Is it possible to earn a living from being creative?

marcel creating

A little while ago I was talking to a friend about the life choices we made as young people, and whether we regret them. I was heading towards social work from an early age- my own rather damaged situation made me want to be a helper and a healer of others, and I was convinced by the call to live a life of service, which seemed to me to be the only life possible for followers of Jesus.

A quarter of a century later, social work chewed me up, and if it has not quite yet spat me out, I am like gum without the spearmint, but even so I am not quite sure whether I would have made a different decision with the benefit of hindsight.

Being sensitised and tenderised by life has the obvious effect of making you more inclined to towards being sensitive and hopefully tender towards the other- hence the social work. Having said that, social work these days seems to give less priority to kindness, and the soft arts of gentle encouragement. The best of us still hang on to these skills, but they are not measurable and so do not fit into any performance management plan I have seen of late. This probably explains my alienation at least in part.

This sensitivity also drives you into yourself, resulting in introspection or a retreat into imagination and the rich inner life of the mind. This second part of who I am has been less developed- certainly as a means of earning a living. There ain’t no money in poetry, that’s what sets the poet free as the song goes. I have wondered often about how people actually make a living through art.

There was an article in the Guardian yesterday entitled 10 things about being an artist that art teachers don’t tell you which made some interesting points about all this. It started with a stereotype about the struggling angst ridden artist starving in a garret;

If popular opinion is anything to go by, the creative sector is a huge gamble, braved only by reckless, or masochistic, individuals. But if you’re an art student, you need to know if this “make or break” view bears any relation to reality.

The author then spelled out the following 10 things that they had discovered as an art student;

Here are 10 honest truths about work, life and leisure in the creative industry.

1. Many artists work freelance. A study by the Arts Council finds that 41% of creative workers are self-employed. Temporary work contracts can make for an interesting and varied career, though periods of unemployment between jobs are a reality for some artists.

2. Freelance artists budget carefully. Being self-employed means you are without pension, holiday pay or maternity benefits. Contingencies such as falling ill or having children require pre-emptive financial planning.

3. Artists self-promote. Many showcase their talents on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Linked in, as well as on their own websites. Having a good online presence shows employers that you are self-motivated and digitally literate.

4. Artists love socialising. Networking events are the art world’s equivalent to job hunting, but with less misery and more booze. Whether you’re searching for commissions or trying to advance your career, networking gives you the chance to meet industry professionals and expose yourself to new opportunities.

5. Many artists form collectives to publicise and exhibit their work. Kate Rowland, an illustrator from the collective After School Club explains: “Being in After School Club is great for motivation. It allows us to utilise each other’s skills, therefore we have more resources to help one another. It’s kind of like a creative support system. And lots of fun.”

6. It’s all about your portfolio. The visual arts are less grade-centric than other disciplines. An art director at a graphic design company once told me he’d think twice about hiring someone with a first-class degree, as he worried they’d have no time for hobbies outside of work. In his words, not mine, “they might be really boring”. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high – another employer might appreciate a first-class candidate. Rather, you should focus on making your portfolio the best you can possibly make it. A good body of work speaks louder than grades.

7. Some artists supplement their income with a second job. Doing so gives them financial security while they exercise their creative passions. Take a look at some of these prolific “double jobbers”.

8. Many artists take on internships to help kick-start their career. Working for a company can prepare you with essential industry skills and improve youremployability. The question of payment is a hot potato – in general, the shorter the internship, the less likely you are to get paid.

9. Job opportunities are growing. There are currently over 1.9 million people working in the creative industries. However, by 2016, the government expects this figure to skyrocket, with an additional 1.3 million new jobs in the private sector alone.

10. The creative sector is characterised by high levels of job satisfaction. As a result, the industry is highly competitive and jobs are sought after. If you have the passion and the motivation to stay ahead of the game, then a creative career can be an exciting and rewarding experience.

There you go- perhaps I should have gone down a different path.

Perhaps I still might get there…

2 thoughts on “Is it possible to earn a living from being creative?

  1. When I read this I didn’t get the chance to reply.
    I was listening to Sinead O’Connor being interviewed the other day and she said something interesting when she was asked if she knew she was working on a bit when she recorded “Nothing Compares 2U” (sic).

    Her response was along the lines of – you do your art, because if you don’t you will go mental. If you spend too much time trying to work out if it’s commercially viable then you shouldn’t be doing it.

    Which kind of ties in to making money out of being creative. According to her the best way to be creative is to not think about whether it makes money, but if that is your source of living you may find yourself in a bit of a paradox…

  2. Interesting Sam- I have always liked the fact that O’Connor makes art that is meaningful to her, and hang the rest of us. There is a real trap in constantly looking for some kind of external measure of what we have done- which for many become a numbers game, or financial reward. But you are right, we do still need to make a living!

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