Creative careers: reasons, realities and work-life balance

In a workforce characterised by high unemployment, a study has revealed 60% of artists are self-employed (image courtesy of Oceanaris)

Hands up those wanted to be a musician when they grew up? Any painters? A ballerina perhaps?

In a global culture saturated with aspiring creatives, the artistic labour market is predominantly project-based, often dictated by cultural trends, and offers widely uneven rewards; particularly, unpaid work! Why then do people pin their livelihood on a workforce characterised by high unemployment, or underemployment, and uncertainty?

A study of 100 artists by Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing (WOW) researcher, Dr Maree Boyle, is asking the tough questions in an effort to understand how creative workers live their lives and why they’ve chosen such a path. Using social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, Maree is connecting with artists working fulltime — be that as a result of their craft or having multiple jobs across a variety of industries – and those who have left a creative career altogether.

In a 19 November seminar, Maree shared the results of some 25 artist-interviews analysed to date which highlights how the desire to work in creative occupations is often coupled with the aspiration to perform creative work and be perceived as a creative identity.

Whilst arts-based careers do exist in a contemporary creative economy, success, Dr Boyle comments, is heavily reliant on one’s skill-as-entrepreneur and propensity for social engagement and networking; an important part, she says, of the artist’s business plan as “sixty per cent are self-employed [and] twelve per cent are sole practitioners”. How then does the bohemian myth surrounding being creative, influence artists’ work?

One of five themes evolving is the trajectory of artists’ creative proficiencies. Specifically, interviewees highlight how from a young age their skill has been nurtured through both arduous – and costly – training and practice. The presence and impact of the subjection to constant work critique also features, as does the place of networking, temporality, and creative hubs and communities in generating income.

Interviewees too often discuss the key elements of their engagement with the creative process. This can involve managing the psychological, intellectual and emotional intensity that comes with producing their work; simply creating meaning for themselves; or dispelling others’ widely held belief that creative workers are immune to any work-life conflict.

Dr Maree Boyle
Dr Maree Boyle

Following in the latter vein, Dr Boyle is also asking how, and where, the line is drawn in a creative career between work and life to achieve balance? “The term ’career’ itself is problematic for creative workers as it doesn’t follow a typical profile”, she says. “Although a distinctive ‘creative career’ does exist”, it is one that interviewees feel should be incorporated into training institutions in an effort to manage the expectations of artists seeking to make a living from their craft.

“A ‘creative career’ is really a portfolio career, [or] parallel career to other jobs”, Dr Boyle reminds us.

As interviews continue, Maree hopes to particularly dig deeper into the networking theme, and collaborate with artists and other academics focused on creative economies and industries.