You tell artists to get a real job, but you’re glad they don’t. So stop it.
I’m a writer. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. I want to write and tell stories, I want to turn that writing and those stories into books, films and television. And I’m working really hard, every day, to make that happen.
And, finally, I’m starting to get somewhere. So much so that people in my life are starting to, every so often, be impressed by what I’ve accomplished. I have written books that people read and enjoy, I have some by-lines in interesting places, and I’m starting to branch into stories on screen. I’m still small time, and I still have to fight, and I still struggle to widen my audience. But I’m making progress and I’m seeing changes and I’m getting new opportunities. It’s possible I’m on the path to my dream career, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am. But this is new. It wasn’t always like this. For a long time I was a beginner, honing my craft and desperately trying to get anybody to read anything I wrote, refusing to stop trying because of my passion and ambition, whilst surrounded by people saying I should quit.
As an aspiring writer, a dreamer, I worked hard with little result for a long time. I worked to get my name out there and fought to find my audience. And, as it turns out, that work carries little…or no…respect. So much so that I was told on many occasions, by many people, that I should give up. I should stop trying, focus on “proper” work, and keep writing as a hobby. Because being an artist, a creative, isn’t impressive or important or valued…until the artists go away.
Every single person with a “real” job, who claims that being an artists is not a real job or worthy of respect, actually depends on artists not giving up. Everybody watches television, watches films, reads books, listens to music, plays games, or has art on their walls. Every single person could tell me their favourite song, their favourite film, their favourite actor, their favourite novel or poem. Every single person has admired beautiful wedding photography or landscape paintings. Every single person wears clothes with colours and fabrics and shapes, carefully designed for their body and tastes. Every single person values the creative energy and output the artists spent on creating those things. But not if you’re new…not if you’re just starting out…
Before I started writing full time, I worked in real jobs. I did work in offices and factories and I wrote around the edges of that, squished it into evenings and weekends. Some of the most incredible actors I’ve ever seen work in full time jobs, but spend any free time they get working on their craft and going to auditions. I have witnessed some absolutely astounding musicians performing in the street for free, hoping somebody might throw a pound in their guitar case. We all have to start somewhere, we all have to start at the bottom, but that doesn’t mean what we’re doing has no value or worth.
That’s the thing about creatives, we have to create. It drives us in a way that so many people can’t understand, but will happily benefit from as long as they don’t have to pay for the privilege. So many times I’ve seen fellow artists told that charging for their work is morally wrong, that art should be free. And what’s frustrating is we WILL create for free. We WILL let people suck the energy we spend, feed on it for their own gain, and receive nothing back.
I have written for free. I have brought in audiences and revenues for other publications without receiving a penny for my efforts. I have had people complain about spending £7.99 on a book I spent years writing, whilst drinking their third £5 coffee of the day, and asking for a free copy because…reasons.
It’s not okay to only support and believe in the artists who’ve already found success. No aspiring artists expects to earn a fortune immediately, but we all resent being told our work is not valuable or worth money by people who will spend £15 on a cinema ticket, £250 on a dress, or £30 to see a play. People who will queue for the release of the latest novel by an established writer, spend hundreds of pounds to see a successful comedian or singer perform, and eagerly binge watch the latest TV show to arrive on Netflix. Because every single one of the people responsible for those things started off small. Every single one of those artists was a dreamer. Every single one of them was told to give up, quit, and get a “real” job by the same kinds of people who spend a fortune on them now.
You value art, but judge those who make it. You celebrate success, but are rude about those trying to achieve it. You consume billions of pounds of entertainment every year, but resent those who expect to be paid for producing it. And that is simply not fair.
Respect the artists in your life and what they’re trying to do, and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Then, if you can, share their work with your friends, take time to leave a review, tell them you enjoyed what the made, because every small time creator values those things more than you can imagine. And remember that if we put so much energy into Plan B that we don’t have time for Plan A, Plan B becomes Plan A and art vanishes from the world. And that would suck.