Saturday, January 31, 2015

In the spirit of full disclosure: why money matters when it comes to art

I have always enjoyed the company of people who are willing to be candid. Perhaps because candidness tends to require other traits that I admire: self-reflection, generosity, self-deprecation, openness…

Admittedly, I am a journalist and so I rely on people’s willingness to be honest and articulate about their feelings or experiences. But in my personal life, too, there’s nothing I like more than conversations had in the spirit of full disclosure.

I don’t mean that I want to know everyone’s secrets. Privacy is important, too – and relationships would be way too intense without it! But one of the things I’ve come to understand over the years is that there is a big difference between that which is profoundly personal and that which is actually private.

The Divided Heart relied on women’s willingness to be (at times searingly) honest about their experience of mothering, without requiring them to tell me anything specific about their children or their partners. That said, it still meant talking about the circumstances of their lives. In a book which is all about dismantling the romantic myths of the artistic life, it would be naïve and, essentially, dishonest, not to be frank about the context in which we live and work.

And if you’re going to publish a book of conversations, the last thing you want is a book of “polite conversations”!

This is in part why, of all the actors I could have approached, I chose to interview Rachel Griffiths – because she is so refreshingly upfront about the role that earning big money and having a stay-at-home husband has played in her ability to pursue her acting career as a mother. And about the downsides of that. When asked about her decision to move back to Australia recently, Rachel admitted: “I had really not seen my children enough, I’d outsourced a lot of that child stuff in order to do 70 to 80 hour weeks on set and I just wanted my kids to actually like me.”

Some of my interviewees were more relaxed than others about this line of questioning, especially when it came to the matter of money. But on the whole they were extraordinarily generous about discussing the kinds of support that enable their creative work.

Yes, people can overcome all manner of obstacles, and do make all manner of sacrifices, in order to make art. And some have more robust practices, not to mention egos, than others.

No amount of advantage can trump talent. But talent is only one tiny piece of a puzzle that is largely made up of practice and perseverance. It can be pretty difficult to make anything of your talent without the time and freedom to develop – and, at the end of the day, money buys time. For most of us, that means support (moral, emotional, financial) is crucial.

The conditions of our life can make all the difference when it comes to creativity – if not in our basic capacity to create, then almost always in our level of output. As someone who has been interested in the lives of women artists over the centuries, this has been patently clear to me.

In a more contemporary context, though, it has to be said that partners have often replaced patrons as the “sponsor” of many artists. And I, for one, am grateful when an artist is willing to admit that having a partner who brings in a sizeable income – and is happy to provide that support – is what allows them to focus on writing (or painting or composing…), as writer Ann Bauer does in her recent Salon article, '"Sponsored" by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from'.

What this satisfies for me I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps, as a mother who also works full time, it makes me feel more justified (or less guilty) in doing so little creative work! Perhaps it just highlights the important ongoing problem of making any kind of living in the arts without support. Or perhaps it’s just refreshing when people recognise and admit to their good fortune. Then the rest of us can express our envy openly and generously!

Whatever it is, I appreciate it in the spirit of candidness, disclosure and good old-fashioned honesty.


Sam said...

I too admire candidness in my friends and family. I am probably guilty of being a little too so, but hey. I am what I am!
My husband is the sole earner for us right now... so I can be at home with the baby, so I don't have to go back to retail- a job I hate, and I guess also so I can have a go at making my creative business an actual business. I am covered in guilt and gratitude and the only way I can think to "earn" this "luxury" is to be the best mother, and wife, that I can, and to do my best to make a go of my "craft". So many quotation marks....

Rachel Power said...

I was going to mention the pressure that comes with having that support, too. I recall the pressure I used to feel every time I paid for childcare in order to write, when the relationship between time and productivity can be so unclear. Having children often provides the perfect chance to re-evaluate what we want to to with our lives - and if you have that chance to explore your creative interests, without the pressure to make an immediate income - just drop the guilt and go for it! It's a wonderful opportunity. And the benefits for your family will far outweigh the costs. The role model of a happy mum who was willing to make a leap of faith, for one thing! x