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Ever since the early days of New Labour in 1997, it’s been government and arts policy to integrate and progress devel­opment of the visual arts through the creative industry umbrella and to embrace its economic imper­a­tives. As this situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, through my new research I’m addressing some key questions. Do these indus­tries provide a conducive environment in which visual artists can make a living and develop their careers? Are the condi­tions and employment practices more favourable to ways of working by some artists while others lose out?

What are the creative industries? 

The creative indus­tries comprise: Those indus­tries which have their origin in individual creativity, skills and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the gener­ation and exploitation of intel­lectual property”.(DCMS 2001 (1) New Labour policy (DCMS, 2008) saw devel­opment of the creative indus­tries as way to make Britain the world’s creative capital’. (2) And Arts Council England Visual Arts Policy 2007-11 followed suit, positioning artists’ practices within the creative indus­tries [because this environment] acknowl­edges the fluid nature of visual arts practice and the portfolio working lives of many artists”. (3)

Thus, this linkage between the arts and the creative indus­tries has been around for nearly two decades, and it’s likely to continue to be government and arts policy to integrate devel­opment of the visual arts under this industry umbrella. Florida (2002) identified that creative people actively choose to be in stimu­lating environ­ments rather than in more tradi­tional and predi­cable ones because they value the intrinsic rewards related to the content of creative work over monetary compen­sation. However, this reliance on people’s intrinsic motiva­tions which hooks them in emotionally” serves to under­mines their economic status. 

Banks & Hesmond­halgh (2009) confirm that UK creative indus­tries work is charac­terised by insecurity, inequality and exploitation and fosters self-exploitation by creative workers themselves, this due to differing expec­ta­tions of the balance between monetary reward and creative oppor­tunity. Given this under­lying struc­tural issue of poor remuner­ation, should public policy be complicit in presenting as conven­tional career choices the bohemian’ (4) and irregular occupa­tions including artist, writer and musician? 

Rather than the open recruitment of the past which supported equality of oppor­tunity, creative work oppor­tu­nities are handed on within what McRobbie (2002) assesses to be a club culture’. Thus for individuals to get on’ in the creative indus­tries relies both on their access to networks and their network sociality’: “… getting an interview for contract creative work depends on informal knowledge and contacts, often friendships.” 

Thirty years ago artists were found to either have a main occupation or a dual career but in the creative indus­tries of nowadays, workers tend to hold down three, or even four usually short-term projects at once, these alongside other jobs also taken on to cover gaps in work. Although some artists have an active preference for portfolio working (Summerton 1999), research by Galloway et al (2003) found that the inherent unpre­dictability artists have to deal with when working in the creative indus­tries face can undermine their ability to be creative. Gunnell & Bright (2010) concluded that the nature of creative indus­tries work doesn’t suit everyone’s charac­ter­istics and behav­iours. A longi­tu­dinal study of a sample of new creative graduate businesses by Hanage et al (2016) revealed that despite promising begin­nings and start-up support these individuals were at a disad­vantage from the outset” and that the enter­prises of each of those studied had failed within five years.

Disad­van­tages and inequalities 

McRobbie (2002) questions the compat­i­bility of the creative indus­tries environment to the motiva­tions and artistic aspira­tions of its workforce. She identifies constraints due to the individ­u­alism which is necessary, as people are respon­sible for creating and maintaining their own micro-struc­tures and being reflexive is the norm. She asserts that Being a specialist rather than a multi-skilled creative’ is becoming a thing of the past and a mark of being over 35” and suggests it is (young) unencum­bered women who dominate the creative indus­tries, who have sacri­ficed motherhood for the mobility necessary to build status and CVs.

Morgan & Nelligan (2015) identify the particular disad­van­tages for working class men. Because they are steeped in commu­nities of practice (that is in the modes and tradi­tions of making work) they are found to be the least able to manage the rigors of a creative career or to thrive within the creative indus­tries. This is a social group which is less comfortable with the incessant job seeking, is less compet­itive, has less incli­nation to improvise and rebrand’ in response to change, is less likely to excited by serendip­itous oppor­tu­nities wherever and whenever they arise, and to also be less prepared to endure scrutiny and arbitrary judgement by gatekeepers. 

In short, the require­ments of the creative indus­tries seem not to be conducive to an art practice which is honed and built through a continuous, craft-and skills-based practice such as painting, ceramics. Morgan & Nelligan (2015) conclude that: to survive in turbulent labour markets most creative aspirants must become labile labour’ mobile, sponta­neous, malleable and capable of being aroused by new vocational possibilities”. 

Other sections of society found to be disad­van­taged by the creative indus­tries. Hesmond­halgh & Baker (2009) show that people from ethnic groups or with low socio-economic status are under­rep­re­sented due to the poor pay and uncertain employment prospects. However, new evidence is need to find out what other under­lying factors may cause barriers. It’s possible that artists based outwith the urban conur­ba­tions where the creative indus­tries are and who can’t, or don’t want to be, around and about, having a drink after work, social­ising and networking are also excluded, to the detriment of their artistic career devel­opment and livelihoods. 

There is no current evidence as to whether an artist’s age, religion, disability, mental health or neuro­di­versity(5) — a term which encom­passes genetic condi­tions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and bipolarity — impact adversely on their ability to engage with the club culture’ and inbuilt sociality’ of the creative indus­tries and to sustain a livelihood in the visual arts over a life-cycle’ (Wright et al 2011). However, research by Gross & Musgrave (2016) has concluded that music industry workers may be up to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the public as a whole, with uncer­tainty about income and career prospects contrib­utory factors. 


The evidence reviewed suggests that positioning the visual arts under the creative indus­tries umbrella may not be good for visual artists. Practi­tioners are shown to be poorly valued and rewarded, with sections of them excluded from partic­i­pation for various reasons. Furthermore, Hanage et al conclude that those supporting creative graduates ought to think of start-up support as the first exploratory step in a longer personal devel­opment journey” and that policy makers have a tendency to disregard the under­lying challenges, paradoxes and insecurity which individuals have to face. It could be argued that it is time for arts policy to reassess its inter­re­la­tionship with the creative indus­tries in which economic imper­a­tives supersede the quality of work experience, artists’ ability to be creative and realise artistic ambitions is under­mined and social inequality and lack of diversity are commonplace. 


Unless stated otherwise, cited texts and reviews of research are only freely available to those with access to an academic library. 

Banks, M, Hesmond­halgh, D, (2009). Looking for work in creative indus­tries policy, Inter­na­tional Journal of Cultural Policy 15 (4) pp. 415 – 430 

Florida, R, (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books. 

Galloway, S, Lindley, R, Davies, R, Scheibl, F, (2002). Balancing Act: artists’ labour markets and the tax and benefits system. London: Arts Council of England. 

Gross, S, Musgrave, G, (2016). Can Music Make You Sick? Music and Depression: A study into the incidence of musicians’ mental health Part 1: Pilot Survey Report. London: University of Westminster/​MusicTank

Gunnell, B. and Bright, M, (2010). Creative Survival in Hard Times. London: Arts Council England. 

Hanage, R, Scott, M, J, Davies, A, P, (2016). From great expec­ta­tions” to hard times”. Inter­na­tional Journal of Entre­pre­neurial Behavior & Research. 22:1 pp 4 – 16 

Hesmond­halgh, D. and Baker, S. (2009). A very compli­cated version of freedom’: Condi­tions and experi­ences of creative labour in three cultural indus­tries. Poetics 38 pp. 4 – 20 

McRobbie, A, (2002). Clubs to Companies: Notes on the decline of political culture in speeded up worlds. Cultural Studies, 16 (4) pp. 516 – 147 

McRobbie, A, (2016). Be creative: making a living in the new culture indus­tries. Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Morgan, G, Nelligan P, (2015). Labile labour – gender, flexi­bility and creative work, The Socio­logical Review, 63:S1 pp. 66 – 83 

Summerton, J. (1999). Artists at Work 1999: study of the patterns and condi­tions of work in the Southern Arts Region, Winchester: Southern Arts Board. 

Wright, S. Robinson, M. Querol, N. Colston, S. (2011). The Art of Living Danger­ously. London/​Newcastle: Mission Models Money and Exchange.


(1) DCMS (2001). Creative Indus­tries Mapping Document

(2) Creative Britain: new talents for the new economy. London: DCMS2008

(3) Arts Council England Visual Arts Policy 2007-11

(4) Although tradi­tionally viewed as people who favoured more libertine lifestyles and made lifestyle rather than purely economic choices, this term has been in usage more widely since Florida (2002) as a descriptor for the more artistic’ part of the creative class’ ie authors, designers, musicians and composers, actors and directors, craft-artists, painters, sculptors, artist print­makers, photog­ra­phers, dancers, artists, performers. In addition Comunian (2009) defines bohemians as those people capable of holding high human capital in the creative disciplines. 

(5) Wikipedia states that neuro­di­versity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neuro­logical condi­tions appear as a result of normal varia­tions in the human genome. There is a neuro­di­versity movement, which is an inter­na­tional civil rights movement that has the autism rights movement as its most influ­ential submovement. This movement frames autism, bipolarity and other neurotypes as a natural human variation rather than a pathology or disorder, and its advocates reject the idea that neuro­logical differ­ences need to be (or can be) cured, as they believe them to be authentic forms of human diversity, self-expression, and being”. Relevant to the points I am making in this piece is the assertion that: Neuro­di­versity advocates promote support systems (such as inclusion-focused services, accom­mo­da­tions, commu­ni­cation and assistive technologies, occupa­tional training, and independent living support) that allow those who are neuro­di­vergent to live their lives as they are, rather than being coerced or forced to adopt uncrit­i­cally accepted ideas of normality, or to conform to a clinical ideal”.

This text is an extended version of a Soapbox provo­cation delivered to delegates at Whose Art? Our Art! Access and Activism in Gallery Education’, engage conference 1314 October 2016.