Tag Archives: money

‘Proper Poet’

This year, I have decided to be a ‘Proper Poet’. Whatever that means. Like, in my head a ‘Proper Poet’ is an artist, and an artist is someone who makes a living from their art. But since I made that decision I’ve been realising more and more that art and survival are not necessarily compatible.

I have been listening to poets and performers, overhearing their frustrations about touring 9 months of the year just to keep themselves afloat, their incredulity at being constantly expected to work simply for ‘exposure’; and trying to work out how on earth I could make a life out of art for myself.

Last night at Find The Right Words in Leicester I got to hear an extract from Paula Varjack’s new show, Show Me The Money, which asks the question “can you become and artist and still survive?”. She has interviewed artists at various stages in their careers and put together a ‘performance documentary’ exploring the relationship between art and money. It encapsulated a lot of the feelings I have about money (“sexy but toxic”) and brought home the realities of art as a career path. That, even when you are actually paid, the rate will not reflect the hours the writing, producing and editing takes. That to be a full-time artist is impossible for most people. But also that to have another job alongside your art doesn’t make you any less of an artist, no matter what people might think. That art is valuable and rewarding in its own right, and that it feels kinda soulless to sell it. But that the fact remains that people want art, but still aren’t prepared to pay.

All this money talk could make a person feel hopeless. But actually this morning I feel more energised to pursue the arts than ever before. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s the honesty. So many people continue as artists without the financial incentive and there is something… pure about that, something that suggests art is immeasurably more worthwhile than some other career paths. It means that I will need to think seriously about how to balance doing what I love with making enough to survive (and that is scary), but I have come away with a sense of comfort in knowing there is joy and solidarity in making art and that is enough to keep me going.
I made another post a few months ago summarising my feelings about working for free: you can read it here.

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On art and capitalism

This week I started volunteering with the Real Junk Food Project. From dealing with inexplicably rotten eggs and cooking without gas on my first two days, I learnt a lot about spontaneous problem-solving, as well as a whole new concept of paying for food. They work on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis, whereby you can give a money donation after your meal but can also offer your skills, time, energy and ideas in exchange for food. This ethos really speaks to me – I like legitimising the value of someone’s non-financial attributes as a way of building communities and side-stepping capitalist structures.

However, this realisation coincided with a newfound creativity. Over the past couple of weeks, I have become very focussed on my poetry and have been writing more, offering to run workshops, collecting testimonies, finding competitions… I am suddenly so fixated on the idea of being a poet professionally – and this is where I hit my dilemma.

Last month, my friend Jess posted about artists having a “collective responsibility” to insist on getting paid reasonably to destroy the idea that art is not a ‘proper’ career. Plus, I’ve been thinking a lot about how so often artists are expected to work just for “exposure” (ie for free). This attitude already means that the art world is very elitist, excluding almost all but those who have the wealth to pursue creative projects as a hobby.

And this is my problem. On the one hand, I want to share my skills and my art with others for free because undermining capitalism is a great thing. On the other, I can’t take down capitalism by myself and in the meantime me and other artists still need to survive within it. And in that respect I have a duty to poets and other art-makers to demand fair payment for the time and effort that goes into my work… I’m still working out how to strike the balance between ethics and survival. I’ll let you know if I get there.