Poverty paralyses art.
It doesn’t inspire.
For twenty months, while my life was fat with “material” (running away from domestic abuse with a freshly-two year-old), it was thin on cash. As the months went by, the rent went up, the flexible hours vanished and the hope of ever getting a mortgage and stable home shrank into the distance.
I planted every creative seed I could think of (and that energy allowed): theatre and film competitions; TV pitches; feature treatments…all unpaid, but them’s the breaks. Alongside, I applied for jobs, jobs, jobs…
Some of it was hilarious. There was an Officially Exciting BIg Theatre Interview. On the application form, it said, “Tell Us Why You’d Benefit From This Opportunity…” – and they got a shame-faced / chin-up statement about being a single parent writer hundreds of miles outside London: the lack of bar-led chances to gel, the niggles of childcare and travel… Then kalloo-kallay! I got an interview! At 9am on a Monday morning…
After that long period of fallow, and superb support from other artists (you know who you are; and it’s not gone to waste), I had so many seeds underground, I was eye-high-filthy and spent – both financially and creatively.
No single project could justify my focus – because no single one showed any more hope than any other. I ended up running up and down empty rows of soil, again and again, doing absolutely nothing of value and no-one any good. Surely ONE of them must grow? There must be a magic bean in there somewhere? Now? Now? Now?
= Eventual panic.
I was very lucky.
Someone put me forward for a job. The Other Job, the one that pays the bills. It allows me to work as a well-paid, qualified professional and even gives me the flexibility that single parenthood demands. I travel hundreds of miles a week to do it but it’s worth it – the considerations are not My Art (yup – bum firmly in air as I say it), but whether my just-four year-old is OK with it.
Being an artist is a luxury. It requires head space, an absence of survival-fear and the room to roam in your mind.
These things can be taken for granted by people who have others to fund them, care for & protect their offspring. …Is it any surprise that white men dominate the arts when they – perhaps more than any other group in this country – can most easily avoid the imaginative and creative paralysis of poverty?
I’m extraordinarily fortunate and I know it. If you’re looking for a lesson, then the only one is don’t panic. (And if you’re still in school / college, always make sure you have a Plan B….)