REFLECTIONS ON RESEARCH AND PERFORMANCE
My research has led me to focus on three specific areas that I think are the most pressing when talking about art and class.
I have broken my reflection into three categories
CLASS, CULTURE, EDUCATION
THE CONTEXT OF CLASS
Working Class, Middle Class, Upper Class are the most common terms used to distinguish social class. The terms first appeared in nineteenth century UK during the industrial revolution used to define the social differences between the workers and the owners. We still use these definitions today although the terms feel less relevant as the divides become more complex and murky. What is clear is that although we’re not working in Victorian workhouses today, significant social differences are still playing out in our public affairs determining what the future holds for us and how the world see’s us.
It has been argued by Savage (Savage 2015) that Class is fundamentally being remade, that we are moving away from middle class, working class dif- ferences and more towards a new Class order, one which is more hierarchal in differentiating the top (1% elites) from the bottom (which he calls the precariat, those who struggle to get by on a daily basis). The up- per class sit within a league of their own, often ignored and left to their own devices.
Savage says that ‘Class is fundamentally tied up with inequality. But not all economic inequalities are about class. What allows inequalities to crystallise into class is when advantages endure over time in a way which extends beyond any specific transaction. Social classes, we contend, are fundamentally associated with the stored historical baggage and the accumulation of advantages over time.” (Savage, 2015, p579)
Further in his book Savage talks about the talks about the symbolic power of class and the way that shame and stigma are tied up with forms of domination as defined by the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu. For Bourdieu class is about people who feel ‘entitled’ and people who feel ‘dominated’. This is how I will be referring to class in this report.
Your wealth (what you bring to the table experience, knowledge, money)
Your inheritance (what your born into)
Your social capital (your friends, networks and associations)
Class is fundamentally tied up with inequality. Class isn’t complex; it festers and grows with capitalism, pushing apart those who are identifiably born with privilege and those who are not. In his book Change the World without taking power: The meaning of revolution today John Holloway captures the horror of Capitalism and its impact on the World (Holloway, 2010)
“Capitalism is nastier, more violent, more unjust, more destructive... the existence of Capitalism implies a dynamic of development which attacks us constantly, subjecting our lives more directly to money, creating more and more poverty, more and more inequality, more and more families” (Holloway, 2010)
Economic and political power is in the hands of the elites whose only goal is to make money, which means the life of anyone else means very little to them and this makes the system unequal at its core. Capitalism is dependent on inequality it thrives off depriving the vast majority of people from a decent standard of life. Under capitalism power is not distributed equally it’s a hierarchy where those at the top hire and fire, choose who gets the jobs and who gets the power. Since there the ones that benefit from the system why should and would they encourage changes within it.
The creative industries exist within that elite hierarchy, determined and ruled by those who come from money they get to decide what the notion of art is, what value is and who gets to make it. They get to choose.
I was drawn to investigate social class after my year on the Clore Cultural Leadership Programme. During my time at Clore I was exposed to the best education, the best networks and the best resources it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
I was told that authenticity is key to great leadership. I was continuously reminded to be proud of who I was and where I came from, this wasn’t hard for me because that’s something I was brought up to believe. How ever brilliant it was I couldn’t shake this one reoccurring feeling I had of inadequacy. It would eat me up, little worms that reminded me that I didn’t have the same education as some of my peers and definitely not of some of the speakers that came to speak to us. Sometimes I would just sit and listen, I didn’t want to speak for fear of being exposed misunderstood.
The sociologist Valerie Walkerdine talks about her understanding in her article about affective history, working class communities and self-determination, she writes
“I try to remember the feeling of not speaking. It is shame - shame that I have nothing clever to say, but also rage - rage because what I want to say doesn’t fit and doesn’t make sense in the terms of that they are using, but also fear about the consequences of saying what I think for the possibility of my staying in this space. My experience of working class life is so different from what they’re saying.” (Walkerdine, V. 2016. Pg 707)
This state that Walkerdine talks about echoes my experience, it feels regardless of education, experience and age this uncomfortable feeling of class reverberates inside us. As a working class artist, I have always been aware of my class from the way I look, sound and hold myself to the work that I make. In my experience class in the creative sector has long been the elephant in the room; often deemed as secondary and difficult to address.
The effect of class has left me unsure of how to position myself in relation to those who are more entitled; this has led me to question the very nature of where I belong in the arts world.
The first time I became aware of my class is at a youth theatre in Cardiff, gaining access to the theatre in a backhander at my Grandad’s funeral from a long lost uncle I managed to get into the theatre at a discounted rate because my mum was on benefits. I’d never been to the theatre before and I never knew that the youth theatre even existed. It was like someone had given me backstage access to a secret that only special people knew of I soon realised that those special people were special because they had money.
At the youth theatre I became aware of my identity and what it meant to be from a council estate I experienced imposter syndrome and it stuck to me hard. At the theatre I felt ashamed that I wasn’t going on holiday, or that I had to get two buses to get there because no one could drive. I convinced myself that if I was going to be serious about succeeding in the art world that I had to pretend to be more like them, to be better. I couldn’t do that being the person I was. This was my tension, carrying a deep pride of who I was and where I come from and falling in love with an industry that was so twisted with privilege and wealth.
My journey into the arts hasn’t been straight forward, and I’m thankful for that, I never got into theatre because I believed I could get a job, I got into it because I saw it as a form of expression.
I was lucky to be the first to go to university in my family and I was lucky to go in the heyday of loans, overdrafts and smaller tuition fees. At university I soon learnt that again there was a serious lack of people from my background, and if the contemporary artists of the future are mainly defined by those that get degrees then what art are they making? And who are they making it for?
Most of my 20s I spent working in theatres and art centres. I found it inspiring to be in that world watching shows, exhibitions and cinema. I loved how transient it felt and that each time something new come in to be staged it felt like a gift. At these venues I did notice a) how empty they could be and b) how most of the time there was only a certain type of person attending.
It became clear that the theatre managers that I was working for, most often than not, had come from public school backgrounds and it felt like anything seen as for local communities was considered to be of low value, underfunded, little more than a tick box exercise.
Being part of the art world never crossed my mind, I convinced myself that it wasn’t what people like me did. I was content working in theatres, cafes, bars and making work on my own terms in my spare time. We were told that people like us don’t go to university let alone get jobs in the arts.
Making theatre became activism, it was a practise outside the status quo. Meeting regular with a group of friends we began making plays and finding big empty buildings where we could make things happen.
It was a magic time. We were fearless, it felt like we could do anything. Taking risks was essential for us to feel fearless. We didn’t have financial backing, we didn’t have family we could rely on but what we did have is a jobseekers and plenty of support off each other.
This could never happen today because 1) it’s illegal to squat 2) you can’t sign on and be an artist 3) you can’t sign on and volunteer. With such a strong focus on diversifying the arts, and access to it – it feels ironic that the pathways that enabled working class artists to work in the sector have been removed and replaced with more institutionalised access routes, or no access routes at all. Besides these access routes as a working class person, you are confronted with a whole other set of complications. If you have no support structure around you then it is near impossible to become an artist in this climate.
If we’re not creating genuine pathways for artists to develop then what does the future of art look like? What are we missing out on?