The Art of Survival
There’s an interesting discussion going on at The Guardian’s Noises off theatre blog surrounding the question of whether it’s possible for an artist to make a living in theatre. Well, all but a tiny fraction of us already know the answer to that, but it has generated some very interesting debates, including some intriguing arguments on subsidizing the arts. I’ve posted my humble contribution below:
Even putting the current economic situation aside, I don’t think we’ll ever arrive at a time when the government decides it’s a good idea to support all artists with a living wage if they’re unable to support themselves by their work alone. It just won’t happen. Therefore, anyone opting to pursue a career in theatre must surely acknowledge that in doing so they will have no guarantee of financial security and will almost always have to support themselves in other ways…unless they get very lucky. We can all look enviously at someone whose wealthy parents subsidize their endeavors, but the truth is most of us will always struggle to balance art with survival. Even well-known playwrights who have had much commercial and critical success still have to rely on teaching or other forms of income generation in order to maintain a relatively secure existence.
The arts will always be seen by the majority as a luxury rather than a necessity. Yes, the arts can be seen as the heart and soul of a people and without them that soul would wither and perish, but when all is said and done, if you’re on a fixed income a night at the theatre isn’t going to feed the kids or pay the heating bill. For most people, what we do can enhance their lives, make them laugh or cry in cathartic recognition, etc., but it will always be at their discretion using their discretionary income (if they have any) because we aren’t, in the hard cold truth of survival, necessary.
I have spent my life in the arts. It is all I know and all I ever will. And I have always had to walk that tightrope of pursuing what I love and staying alive. But I have never had any lofty sense of entitlement about what my life choices should mean to other people, nor have I considered the arts to be a sacred cow that all who exist outside of it should remain in thrall of.
Some big theatres in some big cities are afforded some big subsidies so that some people with big incomes can pay big ticket prices and congratulate themselves on being patrons of the arts. Hooray for them. But of course it’s not the arts…it’s artifice. For the rest of us, the real world beckons.