Tag Archives: Artists

Where angels fear


LEAVING a mark on history is usually the result of courage, but it always starts by simply making a stand.

Since 2009, Michael Burge has written about single-minded individuals who faced fear, grief and oppression, yet went through with defiant acts of social and cultural rebellion.

Pluck is Michael’s re-examination of several divas, dilettantes, groundbreakers, chameleons, rebels and heroes faced with crossroads, comebacks and reinventions.Many of them got a very bad name in the process, or had their motives shrouded in mystery.

This fascinating collection reveals new perspectives on fame and sheds a timely light on lives which may never be acclaimed, yet went where angels fear to tread.

Extracts from Pluck.

“Remembering Orry-Kelly comes with a pretty big Hollywood revelation, one which has undoubtedly contributed to his relative anonymity in the country of his birth, because Kiama’s forgotten son knew another Hollywood icon, loved and lived with him, long before they both made it big on the silver screen …” from Orry-Kelly – the costume king from Kiama.

“Altering the plot of Pride and Prejudice by one degree would expose prospects for Georgian women which Jane Austen might never have contemplated. Kill-off Mr Bennet in the feared duel over his daughter Lydia’s elopement, and his women might land in the same boat as Mary Pitt and her five children, on a factual voyage from Dorset to New South Wales in 1801 …” from Grit and Gentility.

“A human side to this seemingly untouchable superstar.”

“It was reported that Whitney Houston had apologised to fans during a live show for not being able to reach the signature high note towards the end of her most famous song, which was odd not because an apology seemed so honest, but because this was Whitney Houston, ‘The Voice’. It showed a human side to this seemingly untouchable superstar, but in hindsight it was an indication that an extended silence was on its way …” from The soul searching of Whitney Houston.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Ballerinas, blue poles and budget week

CREATIVE INCOME Image from Frieze magazine.

A Writer on creative accounting.

I HAVE never paid much attention to the fallout of budget week, simply because the Arts are always sufficiently financially knocked-around long before the Treasurer makes our economic disenfranchisement official.

If a body like The Arts Council or Screen Australia were to be closed, that would register. Hearing they’ve had cuts only blends into the usual budget week white noise.

“Somehow, the Arts seem to exist outside of the economy.”

Many artists subsist on a combination of incomes derived from our arts practice and our day jobs, spreading the risk between catering and painting, or admin and acting, like artist friends of mine; or journalism and writing, as I do. This means we can absorb multiple knocks and bonuses across our income. We can generally survive in good times and bad.

It’s always a lottery, and the media is usually slow to report the impact. Often artists will find out about budgetary changes weeks or months after the fact.

Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget last year had the Arts buried beneath the Attorney-General’s department budgetary top-line, with ballerinas leaping above it, because the only headline news for artists was that the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne will get new student digs.

REACHING FOR FAME Scene from the 1980 movie.

This was excellent news. The only person I know who went to the Australian Ballet School, in the late 1970s, was left to his own devices with other teenagers in shared suburban accommodation. The experience sounded like a mix of Number 96 and Fame, without a shred of government funding in sight.

A new accommodation block sounds a little boring by comparison, but the key to interpreting the use of this ‘dance move’ of the Abbott Government’s is that it will be a building, which will employ people to build it.

An architect will ideally get a gig, and an interior designer or two, and hopefully other building industry-related creatives, but the overwhelming majority of people who will financially benefit from this pledge of one million dollars will not be artists, they will be from the construction industry.

Major Arts bodies took big hits last budget – $87 million was stripped from the industry at large – but I know of only a few practising artists who have ever been able to secure government funding of any kind, so this news won’t impact on your ‘average’ artist.

We’ll call ‘the average artist’ someone who is courageous enough to work outside the nine-to-five paradigm as a result of some inner need to express themselves creatively.

“Governments are not all bad news for artists.”

Whoops, I slipped into subjective, indefinable territory, sorry. I don’t know which column of the budget the ‘average artist’ should go in, which only proves my point about not really caring about the fuss on budget week, because it only applies to us if it’s a broad measure such as a medicare co-payment, in which case the ‘starving artist’ should be concerned.

Speaking of starving, let’s look at the latest figures on artist incomes, albeit over a decade old. The Australia Council for the Arts’ report Don’t give up your day job says it all – artists just don’t earn enough to see us impacted by things like debt levies and Paid Parental Leave salary caps.

Yet we earn little enough that medicare co-payments will make a difference.

But artists have inured ourselves to the lingering feeling of numbness about what funding opportunities may or may not be around in financial years to come. I’ll take a wild guess: under this government, they’ll be lean.

Another indirect effect will be that the ‘average’ art buyer will, no doubt, have less disposable cash after this budget to buy our art, if we can get buyers out to a group show sometime during the year. That’s a worry, but then again, that’s always a worry.

I have seen group exhibitions rake in money during tough times, and I have seen empty theatre seats during good times. Somehow, the Arts seem to exist outside of the economy, constantly taunting and baffling the number crunchers.

Proof: some paint splashed across a board by some American was sold to the Australian people under the personal leadership of Gough Whitlam for A$1.3 million, and is now worth anywhere between 20 and 100 million dollars.

But governments are not all bad news for artists. One of the kindest changes a government made for creatives came under John Howard, after we were permitted to present our taxable incomes by combining day jobs and artist incomes … and something to do with deductions.

I am simply not going into detail in case it gives someone within the ATO a crazy idea about changing it back to the way it was for decades. Just know that it’s a little help at tax time.

Readers should also not confuse artists with artsworkers, who reap a large share of Arts funding in the Australian economy.

Occupying salaried positions from federal through to local government, the nation’s artsworkers are perhaps the ones to ask how Mr Hockey’s Great Big Surprise New No Excuses Budget Emergency Measures will impact on the Arts, because they are now in the frontline of job cuts.

All I really know about the Arts right now is that I completed my writing schedule this week, the bargain I have with my artist self to create despite Mr Hockey.

Therein lies the powerlessness, and the power, of the artist. Try putting a dollar value on it.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Art might just save journalism

WHEN journalist Margo Kingston described the existential crisis of journalism, and that she wouldn’t advise anyone to enter the industry, she expressed what very few media punters were willing to say.

Journalism dropped to the bottom of satisfying career lists during the last decade. In the 2013 ‘Jobs from Best to Worst’ survey, conducted for the past 25 years, CareerCast.com listed Reporter last, at number 200, with Editor not much higher, at 168.

How did we get here?

It’s hard to gauge, but things can hardly get worse. As advertising revenue continues to take a dive, and limitless access to social media fosters the expectation that content should be free, neither the mainstream or social media allocates much money to the creation of content.

On this score alone, Journalists have entered the career bracket previously inhabited by Artists, where remuneration is never guaranteed, product floats below the surface of a constantly uncertain marketplace, and validation is in very short supply.

To put things into perspective, the CareerCast.com survey ranked Artist at 148, Choreographer comes in at 156, even Actor, once considered the most marginal of careers with 99 percent unemployment at any given time, gets a higher ranking than Journalist, at 197.

On this advice, Journalists might be wise to start thinking and operating like Artists in order to change the ranking of our industry.

Depressingly, holidays are the hardest time of the year to do so. If you’re an Artist, the silly season can be anything from an inconvenience to a handy escape from the fact that it’s another year, another blank canvas.

“Journalists might be wise to start thinking and operating like Artists.”

Unless you’re a successful practising Artist of any stripe, it may have been devastatingly easy for you to take time off from your creative work and spend summer days with friends and family, joining in at the edge of groups of ‘real people with real jobs’: Web Developers (ranked at 24), Hair Stylists (83), Architects (61), Statisticians (20), and a host of other very sensible folk who listened to their parents and forged careers with prospects.

It takes plenty of self belief and a plastered smile to get through. Having even a shred of an official day job goes a long way to keeping you off most naysayers’ radars.

And you don’t have to be anything nearly as extreme as an Artist to raise eyebrows over the Christmas pudding.

Try adding something even slightly different or new to your repertoire (Citizen Journalism, for example), and notice how the occasion soon becomes like the dinner table scene in August: Osage County.

“How is that going for you?” cousin Peter (let’s imagine he’s a Financial Planner, snug at ranking number 5) asks, topping up your glass with his wine, and you have no answer, because you’re really not sure, exactly, how it is going for you, you only know you’re drawn to spend your life doing something different than he.

As the summer days lead us from parties and fireworks back to the working week, friends and family in the great good workforce drift back to their routines.

The mainstream media fills this period with an array of self-help articles of the New Year’s Resolution stripe (purchased from syndicated news sources for a pittance), the perfect panacea for people who only ever dream of pursuing their heart’s desire.

But Artists generally have no back-to-work start date. We need to make one for ourselves. Of course there may be an app for that, but is there anything to inspire the independent Artist into resolutions to sustain our dreams?

During the holiday I read some alarmingly depressing ideas about being an Artist: apparently it doesn’t get any better than it already isn’t.

I hasten to add that this comes from a very successful UK-based Author (a profession ranked at 156) of many published books, who may well be having to fill 2014 with checking over the proofs of her latest release as it hits the shelves in another edition, poor thing.

HANDY ADVICE Georgia O'Keeffe, hands 1918 (Photo: Alfred Stieglitz).
HANDY ADVICE Georgia O’Keeffe, hands 1918 (Photo: Alfred Stieglitz).

Lest this all get too negative for words, let me redress the imbalance with some inspiration from working Artists who’ve been there, done that, because Artists learned, long before Journalists came on the scene, that the only solution to negative situations is to just keep creating.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” Andy Warhol

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.” Georgia O’Keeffe

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” Erica Jong

WRITE REGARDLESSAnd one for the Citizen Journalists.

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes

Working in the lowest-placed profession for nothing ranks you as a legend.

An extract from Write, regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.