“Is that a fancy way to say you’re unemployed?”
Last night at salsa I was chatting to one of the guys from the same class as me when he asked what I did. While the judgmental warning signs were there from the start (he asked if I was “a student or something”, which I normally like because I love thinking I look like a uni student), I didn’t notice them.
So I just went the way I normally do with this question and told the truth: “I’m an actress and a writer.” He asked me to repeat what I’d said. So true to my profession I said the line again, with different inflection. His response was a sarcastic smile and “is that a fancy way to say you’re unemployed?”
It’s the kind of reaction I haven’t had to deal with in a long time. I’ve got used to saying that’s what I do and having people accept it without question, or even with enthusiasm. It’s a cool job, right? I love that I’m able to make a living doing what I’m passionate about.
The thing is, this guy’s reaction is kind of what’s expected in the arts. I should have known, I mean, so many of my friends and colleagues have been asked when they will get “real jobs”, it’s often disheartening. In fact, I would have expected that question by default three years ago when, fresh out of uni, I was still working in retail and hospitality part time while I did my writing and acting projects.
It was only when I lived in Canada and travelled through North America in 2010 that I started to own acting and writing as my work. Since then, no one’s really questioned it…
At first I thought it was because my confidence had started to show when I responded to “what do you do?” – for the last year my theory has been that it is all about how you say it. Now I’m not so sure…maybe it’s just that most of the people I come in contact with are open to the idea that you can make a living being creative?
Is it a Melbourne thing? I don’t think so, because in the last year I’ve met people from Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and all other parts of the world who have responded to my profession the same way they would any other (I imagine). Plus this guy last night was from Melbourne.
Is it an age thing? Do twentysomethings and thirtysomethings find jobs in the creative industries more believable? I don’t think so, I’ve hung out with people from nine to ninety who haven’t shown as much sarcasm.
So what is it that makes some people think so poorly of creative jobs? Is it about the value (or lack-thereof) that they place on the arts? Is it, like I previously thought, about how you spin it and how much confidence you have when you tell people what you do? Do all artists get these cynical questions?