no particular order :
I didn’t come into the arts to make money. I came into the arts to change the world.
I was 20 at the time, or maybe 18 (assuming the theatre I made while still studying counts), I was young, I forgive my young self that arrogance, the arrogance that believed that I – simply by my choice to make a difference – WOULD make a difference. I wasn’t totally wrong, but what I know now is that I have to make this difference with others. I have to make this difference with and for others. And sometimes the difference I want to make isn’t one that others want to make. (That doesn’t make me wrong about the things I still want to change*, but it does make it harder.) This is what I know, 30 years on, I’m quite interested in what I’ll know in another 30 years, maybe it will come full circle …
The thing is, having professionalised the making and makers of art, we’re now left with an undercurrent (and sometimes stated) belief that if it’s not being paid (and not being made 9-5, Monday to Friday, which is an absurd bowing to capitalist structures in the face of creativity) it’s not ‘professional’. And that’s such bollocks. If you take it seriously, if it’s not a hobby, if you make work to share, then you’re a creater. A maker. An artist. I simply don’t believe that my worth as an artist, a maker, is in parallel with how much I’m paid.
I’m not going to rehearse Daniel’s arguments here (everything he says is great, especially the idea that the last thing that’s useful right now is to divide venues and artists into us and them), but I do want to add my concern around the idea (that I’ve been hearing an awful lot lately) that those who find it hard to make money from making work in the arts are primarily in their 20s, 30s. That simply isn’t true, despite it being the tone of most conversations. Loads of brilliant artists, in every field, continue to not make much money (or any money) FOR THEIR ENTIRE WORKING LIVES.
I’m not saying this is right (though in a world where nurses, teachers, firefighters, labourers, cleaners are also appallingly underpaid, I find it a little hard to shout for better rates for artists without shouting for better – fairer – rates for ALL) but it is a truth.
Being paid (a little, a lot) for a piece of work doesn’t make you – or me – a better artist.
Not being paid for a piece of work doesn’t make you – or me – a worse artist.
The payment (welcome) and the art (created) are NOT necessarily joined up.
Yes, it IS nice to be funded/advanced/commissioned, to be able to write/direct/perform fully paid and not have to worry about where else the money is coming from while ALSO making the work, but simply the fact of being paid does not guarantee good art.
Not being paid does not guarantee good art either.
Nothing guarantees good art.
And getting older, being middle aged or elderly as an artist, is no guarantee of better pay.
So much of this conversation (that I’ve read anyway) has been about how hard it is for emerging artists, artists in their 20s and 30s. Believe me, it DOESN’T necessarily get better.
We might get better at trading off one (paid) piece of work against another (unpaid/unpaid-until-sale), we might have a bit more of a stockpile behind us or a better-paid part time/’proper’ job, but the assumption that the lack of funding for arts affects primarily those artists in their 20s and 30s is fundamentally wrong, and is one of the main reasons so many people drop off from working, from making, from creating. Our concern needs to be for ALL. And right now, as a middle-aged artist who’s been making work for 30 years, it’s pretty hard.
Showing you mine :
I’ve written about this before, in this blog, and am always astonished at the way so many people seem to think book-writers are hugely well paid. That’s a myth, especially for those writing (the lesser selling) literary fiction. Anyway …
I earned £1500 for my first book (and more in royalties over the years, and foreign sales) but that was the sum total of the advance. For a book I had already spent a year writing, very part time, mostly in the middle of the night.
I once had a £25k advance for a book. ONCE.
And yes, I’ve been fortunate enough that there have been royalties and foreign sales and further English language sales and options. But none of these are ever guaranteed, and they’re certainly not the kind of income I can count on from year to year. (In fact, I’ve been waiting for payment for over a year on the two Theodora books sold last December to a country-to-be-nameless for now, books are in shops, people tell me it’s a good translation, my agent has been trying to get the payment for about 6 months, but as yet, not a thing. This is not an unusual occurrence, I’ve heard many similar takes from many authors.)
I’ve written my latest book out of contract (ie, for nothing) in the hope (trust!) that my agent will sell it later. Like all of my books, it’s not like the last one. This makes it far harder to sell, and makes me less of a ‘good bet’ for publishers. I understand this, that’s the way the market is, despite what the readers say, what readers do (according to sales figures) is look for an author who will write more or less the same book time after time with a few variations. That’s the market. And I don’t fit the market pattern as a novelist.
For some years I earned much more as a writer than I did as a theatre maker. So I used my writing work to support my theatre making.
Recently I’ve earned more as a director, and that has supported my writing work.
This year, as a director, I earned £400 (total) for one 6-week job, £500/week for a few three-week jobs, £1000 for an 8-day job, and £1000 for a job that was the culmination of three years work.
I no more value the contribution I make as a director in correlation to the money I earn, than I think the book I wrote out of contract is worth less than the one I earned £25k for. Each piece of work is as valid as the other. Each piece of work (especially the writing work) has a potential to sell more, make more, in future (in royalties, in foreign sales), but if I were to value my working day by a daily rate, there would simply be no point. Which is why I don’t.
Yes, we need to be paid, to live and work in the world we’re in.
And yes, we need to keep making work.
Sometimes these things don’t fit together very comfortably.
I’ve found it very frustrating talking to certain people about funding for the Fun Palaces. They’re on a salary, often a salary for (officially) working with artists and helping them create. And time and again they (the salaried ones) tell me (the unsalaried one) that I need to spend more (unpaid) time filling in another form. More (unpaid) time in another meeting (that they’re paid for). More (unpaid) time making sure that I tick this box and comply with that wording.
And fair enough, but sometimes it would be great for a (salaried) person to acknowledge how much (unpaid) work they’re expecting me to do to create this.
Actually, that has happened twice. And I was so grateful I nearly cried.
So, to boil it down :
- not all artists struggling to make ends meet are young, and if we don’t also worry about the artists who are middle-aged and older, then we get a less varied, 20-something arts world made by and speaking primarily to 20-somethings. Not good.
- professionalisation (ugly word) is tricky. Valuing our work by how much we’re paid for it is tricky. Not being paid does not necessarily mean the work is not of value, and being paid does not necessarily mean the work is of value.
- being paid DOES make it easier to make work, not least because many people find it easier to do one job than three.
- people on salaries could really help those of us who are not salaried by agreeing to more phone meetings, by not expecting us to come to you all the time, and by acknowledging that holiday pay, pension schemes, sickness and compassionate leave are things freelancers NEVER have, and that therefore, however hard you’re working in the salaried job, the freelancer is probably struggling just that little bit more, and could do with a little bit more flexibility.
- if it’s hard (financially, creatively) to be an artist, it is harder to be an artist who is not white, male, able-bodied, middle class, well-educated. (Yes, I know we’re tired of this argument, but it does need saying, and it needs saying every time. Tired of it is not a reason not to acknowledge it.)
- saying I won’t work unless you pay me is fine, if you want to work in a traditional (theatre, arts, whatever) hierarchy where someone is a boss and someone is the worker. I don’t want to work like that, have never wanted to work like that, so the artists now asking other artists to sign up to an ethos of “I won’t make work unless you pay me” doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to work in a you/me/us/them dichotomy. Not least because much of the time I am working for myself. It simply doesn’t make sense for me to treat myself as both boss and worker.
- I want to make work above all. I will continue to do it paid or not. I want to be paid, I NEED to be paid, but not being paid will not stop me making work. Just as I cleaned houses for rich people to afford to go to university, I will always trade off one type of work for payment against another type of work for little or none. (And of course I would prefer to be paid for making creative work!)
- I believe we are a better society for arts and culture. I believe arts and culture ARE society, that they are humanity. I want access to arts and culture for all, proper access – not just open doors, but WELCOMING open doors, encouraging open doors, open doors that understand how very very hard it is for some people to cross any new threshold. I believe our state and our society has a duty to make sure arts and culture are available to all. So I will keep knocking at the doors of the salaried and asking them to help us (unsalaried) as we make the Fun Palaces project of arts and culture for all. And I will love it (I do love it) when they say yes because they want to make a difference too.
* equality, diversity, level playing fields on access to the arts, level playing fields on access to health, education – you know, that basic stuff we are still so far from achieving.