In this day and age, when the creative industry accounts for 8% A of the UK employment (3% in USA, 2012 B) and 5.2% C of UK economy (3.2% of total US Goods and Serviced income 2012, more than the travel and tourism industry D), why is it creative people are still considered outsiders, barely better than criminals, and forced to do paltry 9-5 jobs to support themselves while earning either nothing from their art or actually have to ‘pay to perform’?
It’s time this victimisation stopped!
As far as we know, in ancient Babylon, Egypt and Ancient Israel music was well-established as the ‘conscience’ of society. It was certainly legitimised already in religious ceremonies and temples, where musicians may have earned their crust, and was almost certainly employed in secular community activities such as drinking, feasting and dancing. In the latter, it was entertainment for the masses. This would eventually become the role for which it would generate the most income. Musicians, certainly religious ones, were respected by the community but probably payed a wage similar to many service-sector workers, a subsistence wage.
In ancient Greece, the whole group of creatives, called artisans, were able to vote, rise through the ranks even so far as political office and often became very wealthy and powerful. It’s interesting to note that Athenians considered the participation in political oratory as the highest art attainable, a far cry from today’s politics.
In the Roman empire, artisans were not considered citizens. Hence, they were excluded from political activity and thus the acquisition of great power and wealth.
While in Europe, during the middle-ages, musicians continued to be itinerant and fairly poorly paid, in the Middle and Far east, they enjoyed a higher and more secure status. There, they were considered below leaders and aristocrats but above peasants.
Moving into the 20th century, there began a move in Europe, and particularly in the UK to consider artisans, and in particular musicians, as barely better than beggars and, in many cases, playing music or performance of any kind in public was outlawed. This probably reached it’s height in the 1990s, when it was illegal to play or perform anywhere in the UK in public spaces. Buskers on the underground were particularly victimised with heavy fines and the threat of jail sentences.
Does anybody else remember the cat-and-mouse game with the UK Government dole office in the 1980s? It was a joke. While you were encouraged to give the outward appearance of looking for a job, the interviewer at the DSS, as the DWP was called then, would smile when you said you were trying to be a musician and say something like:
“What sort of music do you play? I hope you make it! Can I come to your next gig?”
At least art was semi-legitimate then. But why the hell did we have to do all this pretending? Why did we actually have to pay to play at venues? Why is it that a bar owner would make thousands of pounds for a packed bar at the George Robey or the Town and Country club and the band would get beer money or at best £40, barely enough for petrol and guitar strings?
Of course, the likes of Simon Cowell and Pete Waterman figured out a way to make megabucks from music in the late 80s and 90s by manufacturing artists, as Hollywood did in the 30s and 40s. Talk about corruption! I remember travelling around with a supremely talented girlfriend to discuss various music contracts. She was often trumped by young boys, who may well have been pretty to producers but were completely, and self-admittedly, unable to sing!
The drive for ‘manufactured’ art has killed the UK contribution to the world culture.
What is left is a vacuum of culture, all because real creativity has been pushed aside in favour of pap like Reality-TV shows and manufactured music. Even the Turner prize is legitimising some dubious art. I wouldn’t be the first to mention Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst in this context.
At a time when when the creative arts is generating 5.2% of the UK’s GDP – let’s just say that number again, 5.2% – why not provide proper training, support and respect to the real artists.
It’s time the prejudice against real creativity stopped!
What’s your point of view? Please comment.