Taking the creative plunge

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Photo: Melsky

The world of the freelance writer, artist or actor can often be a tough and uncertain one. For creative souls, living close to the breadline, without the security of holiday pay, pension schemes, health insurance and always searching for their life-changing “break” is hard.

Artists and actors are often forced to seek alternative employment merely to survive while they use their spare time to further their portfolios or attend auditions. Budding journalists and those seeking out more creative media roles in publishing, television and fashion are expected to gain experience through unpaid internships or mind-numbing jobs simply to get a foot in the door of their chosen industry.

Lawyers, bankers and medics also work incredibly hard; their career paths, once forged, are normally, however, far more likely to be secure and lucrative. Take the example of commercial graduate schemes, where your chosen company will hold your hand as you make the leap from education to employment. You will be suitably reimbursed for your endeavours; bonuses, gym memberships and company cars are usual benefits. The work you undertake will require long hours, long commutes and probably even longer coffees to keep you awake through the intricacies of management consultancy or leverage finance.

A group of friends, all on banking graduate schemes, were recently delighted to be described as too “vivacious” to be bankers; they loath being pigeon-holed as corporate and uninteresting due to their career choice and are happy to distance themselves from work in their social lives.

Fiona Hughes achieved straight A’s in her academic A Levels, but, despite considering careers in Law and Journalism, she chose to study Fine Art at university. She is now an emerging artist and currently undertaking a residency art project with a homeless charity and the local council. Hughes comments that her art is “shaping my personality as much as reflecting it.”

This feeling is not unique to the art-world; James Hawkins, a junior doctor, thinks that the highly stressful and competitive nature of medicine shapes personalities “for better or for worse”. Far from being concerned about the effect of work on her personality however, Hughes relishes the inseparable nature of her chosen career path. It is teaching her to “find value outside of absolutes” and is gradually relaxing her previously legalistic and box-ticking personality.

A quick Google search returned numerous advice websites for “taking the creative plunge” and “tips for pursuing your dream career”. Are all the city suits simply ticking time bombs, grinning and bearing their soulless careers until they make the break? In every commercial lawyer is there a food critic or sculptor struggling to break out? Doubtful, but people pursuing these sorts of careers tend to have quite different motivations from their artistic counterparts.

Laura Bailey is in her second year on the highly prized HSBC Executive Management Scheme, which she says reflects her personality in the very nature of the role which is “demanding, challenging and fast moving”, she also values the ongoing opportunities, and being amongst motivated intelligent people. Bailey is the first to admit, however, that she is “not as interested in economics and finance” as she could be.

More often than not, it seems, motivated, high-achievers are drawn to the competitive, dog-eat-dog environment of the commercial world and the proportionate opportunities and benefits rather than to the specifics of the job. The opposite is perhaps true for the more artistically-inclined, committed to the essence of their career choice but less enthralled by the hard-hitting reality of making ends meet. Rewards in the creative world are rarely financial, particularly since recognition is not guaranteed to be immediate; Van Gogh sold only two works of art during his lifetime, and although Vermeer and Gaugin made humble livings through their art, real success came much later.

Hughes reflects on the thrill experienced by people enjoying her artwork, but her hopes for financial gain remain in the very distant future. Many freelance or self-employed writers and artists are happy to accept that non-financial benefits such as job satisfaction, a healthy work-life balance, and flexibility, are the main selling points of their jobs.

Barnaby Rogerson who studied Medieval History at St Andrews is now a published travel and history writer and also runs a publishing company, Eland, which specialises in keeping classic travel books alive. Barnaby says of his career, “I love meeting new people, experiencing new landscapes, discovering whole vast new fields of history that I wasn’t yet even aware of. It would be deeply unfair if this paid well.”

The Romanian playwright, Eugene Ionesco, wrote that “a writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing” – a reality, alongside the perils of being perpetually self-employed, that can be all too true for those trying to break into artistic careers. “I think part of being an artist is seeing the world differently. Anything and everything is a source of inspiration for the work I produce, often in the most unlikely ways,” says Hughes. “The works I produce feed off the world I see around me. I don’t fully mind not being able to switch off from the making process.”

Often, it is the forgoing of the institutionalised markers of traditional career paths by artists, writers and actors, which helps craft their alternative lifestyle choice, one which is moulded to reflect their creative careers. Ionesco was most likely not lamenting his lack of “spare time”

but celebrating the inescapable predicament of making a career out of what he loves.

Katy Brill

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