This is an ideas piece by Elizabeth Flux, about the need to stop viewing the arts as disposable.
Five years ago I was looking at the very real possibility of being tethered to a career and a life which looked perpetually grey because I had no real passion for what I was doing. I woke up early to arrive on time to be peppered with questions I would only be able to answer by staying up late. My sleep debt increased, my sense of self became intrinsically tied to what grades I could achieve, and outside of study, the world shrank.
This was not because my degree was bad; it was because it was wrong for me as an individual. The years leading up to this point were kind of a black hole. I had good friends and certainly wasn’t hating every minute. But everything that wasn’t directly related to my degree stood still. I stopped writing, I stopped going to the library, and essentially all I did was read the Harry Potter books on a perpetual loop and get waaaaay too into Smallville. One thing shook me out of this rut: student media.
I started writing again, tried my hand at editing, and eventually gained the small amount of confidence I needed to leave behind the certainty of the career I’d been working towards and do what I’d wanted to the whole time: write, edit, and get paid to talk about film and TV.
The six year gap between finishing school and finally trying to pursue the career I’d been too afraid to can be put down to one thing: that as a society we don’t take the arts seriously.
We tell our youth that jobs are limited and fleeting. That creative work can (and should) be just a hobby, hovering in the background of your real job. Then, if it takes off, that is the time you can think about “getting serious”. Hey, JK Rowling worked as a teacher and wrote Harry Potter at the same time—so just do the safe thing and get a law/commerce/medical/accounting degree and see where you go from there.
Sure, it sounds logical, but it comes from a really damaging place. One which thinks that the arts “just happen”. That it can be fuelled by hobbyists and volunteers. That it isn’t a “real” profession. That it doesn’t take money to exist.
From the outside, I can see how one could think this. We all have keyboards and word processors. You can even get yourself a blog. Plus there’s all those feel good tales of people bashing out a bestseller or a screenplay in between their societally-validated role and bringing in truckloads of cash. Why should taxpayers fund something that anyone can do?
Photo: Arts Funding Advisor, Probably
Last week, arts organisations across Australia were hit hard by cuts to funding. The impact is real and the way this will shape the creative landscape of Australia in the future is terrifyingly uncertain.
Society, at large, has a very narrow view of what exactly the arts are, and further to that, has an extremely superficial view of what its real value is. The arts aren’t something you slot between Real Life Things That Matter. They permeate everything. They help us understand ideas in ways we might not be aware. They allow us to be less isolated, to know that others have experienced and are experiencing the same issues that we are.
You might not think the arts impact on your life, but that is because by its very nature, the impact is subtle.
One of the organisations that didn’t receive funding this round was Express Media—my employers for the past two years. When I first stepped away from my degree and was floundering around wondering what I had just done, Express gave me the opportunity to edit a review website for the Adelaide Fringe. True validation can only come from within, but at a time when I didn’t know what I was doing with myself, having someone say “we trust your skills and would like to develop them further” is something that gave me the confidence to keep tentatively moving forward.
Having edited Voiceworks magazine for the past two years I have seen firsthand the real impact the magazine has had on emerging artists. Places like Express Media and Voiceworks act as a bridge for young writers and artists, giving them a space for their voices to be heard, and telling them that their creative interests matter—and this is important in a crowd full of people telling you that creativity comes second, and that your interests are less valuable than the things with tangible dollar signs attached.
It’s a self perpetuating cycle: we tell potential artists that the arts aren’t valuable, and therefore they become less valued. So more and more money is cut, more people veer away from it as a career, and yet we still expect to be able to go out and see a movie or a play; to head to a concert; to be able to pick up a quality magazine or newspaper; to enjoy a comedy festival.
Art doesn’t just happen. It takes people. It takes work. It takes money.
This is an ideas piece, part of a series where writers discuss ideas around the craft of writing. To read more like this, click here:
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Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and the editor in chief of Writers Bloc. Her nonfiction work has been widely published and includes essays on film, pop culture, feminism and identity as well as interviews and feature articles. Her most recent fiction publication is a short story in The Legend of Monga Khan. She previously edited Voiceworks and On Dit, and in 2016 she attended the Hong Kong International Festival funded by the UNESCO City of Literature Travel Fund. Twitter @ElizabethFlux