Ah, the arts life, just swanning about doing nothing while people give me vast sums of money to support my decadent lifestyle.
I find it really curious how some people think the arts work, and all the recent commentary around AI has made it obvious just how many people out there think that creative people are elitist and lazy and don’t deserve to be paid for their work, or even allowed to work.
I wish with all my heart that the people who feel this way would sit down and write a novel, or an opera, or paint someone’s portrait, or go on stage and perform a play. It would be obvious to them fairly quickly at that point that there would be effort, skills and knowledge involved.
Whether a book is fiction or non-fiction there’s usually research involved, as well as planning and structuring. I prefer to make novels up as I go, but I do a lot of world building ahead of that, and I spend time on themes. I prefer character-driven stories, and it takes a while to create complex characters who can make that work. Then there’s the writing, the redrafting, the editing and the promoting. These days even big publishing houses expect authors to do most of the marketing.
If all I did on this blog was try and sell people books, many of you would not show up to read anything – and rightly so. Relentless sales pitches aren’t interesting, and this is also true for social media. And so, in order to engage people, I end up creating and giving away a lot of content. This has worked as a strategy for me, but it does take time and energy, and not everyone can afford that. My fabulous co-writer David has massive health problems, leaving him with the option of writing or promoting, but no scope to do both. For those many creative people working full or part time jobs, the way marketing your own work also needs to be a full time job makes this whole industry really challenging.
We (The Hopeless, Maine team) do a lot of events because selling books directly works for us and because it’s a way of raising the profile of what we’re doing. Events are also work, performing at events requires rehearsing, being at events means promoting the event. I wish I could spend more time at events just being glamorous and floating about, but in practice, you’ll also find the better known musicians at events working their merch tables when they aren’t on stage, and putting in a lot of effort engaging with people.
Developing ideas takes time. I don’t want to write the kind of obvious, derivative fiction that could easily be replaced by an AI. So there are limits on how fast I can churn things out (5k words a day is my upper limit) , and how much time I need to spend just thinking about things. Unfortunately we have a culture that prizes looking busy, and is much less keen on people thinking about things. What you can do by rushing around trying very hard to look busy as a kind of performance art is not the same as what you can do with focused thought, but one of these things looks more convincing than the other, for a lot of people.
Music takes time, too. It takes hours of work to learn a piece and get it up to performance standards. It takes a lot of time to learn a script and to be able to perform it on stage. Art also takes time and isn’t created in a brief flurry of being magically talented. The image I’ve put at the top of this post is a Hopeless, Maine take on The Death of Chatterton. Drawing that image took Tom at least a day – which he can only do because he’s spent years honing his skills as a visual artist. Colouring it will have taken at least four hours, and that’s four hours of intense focus.
Being creative is an excellent thing, and I want everyone to have time and resources to create whatever they want. Being a professional creator is actually quite a lot of work, and has a lot of the same work aspects of other jobs – we have admin, and tedious stuff that just has to be slogged through, and all the rest of it. The vast majority of people working in creative industries are paid poorly, no matter what their economic approach to the work is.