THE STORY THE CENSUS DOESN’T TELL…
An Artist’s Perspective
Census time again!
As I filled the forms out on line (two days after the due date—another story covered in the media), I had a Eureka moment.
I faced a dilemma regarding the work/employment section with questions: “What’s your main job?” and “How much do you earn?”
As an artist/writer I had a conflict of interest. I knew what the statisticians from Canberra were after. I understood by “your main work”, they meant “paid” work, or in my case, the work that paid the most dollars.
So, if I ticked my writing and proceeds from the novels I’ve published for which I’ve been paid a pittance, but on which I’ve spent the most time, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) would not be happy. In their estimation, work without the dollars attached to it, is not “work”.
If I put my Art, that is, painting, from which I earned a few hundred dollars in the last financial year, that also wouldn’t satisfy the ABS—even if I do sit down at Art Group and say, “I’m going to do some work now.” Besides, according to my accountant, my earnings from art is “hobby money” that goes back into painting supplies and equipment.
Well, then, that leaves the paper-round. I inherited the paper-delivery-round from my son, who after he saved enough money for a computer, had no use for it. But I did. This “work” earns sufficient funds for a holiday every year or two. And I like the fresh air and exercise.
So I marked the paper-round as my main work even though I spend the least amount of time compared to painting and writing. How sad that my “work” according to the ABS is reduced to four hours a week delivering papers after having achieved a University degree.
The ABS will never know the other side of my life—my work of choice—the Arty Creative work, because there’s no money of any significance in it.
In our society, unless the “work” has dollar signs attached, it’s worth nothing.
So I mean to say, the whole spectrum of our culture, what makes our culture in fact, and enriches our lives: the writing, drama, music, art, doesn’t exist in the Australian story according to the ABS.
The reason? Artisans, be they writers, actors, artists, musicians and other creative people are not valued for their craft. To survive they must earn a wage—if they can find a job. How many of us “creators” are forced to choose between our craft, and food and shelter?
We become teachers, restaurant staff, cleaners, office workers, accountants or whatever while our passion to create becomes quenched by the need to survive. At the end of the work-day, we are often too tired to create.
‘When we retire…’, we promise ourselves.
My Dad was an artist. He went to Art School after high school. He even sold a painting through the local newspaper as a young married man. However, he had a family to support, thus became a teacher, and his art was sidelined. ‘When I retire, I’ll get back to my art,’ Dad would say. He retired, but the paints and paper remained packed in a suitcase in the cupboard while he pursued his passion teaching and music.
I have inherited Dad’s 300gsm Arches paper, watercolours and brushes, and I feel that I’m carrying on the art tradition my Dad began.
So in the end, statistics are just statistics; they don’t tell the whole rich story. Statistics won’t reveal that the Fleurieu Peninsula (the area in which I live) has reportedly the highest percentage of writers and artists in Australia. Statistics only reveals the tip of the iceberg of artists and writers who have entered for the census information that they are a writer or artist because it’s their main source of income. However statistics will miss many other creators who do not put their craft as their main source of income.
For most of us creators, the line flung at us by well-meaning family and friends is: ‘Get a real job.’
Creating is not valued unless there’s a cost, and yet everyone wants to be entertained…often without cost.
The other side of the story those who push the “proper job line” don’t understand is that the rewards of creating for an artist, in the broad sense of the word, outweigh the monetary rewards one receives from the so-called “real work”.
That being said, each human being on earth has a purpose in life, to impact, to bring goodness. For some, it is that “real job”, for others it may be through creativity. God’s Word the Bible says:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…Colossians 3:23 (NIV)
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Painting: Fishermen at Waitpinga © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2010 [Currently exhibited for the SALA Festival at The Corner Uniting Church, Warradale until August 27]