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«Artists as Vulnerable Workers IDALINA CONDE CIES e-Working Papers (ISSN 1647-0893) Av. das Forças Armadas, Edifício ISCTE, 1649-026 LISBOA, ...»

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Artists as Vulnerable Workers


CIES e-Working Papers (ISSN 1647-0893)

Av. das Forças Armadas, Edifício ISCTE, 1649-026 LISBOA, PORTUGAL, cies@iscte.pt

Idalina Conde, Department of Sociology, ISCTE-IUL (Lisbon University Institute);

CIES – Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology, associated with ISCTE.

E-mail: idconde@mail.telepac.pt; idconde@gmail.com

Summary1 Artists are vulnerable workers not only on account of professional contingencies (underemployment, intermittent and multiple jobs, freelance work, precarious contracts, low salaries in certain categories), but also on account of their dependent identities, which are exposed to specific forms of symbolic power, inequality and gatekeeping processes if they wish to achieve recognition. This paper focuses on the two perspectives, making use of certain European and Portuguese references in order to portray ambivalent and diversified features in the artistic condition. The research in Portugal combined statistical analysis with qualitative approaches to professional experiences and locations in various areas (in particular the visual arts, composers and musicians in the main orchestras), with particular attention to gender issues.

Key-words: artists, profession, vulnerability, identity, visual arts, serious music Resumo Os artistas são trabalhdores vulneráveis não apenas por contingências profissionais (subemprego, intermitência e pluriactividade, trabalho independente, contratos precários, baixos salários em certas categorias), mas também por identidades dependentes particularmente expostas a formas específicas de poder simbólico, desigualdade e processos de gatekeeping para o reconhecimento. Este texto reflecte as duas perspectivas, trazendo referências para o contexto europeu e porguês que retratam ambivalências e diversas características da condição artística. A pequisa combinou, em Portugal, análises estatísticas e qualitativas sobre enquadramentos e experiências profissionais em várias áreas.

Nomeadamente, as artes visuais e a área da música erudita - compositores e músicos nas principais orquestras - com particular atenção a questões de género.

Palavras-chave: artistas, profissão, vulnerabilidade, identidade, artes visuais, música erudita Paper presented at the 3rd International Sociology Conference, Athens, 11-14 May 2009, Athens

Institute for Education and Research (AT.IN.E.R); Sociology of Work Special Interest Stream:

“International Perspectives on Vulnerable Workers”. I am very grateful to Anabela Pereira and Fernando Ribeiro for their assistance in the preparation of this paper.

1. Vulnerability in profession and identity The first meaning of vulnerability, as associated with work is precariousness – in institutional, contractual and wage relationships that imply risk, insecurity and even exclusion, in the more critical situations of professional disqualification and discontinuity. However, because I am talking about artists, whose professional condition is particularly marked by a personal dimension (the sense of self) and an inter-subjective dimension (recognition by others, especially the circle of peers), I would like to consider the two issues of profession and identity.

In fact, artists are vulnerable workers not only on account of professional contingencies (underemployment, intermittent and multiple jobs, freelance work, precarious contracts, low salaries in certain categories and great inequality in rewards and reputation), but also on account of their dependent identities, which are exposed to specific forms of symbolic power, competition and gatekeeping processes in the search for recognition. Thus, the focus on identity introduces the element of interaction, the dimension of power(s), and the problem of individuals facing a collective system of players: the artistic space with its agents, locations and audiences. Or, using another form of conceptual symmetry, if profession carries the notion of labour markets, then identity evokes that of intermediary agents, so crucial to recognition. Various categories of intermediaries cross artists' trajectories: political and institutional, in funding and programming agendas; operational, mediating and commercial, in the whole body of staff, producers, directors, editors, promoters, and market agents such as art galleries;

and aesthetic and discursive, in the performance of critics and the media.

So, from this perspective, and with particular sensitivity to the experience of the individual, vulnerability is not reduced to indicators of professional insecurity but can encompass “ontological insecurity”. This expression was also applied by Anthony Giddens (1991) to general forms of contemporary personal identity, quite similarly to other authors, referring to individualism or processes of singularization in postmodernism (Bauman, 2001; Kaufmann, 2005). As a matter of fact, this second meaning of vulnerability seems consistent with certain specificities in the artistic condition, such as its “regime of singularity”, so dependent on recognition and well analyzed by Nathalie Heinich (2005), for example.

This is the meaning that I followed in the theoretical framework for my research about artists and powers in Portugal (Conde, 1999; 2000a; 2001b; 2003b; 2008b;

2009a).2 However, such conceptual crossroads also emerged from empirical inference, (which is usual, heuristically, for “grounded theory”) in research combining statistical analysis and qualitative approaches on the basis of interviews and ethnographic observation of Portuguese artists, careers and professional locations in various areas, namely visual arts, composers and musicians in the principal orchestras.

My purpose here is to mention certain data, including that on gender inequality, observed in relation to access to and achievement in a number of art worlds (Conde, 2000b; 2001a; 2003a; 2003b; 2009c), though the aim is to insert them in a wider reflection on the artistic condition, in Portugal and abroad, under the guidance of those conceptual connections. For this reason, we must begin by contextualizing that condition within European indicators and perspectives. Ambivalence, as is also underlined in other approaches to art and culture in the contemporary situation and public sphere (Conde, 2008a), is the opening note, then, to think about the inconsistency – and vulnerability – attached to the peculiar condition of artists.

2. A condition with centrality and fragility

First of all, we must clarify the fact that artists, as authors and 'interpreters' in literature, cinema, and the visual and performing fields (music, theatre and dance) are a tiny, but key, segment among the cultural professions. This only changes a little when the traditional borders of the sector are extended to other areas such as architecture, design, fashion or the creative work in, for example, advertising, as happens today under the umbrella of creativity at large. Thus, authorship and 'interpretation' distinguish cultural employment within overall employment in the cultural sector, which includes various non-artistic profiles: technical, operational, administrative, and others linked to training, intermediation and leadership or the management of projects and organizations.

Part of this research was carried out in 2001-2003 with Teresa Duarte Martinho and João Pinheiro at the Observatory of Cultural Activities in Lisbon, and integrated into a European project on professional conditions and gender gatekeeping in the new media arts and serious music field. I am also very grateful to Teresa Martinho for more recent information and, in particular, permission to consult, before publication, her co-authored book, Trabalho e qualificação nas actividades culturais: um panorama em vários domínios (Work and Skills in Cultural Activities. An overview in various areas) (Gomes & Martinho, 2009, forthcoming; Martinho, 2008) Besides other considerations of fluidity and ambiguity in the definition of artists, just by the possible mix of criteria (objective and subjective, professional and amateur, trained or self-taught), this distinction is usual for the statistical perception of the main artistic core in cultural professions, as is shown in Table I for Portugal.

Adopting only certain categories from the latest census3, we noticed accentuated increases in entertainment and authorship, the latter possibly explained by the higher number of journalists with the enlargement of the media sector in the 90’s. But also in dance, one of the most feminized arts, in great contrast to music. Nevertheless, all these cases together represented at round or less than 0.5% of the national labour force, while total employment in the cultural sector was also estimated at around only 2.0-2.5% according to more traditionally restricted criteria.4 The European average between 2.5% and 3.1%, considering cultural employment vs this one plus cultural tourism employment (Table 2).5

–  –  –

Other, more recent, perceptions are available in the labour statistics but, as they are limited to employment in enterprises and organizations, they exclude independent work, which is, precisely, normal in a large part of this artistic core.

Again, the calculations can double the figure, or more, if the reference base is enlarged to all the forms of employment creative employment inside and outside the traditional contents of the culture sector.

The same argument must be applied to the calculations for Europe.

Another question relates to the practical regimes of professional life and their indicators of vulnerability. A European portrait is given in Table 3, though without our previous distinction because its notion of “cultural employment” envisages all forms of work, whether artistic or non-artistic. Nonetheless, the feature that stands out, recurrently reinforced on the artistic side, is the greater number of temporary, part-time, cumulative and independent jobs in the cultural field. Especially in creative contexts, tasks and careers, these jobs are associated with portfolio-workers and network or project-based organizations, i.e. small enterprises and clusters of activities arranged in more “organic” and “adhocratic” structures (Mintzberg, 1995: 335-343, 457-491;

Chiappelo, 1997, 1998; Greffe, 1999; Chong, 2002). This is not the only paradigm because artistic labour is also incorporated and institutionalized in more bureaucratic groupings such as museums, orchestras, corporations and cultural industries. But the former types of versatile workers and frameworks have been seen not only as welladapted to the economy and production of prototypes in culture, but also recognized, in art, as “anticipators” or even symbolic “role models” in the metamorphosis of contemporary, “flexible” capitalism (Menger, 2001).

Table 2 - Culture and Cultural & Cultural Tourism Employment in Europe (%)

–  –  –

However, in The Status of the Artist in Europe (Capiau & Wiesand, 2006), to quote an European Parliament Report underlining several aspects of insecurity, inequality and inconsistency in EU countries, the same data allows a critical diagnosis.6 Besides problems in organizational, legal, fiscal and contractual aspects of the work, also insufficient measures for the social security (as well lack of an european harmonization) particulary in the areas marked by individual work, intermittency, shortterm contracts and cross-border mobility, we must enclose other issues. Namely, the discrepancy between credentials and rewards – high qualifications among artists, and low or highly disparate and deregulated salaries in various areas.7 This report appeared precisely in the same year, 2006, as another promoted by the European Commission, The Economy of Culture in Europe (KEA, 2006), though it has a more positive and instrumental “reading” of those employment indicators. What stands out is its creative and economic input and the features that correspond to a paradigm for a desirable flexibility in contemporary economies of information, new technology and creativity. Bearing this in mind, we may conclude, then, that artists are really available for complementary but also contradictory perspectives.

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