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The Creative Life – Stairway to Heaven or Highway to Hell?

“It’s not the despair, I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

This blog was written in response to Katie Brennan’s brilliantly colourful piece on the trials and tribulations of an actor’s life.

The thing is, in many ways life was easier back in the day – when everything was black and white. In the old days there were no expectations… there was just the fate that got handed out to you. A statute of limitations and a slap on the bottom greeted your arrival into this mad world.

Either you were born into a working class community, in which case you would leave school at 16; work down the pit; marry the boy/girl next door; have children; eat corned beef sandwiches; fret about making ends meet, then die of hard work.

Or you were born into life of privilege, in which case you would get emotionally fucked up by boarding school, build an empire of some kind (money makes money) retire early, become sponsor of the arts (to pay off guilt and because you can’t FEEL a damn thing in your loveless marriage) then die of boredom and loneliness.  Alternative ending finds you hanging by a noose with a satsuma in your mouth, but I digress).

Then the paradigm shifted.

“We live in a land of opportunity not limitation” became the mantra of the sixties. Motivational gurus told us we could be whatever we wanted to be. We were encouraged to ‘live the dream’. The world started to look different in the new paradigm.

There were BBC newscasters with Geordie accents!

Jimi Hendrix convinced us that the combination of purple velvet jacket with paisley shirt was not a hideous mistake but was unspeakably cool.

Janis Joplin redefined gospel singing…”Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”.

Syd Barret celebrated creative eccentricity in “The madcap laughs”.

We laughed in the face of convention and ridiculed the powers that be… ‘the suits’ became a derogatory term.

The boundaries to artistic expression melted away both figuratively and literally (let’s not forget those Salvador Dali clocks).

Then the Empire struck back!!

After raising a generation of children on the bible of self belief and creative dreams the old paradigm re-asserted itself.

“How are you going to make any MONEY with that idea? that talent?”  You forgot about THE MARKET. It’s a supply and demand world that we live in. It’s unrealistic to expect to ‘do what you love doing’.

So…what d’you do if no-one’s buying what you’re selling?

We freaked out!

People seemed to be buying real estate, software and fast food, but we didn’t want to be estate agents or computer programmers . And we’d rather die then spend our days saying “would you like fries with that?”

We started hanging around the cognoscenti with cardboard signs.. “will work for free…or will work for a chance to include this on my CV.”  The market responded in kind (or not so kind as was soon to be revealed). My friend’s daughter did an internship for Stella McCartney. She was paid no money, no transport costs and couldn’t even get a secondary evening job in a bar because she was expected to hang around after hours in case anyone needed a coffee.  I don’t have to remind anyone how much money Stella McCartney has – even without the golden trampoline provided by her Dad.

When confronted with this injustice, the powers that be proclaim “It’s not me, it’s THE MARKET. There are just too many people who want this job, we have to set up some kind of criteria… the ones who really, really want it will do it for free. 

Well actually… no.  The ones who will do it are ultimately the ones whose parents can afford to pay their living costs.  Given its way the market will create an arts culture dominated by over privileged hedge fund kids and a few random lucky ones who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

It’s easy to blame cuts in arts council grants for not filling the gap between supply and demand. But there’s a growing band of dissent at the moment that is NOT going in favour of the arts.  The people in the rubbish jobs paying taxes are slightly pissed off.  They didn’t get to ‘live their dreams’ and furthermore they can’t even afford to have children. It’s understandable they can get a little crazy while reading the Daily Mail who seem hell bent on convincing everyone that their hard earned cash is going to support people who embrace child bearing with impunity or performance artists who call a rectangle shape of breeze blocks “My mother’s un-lived life.”

Meanwhile we have to put up with talentless soap stars in West End Musicals, hideous (entirely rigged) TV talent shows that pray on the mawkish sentimentality of the Daily Mail reader and endless You tube clips of people falling backwards into paddling pools.

Shifting the paradigm didn’t work. It’s time to totally break the fucker.

How could this be done?

In the business bible, there’s a popular example cited for the need to be constantly looking ahead rather than behind – the parable of Kodak.

Kodak were an enormous global corporation who were ‘too big to fail.’ At one time every picturesque landmark in the world seemed to have ‘A Kodak moment’ sign, reminding you to whip out your Instamatic to capture the scene. They didn’t see the digital age coming so in their case, size actually didn’t matter. Goliath wavered for a moment then crashed to the floor.

There’s another popular story in which Steve Jobs, aka God, says people don’t know what you want until you give it to them, at which point they say something like “I never knew I wanted this but now you’ve invented it, I don’t know how I ever lived without it.”

Perhaps there’ll come a time when the arts scene will look entirely different. When people will value theatre, music and art in a way they’ve never valued it before because it’s presented in an entirely different way.

Perhaps it’ll be so whacky, they’ll detach themselves from the screen they’re looking at – whether that’s a TV, a computer, or a smart phone – and they’ll want to engage with real life again.

Perhaps then they’ll say “wow I never knew what was missing in my life, but this is an absolute blast.”

What would it take to give ourselves a good slap, take a lungful of air and start creating a whole new way of being creative?

#creativity #arts #consciousness


  1. meredith says:

    ‘Perhaps then they’ll say “wow I never knew what was missing in my life, but this is an absolute blast.”

    What would it take to give ourselves a good slap, take a lungful of air and start creating a whole new way of being creative?’

    and that, Eleanor, is EXACTLY what your blogs do for me!! LOVE them and NEVER read blogs but yours always gets flagged for the right moment amidst the madness. x

  2. Hannah Cox says:

    Brilliantly written! I used to work freelance for a company that paid their artists really well (hurrah – so often not the case) but their admin staff was half made up of interns who worked FULL TIME, FOR FREE, NO EXPENSES, FOR SIX MONTHS. I don’t know a single person who could afford to even apply for the opportunity unless they came from a really well; supported and well financed background. The more we can keep creating and forming our own platforms, trying to support and launch one another the better we’ll do – the revolution may not be televised (unless it was scripted and heavily edited with some good old archetypal characters first) but lets hope it creeps across fringe theatres, independent galleries, and other unknown venues ready to spring up when the time comes

    • Eleanor O'Rourke says:

      Exactly! ‘creating and forming our own platforms..supporting and launching one another’. Collaboration is the way forward!

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