The Myth of the Artist is Killing Us!

By February 11, 2016Film and TV, Rants, The Cause

“I’m a filmmaker,” says Polson. “I’m not a marketing person, not an accountant.”

That really grates my cheese. That really steams my socks. I’m a filmmaker too, Mr Polson, and I can tell you you’re supposed to know a little about those two things. You’re also part of running TropFest, one of the biggest short film festivals in the world, which you’ve admitted is six figures in the red, so maybe you should do your due diligence and fucking well learn?

This grinds my gears because it’s part of a wider delusion filmmakers and artists in Australia buy in to, and it’s ruining us. It’s time for the myths to die, starting with a truth:

Artists are business owners.

Don’t just take my word for it. I was at an event the other week, with artists with disabilities, and I overheard two people speaking. The listener was a young woman who’d told a senior artist, a lady in her 60s, that she was an artist. The senior artist, she held the younger’s gaze and implored her to listen to one piece of advice, “You are running a business.” She spoke of how long it took her and her artist friends to realise that, how much they fought against it, but that once they accepted it, their work and their chosen careers finally blossomed. Artists are business owners.

Filmmakers, in particular, are business managers. You wanna make a film? Then you’re also saying you want to be in charge of 50-200 people, and partly responsible for budgets, timelines and asset management. A film is a medium sized business with staff, contractors, briefs, management. The product is the film and the rights. Artists of all stripes have to manage their books, build relationships with clients, sell work, market themselves or their content – if they don’t, they fail, like any small business that fails to do the basics.

It’s time for the myths to die. There’s an obvious tension between artists and capitalism. They buck, they pull away from it. Artists see monumental skyscrapers and multinational corporations, shackling people to desks in dingy kennels while their masters sit, cartoonish in their evil, on piles of money. But unless you’re specifically making art about the evils of capitalism while literally living in a commune, look at it this way:

You have to pay your rent every month.

The artist, wandering through fields or back alleys, peering at society and somehow being separate from it, apart: bullshit. That artist gets hungry at the end of the day, that artist has to go home, sleep, not freeze to death. We are a part of society, and I say an important part, for all the reasons countless others have defended arts’ place – beauty, escape, confrontation, enjoyment, learning, culture, community – we’re important, but we have to live!

It’s even more crucial that artists accept themselves as empowered business owners when you look at the horrible side effect of our lack of confidence in ourselves as a part of a democratic capitalist nation. Artists are some of the lowest paid, poverty stricken members of our country. One third live below the poverty line. There’s a quiet crisis going on in the entertainment sector. Two studies undertaken by Entertainment Assist showed:

  • 25% of performing artists have attempted or considered suicide
  • Over a third of performing artists, 25% of industry support workers and most roadies and crew reported mental health problems
  • Extensive mental health issues across the broad spectrum of the industry often as a result of bullying, sexual abuse, long and unrewarding working hours and a lack of appreciation for years of commitment
  • Suicide attempts for Australian Entertainment Industry workers are more than double that of the general population.
  • ​The levels of moderate to severe anxiety symptoms are 10 times higher than in the general population.
  • ​The levels of depression symptoms are five times higher than in the general population.
  • In the last twelve months Australian Entertainment Industry Workers experienced suicide ideation 5-7 times more than the general population and 2-3 times more over a lifetime.

That is fucked up, and honestly, nobody gives a shit. “Oh, you chose that life, deal with it,” is the generalisation from the public. We artists are the only ones who can turnaround our fate, and bullshit statements like “I’m a filmmaker, I’m not a marketing person, not an accountant,” aren’t going to do it. If you don’t know marketing or accounting, fucking well go learn! We live in an age of knowledge explosion. There are online courses, free courses, free websites, free seminars, libraries, friends, mentors, workshops – there is no excuse in not knowing these things, or finding people who do. Artists must take control of their future, take their rightful place in society as creators of important or entertaining work. They must accept they are making work that people are willing to pay for or subsidise in some way. We need to survive and we need to grow.

Fuck the notion of the poor, starving but somehow noble artist.  Make great stuff and get yours!

If this post has triggered feelings of depression, anxiety or any other mental health concerns, or if you are experiencing these anyway, please contact BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or if you’ve thoughts of suicide, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Seriously.


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