The creative sector has taken more than its fair share of economic bombardment from government cuts to losses due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. A recent consultation between the Office of National Statistics and the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, recommended reducing spending on higher education for the arts by 50%. Last year, an advert circulated which suggested those employed in the arts should retrain in a more profitable sector, like “cyber” – I am sure that we all recall the advert in question…Previously, a report recommended that ministers “crack-down” on creative arts degrees because of their low-earning potential. It has definitely been an uphill struggle for those people deeply committed to keeping creativity and artistry alive, but why has it been so hard? Is there something wrong with being arty?
In short, no, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being arty, and the framing of this issue by those in power is suggestive of a much deeper logic when it comes to governance in the UK. There are two fundamental reasons that those in power disregard the creative sector whenever possible.
The first reason is obvious – money. It is true that those graduates with degrees in scenic artistry, fine art, music, performing arts etc. do not earn as much as doctors, lawyers, and bankers. It is also true that these individuals will not leave university and enter into a world of certain employment and remuneration. Often, individuals who enter the creative sector will face long spells of unemployment, lower wages, and less favourable markets. This is the very nature of their work in our current society, as their work is valued less than that of a cardiac surgeon (the ethics of which are for you to decide…). A study from 2019 showed that despite the £100bn that the creative sector brings to the UK economy, most creative sector jobs earn below the average annual salary of roles outside the sector. Some have put this down to “for free” culture, digitalisation, and the undervaluing of the labour from creative workers.
The nature of our “system” means that money is everything in our society. This is not a critique of capitalism per se, but it is certainly a criticism of an extreme and exploitative capitalist system. Unfortunately, the world we live in means that if you do not make the government money, you are not worth as much. This is the motivation behind the aforementioned “crack-down” on creative degrees, because those earning below the required wage for tuition fee repayment will not be as financially valuable to the government. Hence, it is in the government’s best interest if they make it harder for people to enter the creative sector. Except this is not true – as we already know the creative sector brings in over £100bn a year, which is approximately 5.8% of the UK’s GDP. Surely then, it is profitable for the government to invest in the creative sector.
The second reason that it is so difficult to work in the creative sector is not so obvious – control. The world of profit and prosperity is not something that the powerful wish to relinquish anytime soon. Indeed, those who we will broadly refer to as “the elite” or “the ruling class” have an intrinsic desire to maintain the status quo – it is, after all, what got them where they are today. Every day, in every school across the UK, students are taught using a system that is designed to churn out factory workers and not creatives. If you think back to your own time at school, it is not hard to see how this is true. Every time that you were given a command, following it would result in praise, whereas failing to comply would result in a reprimand. The school day is often governed by a timetable, has set hours for lunch, has pre-determined breaks, and is regulated by the noise of a bell. For 200 years, schooling has been about making the perfect, pliable, punctual worker. Creativity does not fit into this system, as the mundane factory work for which the system was made is not creative, but monotonous.
The system is not based in creativity because creativity breeds curiosity, which forms questions and free-thinking behaviour. Freethinkers do not preserve the status quo, they revolt. Today, this does not mean throwing petrol bombs, but simply making work for the purpose of fulfilment rather than financial gain. This is not what the ruling class desire, because revolutionary creativity does not line pockets, and it is much simpler to turn painters into cyber engineers than it is to make creativity profitable.
Herein lies the answer to why the government continuously cuts funding to the arts, why there is a lack of appreciation for creative works, and why it is so difficult for those in the creative sector to find work. The creative industry is one of the most undervalued in the whole economy. The idea of working for 5 days and resting for 2 was one of the greatest cons in history but being indoctrinated to fit that purpose is an ultimately more amazing feat of deception. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being arty, because creativity has given the human race all its most amazing discoveries and inventions – yes even those which came from STEM subjects. It takes an intense amount of creativity to be successfully logical. At the end of the day, a good wage may be why we have to work, but we are all going to spend it on someone else’s creation anyway.
Written by Isaac Knowles
Isaac Knowles is a columnist at DecipherGrey.