The life of an artist is enough

Art for art’s sake, the saying goes, and it’s something I’ve had to learn time and again. I’m among the 44,000 practising Australian artists who don’t make enough from their art to call it a living. I’m one of the lucky ones. Australian artists make an average of $18,900 a year from their creative work (the median is $7000) and a further $8,800 a year from related work like teaching. I supplement novel writing income with other writing income, and I have a spouse with a day job that funds the lion’s share of our household, a fact I’m often embarrassed to admit. Still, I persist in writing novels that take a long time to finish and don’t earn a living once they are finished. Why is that?

Australian artists work a solid week, and they’re not without skills. But the fact remains that if you work as an artist in Australia, it probably won’t buy you a boat, although new tyres for the car might be a possibility in a good year. Yet, if you talk to most artists, they’re happy doing what they do, even when reporting a general misery. And we value artists. We’re glad they give what they do.

My son’s guitar teacher, Simon Gardner, is a gifted player and a wonderful teacher by all accounts. He’s inspired many students to play the music of guitar’s finest days, from Led Zeppelin to Nirvana. He’s just released his fifth album, And So It Goes. My son and his father went to the launch a couple of weeks back at the Triffid in Newstead. They came home buzzing with the music they love, the joy art gives.

A girl I went to primary school with, Louise Wadley, is now a film maker. Her just-released first feature All About E is a comedy about a young lesbian on a quest to find love and answers to the kinds of questions we all struggle with. It’s been praised at film festivals all over the world. Here not only is a voice we need to hear but one shouting out with terrific music and great jokes about lives we can identify with. 

We are all of us creative in some field or other. We all make. It’s part of the human condition. Whether it’s stories or pictures or music or gardens or food or cardigans or movies, we have creativity innate within us. And our art gives something to the world. “Only connect,” Forster said. And that’s it, the reason for art. A bigger pay-cheque might be nice too for those of us who are trying to make a living, but it doesn’t matter nearly so much. Only connect.