We can’t eat elation…

So I’ve been pretty lazy with writing my blogs, and I know any self promoting artist must constantly put out information and work but I wanted to make sure I had something valid to say, something more than my poetry. So the following is a call to action, and like always, I want to hear back from you – I want your responses, comments, criticisms (constructive or otherwise), I want to know what you think.

During my work I come into contact with so many amazing, creative individuals from all disciplines – and they are really amazing. Incredible artists who spend their time giving birth to new, innovative work that inspires, educates and stimulates. From performance artists to visual artists, musicians to writers, I get to meet and work with some of the most incredible beings on this planet. But most suffer from the same illness that being an artist in this country can cause: poverty.

When I talk about this with people, they are usually pretty empathetic but one thing that comes up again and again is that we should supplement our artistic endeavors with a “real job”. For those of you out there who think along these lines, I want to paint a picture of what it actually takes to be a full time artist. ??We all run our own small business, that means that far from simply sitting around, smoking joints, sipping latte’s and talking about Kafka, we actually have to do some of the most mundane but labour intensive stuff – of course, there are moments where we do the above, like anyone else, but that time is much less than you might think. We don’t have a regular income, so we must generate that work ourselves. Generating that work is no different to what other small businesses must do. We have to create marketing strategies, implement them, apply for grants (these take hours and are much like winning the lottery), create and run events (which of course have their own long list of mundane tasks), maintain financials like profit and loss statements, network (constantly), make millions of telephone calls (sometimes I feel like I work in my own little call centre), produce proposals, and do other admin stuff. I know I speak on behalf of most creatives when I say that my working day is usually 10 -12 hours. And it doesn’t stop because of the weekend. In fact, it intensifies – that’s when we do what we do best: perform, exhibit, etc. And, somehow, whilst doing all this, we still have to find time to actually create.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love what I do. Absolutely. And I simply can’t see myself doing anything else, but it seems crazy to me that I have to go into combat constantly against other extremely talented artist to try and secure tiny amounts of funding. And we all deserve it. I know that when I submit a grant application that I am competing with a vast pool of very creative people – people who deserve that money just as much as me.

In a system and society that places value only on that which can turn a profit and generate an income, it can be said that not enough value is placed on the importance art should have in our society. Art is very rarely profitable – but is it such a crazy idea that we artists, creators, crafters of song, poetry, images, life, might be able to pay our rent, buy our groceries month after month and not actually constantly be in fear of the fact that next week, we might not even have enough money to get to the next gig? I don’t know a single artist whose goal it is to get rich, but I do know a bunch who simply want to stop worrying about money – constantly.

What is insane to me, is that Gina Reinhardt can make a million dollars every half hour and most of the artists I know regularly struggle to pay rent.

While we’re here, I’d like to take a moment to talk about “love jobs”. Those are the events, work, etc that event organisers and organisations are always asking artists to do for free. Those that know me, know that I am absolutely against free work for a number of reasons. It’s not because I’m a tight arse and it’s not because I’m greedy – it’s neither of those things. The biggest reason (though there are many) is that I believe it completely undervalues any artist and all their work to do so. I have been undercut many times by other artists simply seeking to gain exposure but it always does more harm than good. Let’s look at it this way, no one would ever ask a builder to work for free, not a sound technician, not a tutor – ever. Why is that? We value the work they do, we understand it takes skill and time and we appreciate that that person would not have a viable business if they worked for free. So why artists? On the rare occasion I do an event for free (mainly for fundraisers or worthy causes) I spend a great deal of time writing, rehearsing, traveling, performing and the rest of it. Why is my time and craft worth less than anyone else’s? For those of you who work in offices, would you work for free just because? For the love of it? No matter how much you love your work, you expect to be paid for it, so why should an artist not expect the same? (As an aside I would like to say that artists doing free work for other artists is completely different and is far removed from exploitation – often, it is collaborative or a bartering deal of some sort and these I completely understand and engage in myself).

There is a consistent perception that our creations don’t cost us anything therefore we shouldn’t charge for it. Let me give you an example of how untrue this is. Recently, I was asked to do an event for a worthy cause. I agreed because the cause was something that resonated particularly loudly for me. I was asked to write a piece, memorise it, be on site for sound check at 5pm perform at 9pm and then network until midnight. The piece took me 4 hours to write, 8 to memorise and I rehearsed that particular piece for a total of about 10 hours. Take into consideration traveling time and then the time spent at the actual event and we’re talking a total of 30 hours work for nothing. Nada. Zip. How many people do you know who would actually do 30 hours of solid work for nothing? And then, for other similar events where I have asked for as little as $200 (let’s put that into perspective – $6.67/hour) the organisers have balked and gone with someone who would do it for free.

At this point, I feel it’s necessary to reiterate what I said early – I love what I do. Nothing compares with the sensation of connecting with a room full of people, that experience of being told I inspired someone, that feeling of elation that comes after a performance. But I can’t eat elation and my landlord doesn’t accept inspiration for rent (though wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place if we could eat elation and pay for things with inspiration!!)

So, I know a lot of you will have been nodding your head in understanding, or if you’re an artist, in agreement but perhaps wondering what you can do about it? Let me put it this way: I have seen people go totally crazy at a gig, completely lost in the music that sweaty, passionate musicians are playing, connecting with the tunes in a way only music can make us feel. I have seen people listening to poetry, watched them nod in agreement, seen their arms covered in goosebumps as they listened to someone pour out their inner most thoughts in a way so eloquent as to make us all want to be better human beings. I’ve seen people stand in front of art for the longest stretches of time looking into that piece of work and perhaps seeing themselves reflected in it in some way.

I have then seen these punters balk at the idea of buying a CD for $10, a book for $15, an original work for however much and then walk to the bar to buy themselves a cocktail for $18.

This is not a criticism but an observation – the value we place on the immediacy of alcohol or something similar versus art that actually sustains us, feeds our minds and souls is totally out of whack. This is a symptom of the illness that is capitalism at its worst. Now I wont descend into a lecture on the evils of capitalism, because that’s not what this is about. But I will say this: Next time art moves you – in whatever way, think about buying that piece of merchandise, that photo, that artwork, because that is money that the artist needs and nearly all those proceeds will go into their pocket so that they can keep creating that which you love. Support your favorite artists – go to their gigs, their exhibitions, their event. If they make you feel something in this world where emotions are stunted then know that they are worthy. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most loyal and supportive people on earth. Do not underestimate how much I value that support – I know there are so many of you who regularly come to my gigs, spread the word, support me financially – and you need to know that it is because of you that I have scraped by these last couple of years.

If you are an event organiser please, please don’t ask artists to work for free. Respect that those individuals have put everything they are into whatever their medium is and they deserve something for their efforts.

And finally, if you are an artist make it part of your ethos to be a fair pay advocate – don’t do jobs for free, don’t undercut other artists – it only devalues your own art form. But most importantly: don’t stop creating – the world needs us, maybe now more than ever.

5 comments

  • June 7, 2012 at 10:57 am //

    Perfectly voiced and very well written Candy, you’re completely on the money (or lack of it) in what you say. I love living in Sydney, it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been too, but it has the potential to really become a cultural wasteland if the Australians masses don’t reduce the amount they fund and obsess about sport and start putting some energy and finances into backing the arts!

  • June 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm //

    Hi Candy.

    It is so true that one cannot eat elation! And I sympathize, I do. But here is the rub. There are a few different angles from which to view volunteer work. It is a way to increase contacts and get your work out there, it is a stepping stone in many careers and it is also a gift.

    Doing your work for free is advertising, creating a vibe of busy lusciousness about your art. People in all professions do it. From public servants to interns, from high court judges to teachers, accommodation providers and the local supermarkets, everyone does it. You could view it as creating community and /or branding yourself.

    As a gift, sharing your work for free will be a generosity often returned. You never know who is on an organising committee or what they might share they might have to offer. It is an opportunity to network. I know… there has to be limits but perhaps the boundaries could be reworked to enjoy offering free performances. Perhaps you could offer a certain amount of freebies a year and auction them to the organisation that offers you the best publicity deal in return.. attach it to a tour, get some kudos in return.

    As a business professional you are an entrepreneur and as an entrepreneur you need to know if your business is viable. Perhaps it needs a little tweaking or to be loved into a position where people want to pay you more. I love your work and your talent is divine, but maybe you could workshop a few other products ideas… something which is scalable. By that I mean can you create something to get out there on mass.

    Anyway. Your post is valid. I get it. I’d just hate to see such talent miss out on opportunity. All the best.

    Syrah

    • June 27, 2012 at 6:32 am //

      Hey Syrah,

      Thanks for your feedback – and like I said – I welcome dialogue on everything. I agree with you 100% and perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. Definitely – free gigs/workshops/events etc can often be an excellent marketing tool and like I said in my post, I often do free work for organisations with a great cause and little budgets. This post was predominantly about the culture of *expecting* artists to work for free because it doesn’t *cost them anything* whilst paying everyone else involved in the event (for example). That’s a burden that mainly artists have to bear whereas other industries don’t have the same expectations, if you know what I mean?