The Arts: What’s the point?

Saturday, February 13, 2016 • Liverpool Arts Society

Samuel Jackson

Drama graduates. What’s with all the awkward questions?

As a recent graduate of Drama there are a few things that happen to me on a very regular basis. One of the weirdest things is how I talk of my dissertation with affection and slight nostalgia compared to Chemistry students crumpling into a gloopy mess when they think of their dissertation on how papyrus crumples into a gloopy mess when mixed with malt vinegar… Yes, my dissertation was on Monty Python and whether they affected the British comedy scene. No, it’s not as easy as you think. But it was bloody fascinating and incredibly funny to research.

However, two of the most common things that happen to me now that I’m a graduate aren’t as joyous as the former. The first thing that happens is a little conversation that goes as follows:

Random Person: So, you’re working in a restaurant, is that all you want to do?

Me: Well I’ve just graduated from University actually. So the restaurant is more of just a stop gap until I can progress in my career.

RP: Oh brilliant! You sound like you’ve got it all planned out! What did you study you impressive little graduate you?

Me: I studied Drama.

RP: Oh… So… What do you ACTUALLY want to do with your life then?

Me: Drama.

RP:… (Complete and utter awkwardly nauseating silence)… Well… You look like you’d make a good teacher. If not, the restaurant business is pretty stable. (back to awkward and nauseating silence).

Now that is a proper awkward conversation I’ll have you know. What is even more awkward is that I have that conversation AT LEAST 6 times a week with complete and total strangers. I have been out of University since around the beginning of September, which is around 23 weeks. Which means I have had this conversation (roughly) 138 times.

But what I am here to discuss is why do I keep having this conversation? Why do people keep judging me and automatically assuming that I will never be ‘successful’? Why do people just decide my future for me? AND WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP TELLING ME THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS STABLE?! It’s not! Have these people never heard of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares!?

Let us start with the first point of why I keep having this conversation. First off, I work in a job that requires me to be social and talkative: I’m part of a front of house team in a restaurant. This means that I naturally get talking to people and often – if they are a nice table/group – they will ask how I am and what I do for a living besides bring food to people repeatedly.

But that doesn’t explain why the conversation goes so similarly so regularly does it? Perhaps it is being somehow implanted into the nation’s subconscious that ‘Arts subjects limit career choices’? Well perhaps right. Because I used quotation marks for a reason there. That is a direct quote from Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary. Nicky Morgan claims that

“The subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).”

Now some people may agree with Mrs. Morgan and I can see why. Studying degrees for the Arts means that I could not apply to be a vet or an investment banker after I had graduated. But does this apply to only Arts based subjects? Does this mean that if a marine biologist wanted to give it all up and join the Royal Shakespeare Company he could, simply because he studied the “right” subjects? Could a civil engineer stop being a courteous wangler – aren’t thesaurus’ great? I used one on civil engineer and got that marvellous title. I think that is how I’m going to refer to them from now on –  and simply walk into the Royal School of Speech and Drama and demand to be taught? No, they bloody couldn’t could they! Nor would I think they would want to considering they did a degree in Courteous Wangling.

 So, our Nicky. Looks like your attitude (and others like you) have worked. The public now think that I am massively restricted to one job for the rest of my life. Well Nick, the jokes on you, because Drama makes me an incredibly outgoing person, it gives me confidence to do and say things others won’t. It also gives me an almost unstoppable imagination. Which are some of the most transferable and in demand traits someone can have in their personality.

Moreover, if I’m going to side with someone on whether the arts affects us. Am I going to side with the education secretary, or one of the richest and most influential men of the last century?

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” –Steve Jobs, in introducing the iPad 2 in 2011

That not enough for you? How about the President of the USA?

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”  –Lyndon Johnson, on signing into existence the National Endowment on the Arts

Moving on from Nicky Morgan and her skewed perception on how the Arts creates failures of society (I’m sure she’s a delight in person). The second problem I have with the dreaded conversation above is why people assume that I will never be ‘successful.’ Again this partly links back to good ol’ N-Morgs, but enough has been said on her. But there is widely believed to be some genuine truth in this assumption. People who don’t really know much about the Arts industry assume that every actor, dancer, writer and director who aren’t at the Academy Awards are automatically on jobseekers allowance, trying to get a part time job in Starbucks… or a restaurant…

But I can completely assure you that this is not the case whatsoever. Yes, I work in a restaurant but I’m a walking cliché, I couldn’t have it any other way! Just because someone in the Arts is not famous does not mean they are not successful. Tell me, would you have known who Jordan Belfort was before he had a film made out of him? Do you know who the current leading scientist in theoretical physics is? The answer is not Sheldon Cooper, I googled it to make sure. Chances are you answered no to both of these questions. So, why is my industry so different? Why is it that just because a lot of actors/dancers etc. haven’t won awards or got noticed in the media, it makes them instant failures? How many leading dentists can you name other than your own?

Furthermore, successful means a whole lot of different things to a whole lot of different people. For some, just getting out of bed in the morning and being able to face the world is a success. For others, its rigging the American housing market into a completely unstable bubble, blaming the average American for it and getting away with it… In fact getting away with it and getting a massive bonus. Anyway, you see what I’m getting at don’t you? For some people, being successful isn’t even about the money, it’s about doing something that makes them feel good. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather bring joy and excitement to people than be a Courteous Wangler.

Speaking of success, I’ve not even been out of University 6 months and I’ve already got my first paid acting job… Penetrators, 18th & 19th May 2016 @ the Lantern Theatre… You’ve been warned. Be there.

Before I finish this little article, I would like to take a moment to tell you that I have not written this purely for the sake of having a little rant and a moan because people tell me my chosen career path is a doomed one. I have written it to try and open the minds of said people. Here is what I mean:

When you’ve come home from your 9-5 job and finally got away from mad Susan, the office lunatic, who follows you to the water fountain and hums strangely as you fill up your bottle. What do you do? You:

  1. Put a film on/go to the cinema

  2. Watch TV

  3. Go on a night out

  4. Go to the pub quiz

I can 100% guarantee that every single one of those events above are heavily linked to the arts. Every. Single. One of them. Put a film on? You’re watching actors. Watch TV? Same again. Go on a night out? You’re listening to the music created by artists. Go to the pub? You’re probably playing the name the celebrity round which is heavily filled with artists. The fact of the matter is, us artists make your normal lives bearable. We are the escape that you choose to get away from mad Susan or from having to fill in those spread sheets. Even more physical jobs like labourers kick their feet up at the end of the day and watch a good episode of Luther or Corrie!

Like Richard Daley, the former Mayor of Chicago once said;

“Politicians don’t bring people together. Artists do.”
–Richard Daley, Former Mayor of Chicago

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to go and star a petition calling for all civil engineering jobs and degrees to be renamed as various types of Courteous Wangling!