The Exploited Artist

Lobato, R. and Thomas, J., 2015, ‘Work’ in The Informal Media Economy, Polity Press, Cambridge UK, ch.3.

I romanticize the idea of the underpaid and overworked artist, grasping at a coffee and looking disheveled and wired. Living off canned beans but being okay with it because they to some degree existed outside of the system, ran by their own rules and were creating something they cared about. Or at least believed they were on the way too. Speaking for myself I saw a sense of pride in the lifestyle as well as an environment conducive to self-exploitation. I wonder where it came from, the self-exploitation, are we inclined to this somewhat innately as artists or does the system groom us to behave like this.

Glamorizing this sporadic and exploitative work is a result of my own privilege, growing up white and middle class and going on to study at University. I want to make it as an artist, but know that if don’t I can go back to study or get another type of job with relative ease. It’s not the money at stake for me, just the desire to be able to be passionate about my job, a luxury not everyone is afforded. Intersections of class, gender and race contribute to our ability to get secure work. As mentioned in the article, precarity is not a new concept for women in the work force. It is important to remember when idolizing “the tortured artist” who is allowed to be one and why.

Content farms or “digital sweatshops” as they are referred to in the reading are paying artists little to nothing for their contributions. Artists are often eager for an offer of work and something to ad to their resume and thus are agreeing to very poor work conditions. Content farms can be important platforms for artists to showcase their work and get noticed. If volunteer run these online spaces can be really liberating, but when run by people hoping to capitalize on the artists position they can be really problematic.

I have just accepted that I will work for free for many years after completing my degree and thus have to maintain my job in retail or hospitality. Strangely I feel no resentment about this. I wonder what has led me to be happy to give away my labor for free. I’m not sure if it is an overpowering desire to make it in the industry at whatever cost, a lack of confidence in my ability or the quality of my work. Or if I have just romanticized the lifestyle as desirable or become accustomed to thinking that this is just the way it goes.

The question is raised in the reading and I’m not sure what to make of it, if the creative labor system became more regulated and stabilized would it in turn loose it’s edge and originality. Is the uncertainty and “bulimic work patterns” actually conducive to to the creative process?

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