Arts Jobs Are Valid. It's Time We Treat Them As Such.
[Originally published October 20, 2020 on my former website.]
Hello, dear readers! I know it's a cliché sentence at this point, but I hope you're well. Surviving, thriving, somewhere in between, I know you're doing your best and I'm sending you love because this year is, pardon my French, a little bit the worst.
Something making this year far worse than it needs to be is the lack of support artists have received from governments around the world. We already know that arts jobs aren't taken or treated as seriously as other jobs, such as doctors, teachers, accountants, scientists, etc. Artists have always had to deal with disdain from family members, elected officials, and trolls on the Internet. Most people love to listen to music, watch TV shows, go to the movies, read books, hang paintings on walls, and put children in dance classes, but they also tend to wonder, "What's your real job?"
I've had my fair share of experiences denigrating what I do and invalidating my passion for music. Sometimes students I teach don't even realize that I studied music in higher education; they assume I play and teach flute for fun but have a "proper" job during the day. And the thing is, it's not their fault for believing this; our society contributes to the toxic idea that artists do what they love on the side. They have a 9 to 5 and then they paint to relax, or they sing in the shower.
Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with having a non-arts job and doing arts-related activities as your hobby or side passion. But artists who make their living from their art have real jobs; arts jobs are real jobs.
Most people love to listen to music, watch TV shows, go to the movies, read books, hang paintings on walls, and put children in dance classes, but they also tend to wonder, "What's your real job?"
I've been passionate about this topic for many years, but the reason I'm writing about it today is due to recent events in the United Kingdom. COVID has certainly disrupted everyone's lives in one way or another, but it has been particularly disheartening to witness how little some governments care about the artists in their country. By now, you are probably aware of the lengthy shutdowns on Broadway and the West End; the fact that most orchestras can't operate normally or at all; and freelance artists of all kinds have seen gigs and projects cancelled with no confirmation as to when their livelihood will pick up again. Due to this, some governments have been supporting this field financially, understanding how vital arts and culture is to human lives. Some have not.
I do want to acknowledge the fact that no one knows when things will really return to normal, and that's not what I begrudge governments for. I also acknowledge the fact that there have been wonderful initiatives from groups and individuals to move their work online and continue generating some income, as I have done myself. But the British government decided to adopt another, somewhat unusual tactic in order to "support" artists: encourage them to retrain and find new jobs.
Here is the ad that made headlines recently in the UK:
The image is of a ballerina tying the laces on her pointe shoes, and the text reads: "Fatima's next job could be in cyber (she just doesn't know it yet). Rethink. Reskill. Reboot." and it has been endorsed by Cyber First and the British government.
When I came across this ad, I truly felt sucker-punched. The ad suggests that the work Fatima does as a ballerina is worthless. Has no value. Is not a real job. Isn't sustainable. And it also suggests that Fatima is deluding herself by continuing to work as a ballerina; she "doesn't know" that there are better jobs out there, which is why this ad had to be put out, right?
This ad is condescending and patronizing. Artists are told to "rethink" their choices. "Why be a starving artist when you can make good money at a real job?" Artists are told to "reskill" because apparently, the arts don't involve actual skill. "Anyone can sing and dance about onstage! Anyone can paint a picture! Anyone can learn an instrument for fun!" Artists are told to "reboot" their lives and careers. "We can't support you through COVID; it's up to you to find a more suitable job and start your life over."
Again, I want to make some things clear. I believe the arts are for anyone and everyone, whether you participate in them professionally or not. I believe, as the world evolves, artists need to adapt their craft to make the most out of their career. I believe you can be a professional artist and have a "regular" job to make ends meet, and that doesn't lessen your value as an artist. I believe that doctors and plumbers and accountants have real jobs with real skills involved. What I don't believe is that when a global pandemic happens, artists should be told to simply abandon their work and craft, go back to school somehow, and find a job in a completely different field.
Artists are told to "reboot" their lives and careers. "We can't support you through COVID; it's up to you to find a more suitable job and start your life over."
We need the arts to live. It's as simple as that. Human beings have always been creative creatures, there is no denying that. And up until quite recently in history, most of the world has actually valued creativity. Storytelling and connection is in our bones, each and every one of us, whether we actively participate in art or simply consume it. Of course, artists used to be much freer to work on their art without worrying about paying bills, but thanks to capitalism, we have had to commodify our work to make it viable and make ends meet. That's all fine and good (or rather, a topic for another time), so why do some people still refuse to accept our work as real work? Real jobs?
A few days ago, Bernhard Kerres, a wonderful executive coach and creator of the Be Your Own Manager course, which I am currently enrolled in, also shared his thoughts on what is going on in the UK regarding the arts. He suggests that it is not society that supports artists; it is artists that support society. And I agree.
We need the arts to live. It's as simple as that.
Artists challenge the status quo.
Artists embody vulnerability and human connection.
Artists are truth-tellers.
Artists make us feel.
Artists contribute massively to the economy.
Artists connect us to the past, present, and future.
Artists create beauty.
Artists challenge beauty and social norms.
Artists make memories.
Artists teach us life skills.
Artists change our lives.
Artists better our lives.
Artists are valid.
Art is valid.
I had a little cry about this a few days ago because it is so sad to know that no matter how hard we try, no matter how important our work is to human life, we are still not taken seriously. I am a flutist, a flute teacher, and a blogger (writer feels a bit ... strange for me to say). What I do is important to my students, to people who watch my concerts, to people who read what I have to say. I made the decision to develop my musician skills in CEGEP and university. And while there are lots of problems in the classical music field specifically (notice I'm taking a course called "Be Your Own Manager" ... music schools don't offer the most well-rounded education unfortunately), it is a valid field to train in.
Think about it. For those of you who were at home during COVID lockdowns, can you imagine having zero TV shows or movies to watch, books to read, music and podcasts to listen to, concerts and live shows to stream, colouring books to use? Can you imagine a world without any form of art at all? I certainly can't.
I do not need to retrain. I do not need to rethink my career choice (trust me, artists put a lot of thought into their career choices). I do not need to develop skills in the science field, because that is not where I need to be as me, as Caitlin, in my lifetime. I do not need to reboot my life just because some people don't see the value in what I do.
I witness the worthiness of my career every time one of my students tells me they are proud of themselves for achieving their goals. I witness the worthiness of my career every time I move someone with my flute performances. I witness the worthiness of my career every time someone tells me they learned something new from reading my work.
And while I understand that as the world evolves, artists must evolve with it, I do not believe that means we have to give up our art and find a new career path. Governments must support arts and culture. Artists must be valued not only as contributing members of society and the economy, but as as contributing members of a fulfilling, thriving, joyous, and beautiful world.
Thank you for reading. If you're interested in my work as an artist, feel free to check out my Performances Page for my upcoming concerts, as well as my Lessons Page for information on taking private flute lessons with me. You can also reach out with any comments or questions under this post, or by submitting the form on my Contact page.