Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Living Cheaply is Easier Than You Think

June 26th, 2012 1 comment

Whenever I talk to people about Semi Retirement for the Under Twenties, the idea of living on part-time wages is the objection that is most often raised. That’s not realistic, you say. Who can live on part-time wages when rents are so high, when houses are unaffordable to buy, when there are cuts and austerity measures with which to contend?

My answer is that you cannot live on part-time wages if you expect to have all the material trappings that people with a full-time career salary think of as essential to living. But your desire for these trappings lessens when you work part-time, and when you have time to do creative, meaningful work. These trappings are only what are required in order to do and survive a full-time career. It is part of your creative life to work out how to live cheaper.

You do not need somewhere of your own to live in order to collapse in silence at the end of a hard day’s work. Save money by house sharing. Better still house share with people who also value creativity, and who also want to live cheaply. You do not need a smart phone, a cheap mobile will do. You do not need the most up-to-date laptop, an older version will be fine. The latest model is only a careerist status symbol. Your creative work will give you your status.

Get rid of your car – live somewhere where a car is unnecessary. You do not need new clothes. There are plenty of great clothes given away to charity shops by people with careers. You do not need to eat out in restaurants. Cook for yourself and invite friends round. If you do need an expensive piece of equipment for your creative work, share it with other people. There are always cheaper alternatives, and having spare time helps you to find them.

If your response to these suggestions is, I don’t want to dress from charity shops, and I’d like a smart phone, this is said with the mindset of the full-time careerist. It is the mindset imposed upon us by the government, by advertising, and by careerists. The parent who says, ‘I worked hard all my life, why do you think you’re any different?’ cannot bear the idea that perhaps they wasted their life with all that work. Ignore the politician who calls you workshy, because you are working at important creative work, you are just not being paid for it. (Besides, your creative work may benefit society in ways that a career selling insurance never will.)

Remember that the main benefit you are gaining in not having these material trappings is not having to work full-time. Control of your time is a wonderful thing denied to many people. When a boss controls the time when you work and reprimands you for being late it is demeaning.

Living cheaply is a creative activity in itself – the semi-retiree is always looking out for new opportunities to live more cheaply. If you are not presently good at managing money you must learn to be. Frivolity with money is not ‘cool’ – it condemns you to the need to earn more of it. And living cheaply is not being a skinflint, as careerists will suggest. It is just one part of finding the time for the creative work that will make your life rich and fulfilling.

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.