Sunday, June 15, 2008

There used to be a tremendous amount of romance associated with "the young struggling artist". The term tends to slightly reminiscent of a period drama. You know, where the gifted auteur would (with ink-stained writing hand) feverishly write his manuscripts by candlelight. The struggling artist would desperately struggle for his art. He would struggle for patronage, recognition and fame. Needless to say, "the young struggling artist" still exists in a contemporary context. However, instead of feverishly refining their art, they would have to refine their networking skills. The modern day struggling artist would have to be prepared to grasp every third rate opportunity.. and be prepared to be treated like a third rate imbecile if they wish to succeed.

The modern-day paradigm of the struggling artist has managed to legitimate the exploitation of the young and educated. This is echoed in the existence and wild popularity of "volunteer positions" and "internship programs" within almost every creative and non-creative industry. It is widely understood that those who accept these positions will be either overlooked, mistreated or at best, humiliated. They will be asked to do meaningless tasks, such as reorganising 500 CDs into alphabetical order. They will also be asked to do physically taxing tasks, such as cleaning, counting and restacking a basement filled with tens of thousands of CDs. They will be asked to be stupid tasks, such as attempting to return a six-month old stamp to a shop, without a receipt.

The struggling artist would foolishly believe that the performance of these tasks would demonstrate their dedication and strength of character. Instead, such willingness to perform these tasks illustrate a grim reality. A reality where it is acceptable that employers dangle the promise of future employment among the skilled, young and hopeful - all in exchange for free labour.


China said...

Oh goodness, at my last job (working for a music website), the only other people my age were interns, and interns took up half of the office! That place was so cheap and set on getting free labor whereever possible. Except at our office, the interns were responsible for MySpace networking for hours on end, and in their work contract was the possibility that they would be on camera as part of a reality show that nearly got made about the company.

It's funny, the more musicians with day jobs I interview/talk to, the less being a struggling artist sounds appealing. No romance in the modern day, eh? Might have been in a day where you could get an apartment for $25 a month, maybe...

Eleanor said...

Oh china! I'm not at all surprised to hear of the antics at your last job. It disappoints me that these work conditions are not at all uncommon - they are duly anticipated.

And as you say, I wouldn't have minded so much if it were those days of getting apartments for $25 a month! Did you know that Warhol rented the Factory for only $50 a month? Unbelievable.