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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.