A misconception of arts

Weekender

By JAYNE SAFIHAO
When students have career choices to choose from, not a lot of them choose the Arts. Why?
For the simple reason that in a country like PNG there is not a lot of career opportunities or avenues provided for the kind of creative career they may choose unlike other countries.
So because careers in these pathways are limited or non-existent, many may opt for the sciences but students should reconsider the varied pathways in arts and communication.
Careers are related to humanities and performing, visual, literary, and media arts. These include architecture, graphics, interior, urban and fashion design, writing, film, fine arts, journalism, music, languages, media, advertising, and public relations.
But hold on! A major arts show just ended in the country a month ago. Yes..the very Apec summit itself!
It was a spectacular broadcast, film, video, fashion, graphic design, performing arts, music,textile, fine and visual arts and architectural showpieceall –rolled- up –in- one creative show!
Let’s start with the architecture and design of the building themselves.
Architecture, interior or urban design, landscaping, carving and sculpture, from start to finish of the major buildings such as the Apec Haus itself – is art! It wa built in the shape of a unique lakatoi sail with the interior design to reflect PNG’s trade style utilising clay, timber, shells and metal. That’s art!
This architectural landmark was built over the sea in that shape similar to the Sydney Opera House as a future iconic feature. Isn’t that art?
So if you think about all the work involved in the infrastructure, buildings, furniture, upholstery and their designs, the welcome reception display to the end; protocol correctness to the sous chef and his dish presentations…well, art was definitely there!
The National Museum and Art Gallery also re-opened its doors to the public on Friday, Oct 12,just before Apec with major refurbishment work transforming remaining galleries into a contemporary home for hundreds of artworks and artefacts.
For the first time since independence, artefacts represented all 22 provinces. Imagine the thriving artists being commissioned for such work.
PNG has nil accurate database on the number of very successful creative arts graduatesactually making a living in the world.
But I’ve been fortunate enough to have met and befriended some successful artists, graduates of the Creative Arts Faculty at UPNG back in the early 1980s in the likes of Jane Wena, (fine artist) Anna Amos of AA Designs and Daniel Waswas (fine artist).
Back then Wena was the graphic artist for The National, I was a rookie reporter then. We rented a room somewhere in Koki. She had her day job but would slave over drawings of fine black dots clustered together to form perfect pieces (Pointilism), which fetches on a good day K1,000 and above.
I used to envy Wena as she bundled her notes, a stark contrast to the ATM spew on a regular fortnight.
To her extended family, she was the sole breadwinner.
I remember asking her if she could seriously survive working as an artist full time simply because of the ghastly hours bent on skilfully putting these small juxtaposed black dots together, that’s after returning from her night shift at the newsroom, red eyed from intense glaring at the computer.
Wena truthfully told me that she needed the day job as a steady income. Painting was her skill, a passion she struggled to find the market for then.
The three are very successful artists and entrepreneurs in their own rights today.
Daniel Waswas has,not surprisingly, two huge portrait paintings right outside the two pro-vice chancellors’ office at the University of Goroka. His works are foundelsewhere as well.
To say there is no future in the arts would be to say that “there is no hue in the rainbow”.
Jeff Goins’ book“Real Artists Don’t Starve” explains just that.
“Since releasing my book, I’ve heard from a number of people who don’t believe it’s possible to make a living off your creativity, whether in writing, fine art, or another medium.
“But is that really true? It turns out, though, that’s just not true.”
Real artists don’t starve.
For years Goins said, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) has been surveying graduates of arts programmes to see how successful they are in the real world.
Approximately 120,000 degrees in the arts are awarded every year, and the question is, what happens to these people? Not what you think.
You might imagine, as I did, the stereotypical starving artist: the stubborn loner struggling to make ends meet and forsaking every adult concern for the sake of their work.
This is what we have been taught to expect when imagining people in full-time, creative careers. We imagine poverty-stricken souls spending their days slaving away at the work, toiling in agony to create their next masterpiece.
We picture Michelangelo on his back, nose to ceiling, paint dripping in his eyes, earning little for his genius.
The SNAAP study, however, revealed something quite different. The majority of trained artists are actually thriving. Here were some fascinating statistics:

  • 70 per cent of these graduates have found jobs within the arts,
  • 75 per cent have been or are self-employed, and
  • 99 per cent consider creativity to be an important competency in their profession.

They report income levels that support families, sustain careers, and enable charitable giving. In other words, they are not starving.
Contrast that with a 2014 US Census Bureau; where nearly 75 per cent of science, tech, engineering, and mathematics graduate, are not employed in their field of study, and we are forced to consider a new reality for modern creatives.
Many artists are, in fact, not suffering for their craft. They’re proudly producing work that matters and pay the bills. So, we are brought to a sobering conclusion about creative work:
You can make art and make a living. They are more secure than the sciences. So students thinking of taking other subjects, remember the arts is also a window of opportunity for you.

  • Jane Safihao is a freelance journalist.

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