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  • S. Wardell

My New Blog About Artist Survival… And That Means Economics


The following post was originally published on my AN blog in November, 2018.


I’ve been doing some informal research for a while about how we survive in the UK, as artists, creative practitioners, professionals, after and during college etc. I wanted somewhere to bring it all together, and I thought the AN blog would be a brilliant place, that other creative practitioners might get to read it and contribute if desired.

I wasn’t ever one of those creatives who could live the popularly known Van Gough dream of extreme poverty and fevered creation. I’ve had times where I’ve lived in slight poverty and didn’t enjoy it – nothing very extreme, but there was a year I had to wait to go to have a summer picnic with my mother before I could eat fresh fruit and I felt really rubbish after that year. Rather than producing the best work of my life, I juggled several service industry jobs and woke up at 3am worrying about eviction. My partner at the time was in a similar position (both artists and of course both studying as continuous professional development is a thing we artists take seriously apparently). So after a few years of that, we both decided that particular art dream wasn’t for us.

On the whole though I’ve been lucky and able to support myself, though not always through art. I did a BTEC in the 1990s and worked as a really great lipstick and shampoo sales woman for years. Then I finally got to do the creative design work, including illustration and special effects makeup, that I had wanted to in film. It was about then that I first discovered that entry in to creative jobs is often via many years of free work and some other alchemic process that I never was actually party to.

Having had experience from doing actual paid jobs in the beauty industry, I managed to mostly circumvent the unpaid phases. Since then I’ve returned to study several times and now work a lot more with my own work, still on other productions and with illustration, plus I teach. In some shape or form I’ve been working for about 23 years, and even though I bought too many avocados with my lipstick commission rather than investment in the property ladder, I think the situation for all of us is arguably a lot tougher now that it was back then. For a start the cost of living has skyrocketed.

So this blog is about that, and what we as artists can do to help our industry be an abundant place to work in. Nobody reading this should fear that this notion in itself points to the aforementioned alchemy. We are not talking about making gold from an old, crusty watercolour pan: In November 2017, a UK government press release* announced the record £92bn contribution the creative sector makes to the economy. It also stated that it is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the UK economy.

We work in a vibrant industry that has human connection and social cohesion at its heart, offering a moral compass to life as well as inspiring invention and innovation. These things mean that both economically, and for the greater good we are essential. I also feel it is essential that we start to help ourselves more in finding ways for that £92bn industry to sustain the livelihoods of people who work in it at all levels.

I’ll be covering lots of topics on that theme in this blog, but my hope is to also learn by starting a conversation. Please comment, or make requests for blog posts if you are interested.

*(Creative Industries Record Contribution to The Economy: UK Govt; Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/news/creative-industries-record-contribution-to-uk-economy)

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