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Posts Tagged ‘art’

10 Pieces of Careers Advice to My Younger Self

December 11th, 2012 4 comments

1. The majority of career jobs do not involve work or goals you intrinsically value

Traditional careers advice tells you that a full-time career is the one essential source of valuable work, and that valuable work is the source of self-esteem in life. But the majority of career jobs are work towards goals that you do not personally value. Self-esteem does come from valuable work – but only very rarely does this work begin within a career.

2. The rewards of rewarding jobs are suffocated by the stress of a full-time career

Medicine, teaching and working for a charity are all worthy professions with rewarding goals. But these rewards are so submerged beneath overwork and work politics in a full-time career as to make the rewards almost imperceptible.

3. The pleasure of creative work is not found in a ‘creative’ career

Most careers in the ‘creative industries’ are not creative, but administrative. And the positions in these industries that do require creativity do not want ideas that stem from your own personal interests – they require ideas to sell their clients’ products or find the largest audience. This is a wholly different different creativity from taking pleasure in your own creative ideas.

4. A full-time career does not give you control of your life, it takes control away

When you place high value on your career, for both your income and self-esteem, you hand your employer control of your life: control of your time, your ambitions, and your respect for yourself. For fear of losing that hard-fought-for career, you allow yourself to be treated in ways you would not put up with in your personal life.

5. Earning money is less important than your own creative work

The work you do to earn money for rent and food does not need to fulfil you, or be the source of your self-esteem. The real source of self-esteem is work you have originated yourself, not (at least at first) for money. The purpose of work for money is to support the discovery and pursuit of your own creative work, the work that you do find fulfilling.

6. Learn to live cheaply

If you avoid a career you will almost certainly, at least to begin with, need to live on less money than your careerist peers. But you need  less money to treat and entertain yourself when you can spend a significant number of hours a week taking pleasure from your own creative work.

7. Genuine self-esteem comes from pleasure in your own creative ideas

Everyone can be creative. Just because you were not labelled arty at school means nothing. Creative ideas are not limited to the traditional arts, they are found in the setting up of charity, in science, in anything. What would you do if money was no object? Creative work begins by copying your heroes. Everyone who does creative work feels like an imposter until they recognise the progress they make.

8. University or college is not essential

The valuable experiences you have at university – living with your peers, meeting interesting people, further study – can be found elsewhere where they will not leave you with enormous debts. University can be fantastic, but is only essential for a degree in order to get that career job. And if you do want to go, there is nothing that says you have to go straight from school, or after a gap of only a year. Do the minimum number of exams you need for college to leave the option open. And exams can always be retaken.

9. Define your own success

Success need not be measured by the size of your impact upon the world, by how famous you become. Success also comes from the satisfaction of personal, truly valuable goals, even if they affect only a small number of people. Many people who feel successful are invisible in society.

10. A career can wait, perhaps forever

Don’t aim for a full-time career straight from school or university. Find paid work that best supports your discovery of the work you really want to do, that you would do without expectation of money. If you do later come to have a career, let it follow from this valuable work. But it may be that you never have a career at all. This is the life of the happiest people I know.

Read the full essay: Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: How Can Work Make You Happy?

Finding Other Semi-retirees Will Lessen the Chance of You Giving Up Your Creative Work

August 14th, 2012 No comments

Part of what holds us back from pursuing our creative work is the idea that we are not going to be good enough at it. When you try your hand at writing, or photography, or whatever your interest is, a recurring feeling is ‘why the hell am I doing this?’ If you never move beyond this thought, and never arrive at the point where you take creative pleasure from your work, you tell yourself that there are better ways to spend your life. And you give up.

You need support for your creative work, someone to encourage you in what you are doing. But the kind of support you need when you start out is not someone who will critique what you are doing, who will tell you what is good and bad about it. This is useful later, when you have gained confidence. But not at the beginning, because your initial work will be bad. You will not create great work right from the beginning.

The best kind of support is to surround yourself with other semi-retirees: other people who spend as little time as possible on their paid subsistence work so they can concentrate on creative work. They will encourage you, even if they are not doing the same kind of work. It does not matter in the least that they are not doing the same kind of work – it is the fact that they are willing to spend their spare time on work that no one but themselves has asked them to do is the inspiration you need to carry on. In the words of Hugh MacLeod, ‘The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual work.’

Rent a space in an artists’ studios. (I rent a space for writing and I’m surrounded by other semi-retirees with many different creative pursuits.) Renting costs money, but bear in mind that your social life will become cheaper because your new semi-retiree friends will want to live cheaply as well. Volunteer to work with someone doing your kind of creative work. Aim to hang out more with friends, and friends of friends who have a creative side to their life. However you do it, if you associate more with creative people, and avoid people who have or want a high-flying, well-paid career, you will feel more encouraged to continue, even when you think you have no idea what you are doing. Talk to them about your fears and insecurities. If they are serious about their creative work they will know what you are talking about.

Semi-retiree friends are one of the most important factors in discovering the pleasure from creative work. Talent, whatever that may be, is merely secondary.

Poorer Artists Does Not Mean Poorer Art

October 27th, 2011 No comments

Since the beginning of digital piracy on the internet, much has been written about piracy’s detrimental effect on artists and their ability to earn a living from their art. Musicians’ songs, once in digital form, can be endlessly copied and pirated, without any reimbursement for the musician, and in 2010 musicians’ royalties declined for the first time. Similarly, complained author Ewan Morrison, in the future writers will suffer the same fate, once ebooks become mainstream and replace paperbacks, and are pirated in a similar fashion. With the result, says Morrison, that potentially great books will no longer be written, just as great albums and films will not be made because musicians and filmmakers cannot make a full-time living. And so, the argument goes, the drive towards a price of nothing for digital artworks means the quality of culture declines.

I’m not sure our cultural future is so dark, or even worsening at all. Or that artists making less than a full-time living is even a bad consequence. Below are the ways in which critics suggest culture and society is diminished, and why I think they are mistaken.

Less art will be produced when the payment motive is removed

But even in the absence of upfront advances or the promise of any money at all, musicians will still write songs and authors will still write books. All first songs and books from established artists are created this way. A genuine artist’s first impulse to make art is never, ‘Am I going to get paid for this?’

In fact, because of the same digital technologies that are reducing the payment of artists, more art is being produced, because people are more easily able to create for themselves. This is no insignificant consequence. To produce songs, blogs, videos, etc and distribute them to even a small number of people is to feel the pleasure of creativity, and the more people who can do this the better.

This part of the argument also claims that established artists will stop making art if they are not making the kind of money to which they have become accustomed: middle-aged musicians cannot sustain a living from touring in the way that young musicians without families and responsibilities can. But is this true? It is certainly the case that musicians will earn less money, that the era of the mega-rich rock star will decline. But musicians can still make some money from playing live, and from PRS royalties, just not huge amounts of money, maybe not enough to earn a full-time wage. So maybe they will be part-time artists. More on this below.

If culture appears diminished by a reduction in the number of full-time artists, society is enriched by the increased numbers producing art part-time.

When produced by amateur artists, the art is of lower quality

But many penniless bands, probably supporting themselves with part-time jobs, have produced great debut albums before they earn any money. There is no correlation between the wealth of an artist and the greatness of their art. How many musicians have produced their best work in the mega-rich rock star phase of their life? Or even the comfortable middle-aged period of their life?

Also, how is this decline in quality measured? The value of culture is only ever measured by its visible output. Commentators ask: where is the new music scene, where are the new authors and filmmakers, and why does new art often recycle the past?, reinforcing the idea that less good, original art is being produced. But there is a huge amount of new art produced in every medium. It is just not as visible.

As a culture we don’t ratify much of this new art as ‘great’, because the very process of a culture labeling something is done through the the medium of mainstream media. But great art is anything enjoyed by an audience of ten, a hundred or a thousand regardless of whether it receives mainstream acclaim. (Off the top of my head, here’s three artworks from which I have enjoyed via the internet, found through personal rather than mainstream recommendation: ImprovEverywhere, Irina Werning’s Back to the Future, Steve Cutts’ In the Fall). I’m sure many people have a similar list of lesser-known artists.)

A society that does not pay its artists does not value their art, and is poorer for it

Society will always value artists and art. Artists’ value to society is not dependent on how much we pay them – their value and how much they are accorded status is dependent upon how much they affect our culture.

The idea that a spectator does not value art when it is free has arisen because of the increase in quantity and availability. When we are spectators of art it is up to us to pay attention to how we experience it. If we choose to listen to music as background noise, or go to a gig as an extension of socialising, these are valuing problems unconnected to the price of the music. There are difficulties in experiencing art in times of abundance, but that is a different discussion to the one here.

That people value art is shown by the fact that they are still willing to pay, even when digital piracy means music and films are available for free, and one of the reasons for this is to reward the creator. Artists may be paid less than they used to, but they will still be paid something, and after the work has been produced rather than in the form of an advance.

Artists deserve a full-time wage

If a drive towards a price of nothing does not mean a reduction in total quality, and will not stop artists producing art, is the objection simply that artists deserve to be paid for their art in order to make a full-time living?

Artists do deserve to be paid for their art. Companies and commercial ventures cannot expect artists to work for free when they are not themselves, even if this expectation persists because many artists will work for free for non-profit events. But despite this many artists will continue to be paid, and some well-known artists will still make a full-time living.

But if many artists won’t earn a full-time living, I’m not sure this is such a bad consequence. Creative work does not have to be a full-time activity. Part-time artists will need to supplement their income from art with other work. But isn’t it this type of artist, the one who has to do a regular job, and therefore lives a life more similar to us, the one whom we most admire? We are suspicious of art made by the wealthy and pampered, by the millionaire rock star, suggesting it has not come from genuine experience to which we can relate. So far I have made very little money from writing, but I’m not sure it would have been of higher quality had I been paid more, or had I been doing it as a full-time job. (It may not have any quality, that’s for you to judge of course).

For me a healthier society is one with a greater number of part-time artists, most of whom supplement their earnings from art with other kinds of paid work. Producing art makes people happy. Let’s all be amateur artists.