Wednesday 26 February 2014

The Arts: white, middle-class, posh. Why?


There's an interesting comparison made in a Spectator article between those working in The Arts and the evil dark ones working in the City:

The evil scumbags who work in the City appear to be doing a better job at being modern and liberal than the state-subsidised art world. According to last year’s Creative Skillset Employment Census, 5.4 per cent of those working in the arts were from the black or ethnic minorities. In the City, by contrast, figures from 2012 show that 30.5 per cent of employees were from the black or ethnic minorities.

So why is this? The author of the article doesn't speculate, he merely presents the information with a huge grin on his face. After all The Arts is filled with the insufferably right-on, puffed up to their middle-class ears with a sort of sub-Gramscian socialist nonsense. Always good to take them down a step from their righteous moral high ground.

Maybe that's it. Perhaps all those sons and daughters of immigrants are heading off into the private sector because that's where the opportunities are? I recall a speech to a "Pakistani Power 100" dinner from a news presenter. This successful Pakistani woman described the mantra of her childhood about careers - one I'm sure familiar to every child of immigrants - "doctor, lawyer, accountant; doctor, lawyer, accountant."

And I'm guessing that the young Black or Asian who announces an intention to work in the City will be applauded and encouraged. Perhaps too, the other young child of immigrants who announces a plan to work in a theatre or in 'arts marketing' will get the lecture about parental sacrifice and how they're damn well going to go to college and study accountancy or law.

So "the arts" is filled with the children of the English middle-classes. Nice young men and women who think it somehow nobler than working in the grubby world of banking or stockbroking. And less boring. Trendies who didn't grow out of their student leftiness to embrace the real world preferring instead a world where they can pretend to be radical and iconoclastic while relying for cash on the largess of the Arts Council and local government.

Don't get me wrong here, I think The Arts are important, just as I think other pleasures - beer, football, bad TV, even stand up comedy - are important. But all those slightly scruffy, 'more-rad-than-thou' folk that populate arts organisations - attacking the establishment while snaffling every farthing that same establishment holds out to them - those people, seen from the perspective of a Black of Asian young person, are not the way to make it from a Manningham terrace or Brixton council flat to a more comfortable life.

Unlike the City of London, of course.



asquith said...

Lou Reed preferred being a musician to going into his dad's accounting firm, because he saw exactly what the choice was before him and took it. That panned out quite well for him, and the world at large!

You're right about certain types who build solid "careers" out of being on committees and panels, but of course some of the people I most admire rebelled against a middle-class upbringing. And not every teenager from an immigrant family really wants to become a solidly middle-class professional because there will always be people who don't fit that mould and trying to force them into it will only ruin them.

We are only having so many people having mid-life crises because they are in roles they were never suited to and have been working too hard for too long...

... and then, how many creative types who aren't white, middle-class and overeducated aren't actually being paid and don't turn up in these figures? Bloggers, for instance, who do it because of a need for self-expression or to get a certain message across and never get a penny in exchange.

You've identified a problem but it's more a problem with the way the establishment runs itself and what it values than anything else. "The arts" is not synonymous with all the thinkers, writers and what have you of our world, especially in these times of the internet and that.

Anonymous said...

But there is a split within the minorities.
There is plenty of successful black representation in performing arts like popular music and dance, perhaps initially inspired from Jazz, Motown and street-dance, but almost non-existent in the figurative arts such as painting and sculpture.
The opposite is true of Asian origins - hardly any in popular performance arts at all. It is only within that latter community that the 'doctor, lawyer, accountant' mantra really applies.