On Facebook today, this photograph did its rounds. I’m not entirely sure who the candid creator is, but by way of immediate credit, one G Giuliano claims the sharing applause.
And so, how about that? If you’re a creative, how true is this statement of you? Do you privately seethe when flimsy quid pro quos (exposure, portfolio building, name checking, Etc.) are all the payment you’re promised for hours and hours of hard work? Do you oscillate between win or fail when evaluating actually how valuable accepting unpaid commissions or briefs are? Or are you happy to work for free?
Of course, take your pick of artists who are charting musically and earning handsomely from it; reel when you realise how much some artistic directors, interior and graphic designers are charging for their efforts; catch your breath when you read how much this actor or that actress was paid for their latest role in a film or stage production. There are plenty of people out there making a more than solid living out of their creativity. And good on them. But what makes them the exceptions to the rules when there are millions of creatives out there who are probably just as capable of dreaming up equally as show stopping material?
I’m surrounded by artists, creatives, dreamers and abstract doers. The majority of them barely earn a Cent from work they pour their imagination and creative souls into, often times juggling a grey day job with their ‘second life’ passions to, yes, pay their bills. What’s more confusing is that when they dare to even mention monetary payment for their toil – their ideas, their intellectual property, their blood, sweat and knowledge – they’re lambasted as diva-ish. “It’s a privilege to be involved with this project…”, “There are hundreds of people who would give their right arm to be doing this job…”, “You’re lucky to be getting a chance to get your name out there…” And so on. The entire reason we have the existentialist cliché of impoverished, underfed artists sitting in drafty garrets while they pursue their art is because of this mindset, perhaps.
Really? As one Apprentice contestant effectively declared on the show a couple of years ago – I forget which one it was because they all wear the same clothes, plus she was saying it to boost her own reputation as an effective manager of a team of creatives – if there weren’t creatives, there would be no business. If artists didn’t exist, neither would economy. In short, most of our lives involve stuff that was dreamt up by someone creative, or involves somebody’s creative brain at some stage in its incarnation. Take email for example: Ray Tomlinson came up with the idea in 1971. If you think about email (and think about it really hard), how struck are you by how extraordinarily right-brained it actually is? It was radical enough in the later ’90s when it started to become a kosher means of communication to common or garden plebs like you and I. It has since gone on to revolutionise the way we communicate with one another.
The point here is – and although Ray Tomlinson and his email invention deserves the kudos it warrants – what makes poster design for a club (which will generate plenty of profit on the night, providing the visual publicity is right) or a band’s two-hour set in a busy pub (which will do exactly the same as the previous bracketed statement) fall into the category marked ‘unpaid’?
In my opinion, the sad truth is that there are thousands of people who are too quick to accept a salary of £0. I hark back to embittered furore that still blazes between journalists and bloggers, for instance, whereby swarms of journalists feel it’s bloggers’ faults that the reason they’re not able to command the fees they’d like to are because bloggers are undermining the market – the rise of ‘citizen journalism’ as it’s become known. I state my opinion, but I don’t think it’s okay.
The absolute truth above and beyond the flippant above statement is that creativity and art, whatever form it takes, quite simply isn’t as understood for its importance in our lives as it ought to be. And yes; this is probably because creatives, crudely speaking, don’t have the same thought processes as their more corporate-minded counterparts. To that end, selling oneself, convincing investors that they’re more than worth the money, even having the business nous to ask for payment, is something we just don’t know how to begin addressing.
Are we being exploited? Or are we creating rods for our own backs? Should art and artists demand a different language in life (because if you don’t state the required phrases on a job application form, you’re out before you’ve begun) that enables them to harvest the benefits left-brainers appear to obtain so straightforwardly? Or should we suffer for our art, like the art suffragettes said we should? As a modern female, who recognises the plight of her female forebears where democracy was concerned, I say we insist on persuasion equality, whatever our discipline and whatever our level.
That’ll be £1,000, please.