Why Don’t You Get a Real Job?

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As we hear more and more about the eye-wateringly high costs associated with living within any reasonable distance of any reasonable city, unfortunately one of the things that tends to suffer the most as a result is the grassroots arts and culture scene. The contribution of young and emerging creatives to the vibrancy of a city, although probably hard to quantify, cannot be denied. So how do the ones who haven’t thrown in the towel and moved to the country, function in this brave new and costly world? In a follow up to the article, The Artist and the Dreaded Day Job, three creatives living in the center of two major cities speak candidly about their ability to juggle earning a living whilst working on their craft, and answer the question they’ve probably been asked at least once in their lives already, ‘Why don’t you just get a real job?’

George Hicks, 25, a London-based cabaret performer, actor and ukulele player, made the decision to step out of a fulltime role in 2015 to focus solely on his act. Having been offered the role after graduating, he said that after around 18 months “it just wasn’t what I wanted to spend my time doing.”

Although stopping short of claiming to be a fulltime performer yet, he speaks confidently about an ability to manage several casual and part-time gigs that afford him the means and, more importantly, the time, to develop his own performances. One of these gigs currently is giving art tours at the Tate Modern, which he states ties in brilliantly with the way he likes to approach his shows.

“I love it, because it’s exactly what interests me about the arts… this communication with people about something that can seem quite impenetrable at first, and genuinely it is all about that moment of connection you can have, which is what I try and do on stage; build a rapport with people, not just perform.”

A born and bred Londoner, Hicks insists the city is still the best place for young creatives to thrive despite the rise in cost of living, claiming, “If you want it, you just make it work.”

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Milly Dent, 26, a successful young ceramicist, manages her business out of an artist’s collective in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria. Only previously ever having odd jobs to balance her work with, she made the decision to focus solely on her career as a fine art potter almost straight out of university.

Dent states, “I was part of a communal pottery studio, selling work to friends and it just grew and grew until essentially I was told I was making too much for the studio [to handle].”

Around about the same time she says a café she had been working at had decided to close, forcing her to consider her options. “I had the choice of looking for another job or just diving head first into my ceramics. I knew from having that job on the side, how much better spent my time could be building on my craft and I also knew just how much more pleasure I got out of being in the studio than I did at that cafe.”

Sydney is a surprisingly expensive place to live given its size and relative remoteness from the rest of the world and regarding its sympathy towards its arts and culture scene. It always seems to lag behind that of its smaller, more affordable cousin, Melbourne.

“Melbourne,” says Dent , “seems to be a place far more suitable for people in the arts and crafts industry, trying to make a go, just looking at the cost of living compared to here… There are places like our studio around Sydney still, but they’re showing up further and further out.”

Theo Shields, 25, a sculptor and multimedia artist from the north of Wales is a fine art graduate from the University of Edinburgh. After completing a semester abroad in Australia and then an artist residency in Mexico, Theo settled in London in 2015.

Like Hicks, Shields’ manner of staying afloat as an artist in a city is to always try to be the curator of his own work schedule. Achieved through a vast series of carefully managed casual and part-time roles, he coordinates when to work to earn money and when to work to focus on his craft. Jobs ranging from art-handling at private galleries to securing paid commissions from corporate clients, he says, “It all just kind of works. I’ve been offered fulltime roles at these places but I just couldn’t commit to it knowing I could be at the studio working at the same time.”

Also, like Dents, Shields operates his studio out of an artists collective partly funded by grants from the Arts Council of England. He insists that without government funding, it would almost be impossible to exist as an artist in the city. “Even just for that one or two days it allows you to take off,” he says, “it’s amazing what can be done in that time.”

So in the end what drives these people to completely chuck in the idea of consistent incomes, pension funds and paid holiday leave to commit to this romanticism of being self-sufficient creatives in this day and age? When people are scrambling to ensure their vocational relevance in a constantly changing job market, why are others content to enthusiastically turn their backs on it and raise a finger to the 9-to-5? I mean, why don’t they just get a real job?

George: “Because, for me, it’s unworkable. I believe it’s within human nature to be inquisitive and creative. We aren’t designed to be sitting in offices, scheduling things all day long.”

Theo: “I honestly don’t think I am ever going to find a job that I like enough, or like more than this… ever. I really value my time and my freedom far too much to simply hand that over to someone else, for their cause or their profit. I would find that too difficult to handle.”

Milly [laughing]: “Why would I? I love it!”

Enough said.  Rohan Stephens