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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Advice to would-be artists

Being in the creative arts is one of the most wonderfully rewarding things you can do. We make people happy. People read our books, listen to our music, attend plays and watch poets because it brings them joy. Art is the window that reflects the world.

That said, there is a horrible price to pay which I am now realizing in my early twenties. When you're fourteen and stubborn and want to follow your dreams you think everything will simply fall into place. There is some truth to that if you work at it, but you have to be realistic which is hard for a teenager to grapple.

If you want to go into the creative arts, do it. Pursue it. I'm the last person who will tell you not to follow your dreams and passions. Do what you love otherwise life is more pointless and awful than it already can be. BUT: I think you should also train in some sort of practical skill. Plumbing; cooking, carpentry, public transport, engineering - any kind of practical skill or so-called blue collar work.

Why? Because to pursue the creative arts, you need money. If you're a musician, rehearsal bookings; making an EP, equipment - these all cost money. You have to invest to do what you love and that money needs to come from somewhere. It isn't coming from the government (more on that in a second) so it needs to come from a stable position until you become financially viable enough from doing what you love.

Unfortunately, school doesn't prepare you for the 'real world' or give you much practical skills. (This is an ongoing social discussion). School trains you to become a teacher or a university lecturer, which is great if that's what you want. There's a space for intellectuals who want to think and write and teach. But that's a small part of the human population and for the rest of us, being a qualified Historian or Sociologist isn't great in the practical sense. Sure, if you want to go into Law or Journalism than Humanities can be helpful, but even with those types of practices, experience and internships can prove more useful than a degree.

Great video, worth watching.

If you want to learn about Philosophy and History than this is just one person's opinion/advice: you can learn plenty from reading books and articles online and going to talks. That sounds like a tough pill to swallow but I'm only saying this from experience and observation. Academic intelligence is great, but unless you want to pursue that as a career, it's not the most practical use of your time.

God, my sixteen-year-old self is grimacing; fuck practicality, she says! But my twenty-one-going-on-twenty-two-year-old self gets it. Blue collar skills are better for life if you want to pursue something that will take a while to build. I'm lucky to be living with a stable resilient hard-working woman (my mother) otherwise I'd probably be out on the street singing for coins.

A note on state intervention. This is going to sound fairly controversial and I'm sure many (especially non-artists) would disagree. I think that there should be some kind of arts grant/loan for everyone that wants to pursue the arts as a career. If say by fourteen you've realized you want to be a musician, or a writer; actor, photographer, poet, dancer, then I think there should be a state program you can apply for so you can get funds in order to sustain the costs to cover your dreams. They could even be like a student loan; government loans money to aspiring teenage artists who pursue what they want, then by the time they're in their twenties and becoming established, they can start paying it back. Sounds better than doing some degree which may not even be helpful and having thousands of pounds of debt.

We all know we're in a tough business and many of us (like yours truly) end up battling mental illness and addiction as a result of not being able to do what we love and having to hunt for poorly-paid menial work that eats up more time. If you say that isn't fair then stop reading books, going to concerts, watching movies or visiting art galleries. There have been plenty of periods in human history such as Medieval England when entertainers had wealthy patrons financially sustain their career. We perform a service for the public by providing entertainment and bringing joy. We make you happy, you stop us from starving. Everybody wins.

I'm sure that's an unpopular opinion (fuck the Tories). Nonetheless, I am not blaming anybody outwards for my personal grievances and am not trying to say that it's the fault of the government for my life choices. I am simply saying that this is an industry which could deeply benefit from some sort of state funds due to the enormous impact it has on the world (music floods everything we do, from adverts to our phone ringtones).

I don't have any practical skills - I can perform confidently on stage and tell you about Freud and Aristotle but those won't get me my own place. If I could go back in time I would tell my fourteen-year-old self to become a plumber or electrician so by the time I was in my early twenties I would have had a steady income and enough money saved to pursue what I loved so I could quit my day job.

I'm not saying everyone should do that and I'm not saying I'm right at all. But this is something I think aspiring artists in their teens need to know and think about. If you want to do art, the traditional school system is not going to help you. Learn a trade so you can be a happy financially stable adult while flourishing artistically!

Poem to end on from my poetry collection of the same name:

Art is a waste of time, my dear
It bears no financial gain
You shall be crippled and withered and shrivelled
Your talents down the drain
Don't waste your time with art, my dear
You are only seventeen
With your whole life laid out ahead of you
(whatever that does mean.)
Art is a waste of time, my dear
It won't make you any money
And that is the most important thing in life
More so than finding a honey.
Art is a waste of time, my dear
Those strums are good for fun
But you'll never make a living out of singing
or pouring out satirical puns.
Art is a waste of time, my dear
So cart your dreams to the shelf
Leave them stored and waste more time
Doing something else.

Collection available to download for free here:

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
I've also published three YA fiction books and two poetry volumes. To check em out, copy and paste this link into your browser: