In the past, the examples I have given have focused on how creative people subscribe to this notion. However, Howard Sherman retweeted an article today that pointed out how society at large reinforces this belief.
In the article Rebecca Atkinson-Lord draws attention to the language used when describing playwright Katherine Soper’s winning the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting. Like many people in the arts, Soper has a second job she works in order to provide financial support for her writing efforts. Many media outlets described her as a “shop assistant,” “perfume seller,” and “first time writer.” (She is a trained playwright and this isn’t her first effort.)
By perpetuating this myth of the ‘Big Break’, our media culture teaches those outside the arts world that to be a successful artist is easy, that there’s no need to aim for excellence, no need to push yourself harder, to educate yourself and develop key skills to be the very best you can be. It makes the arts look easy. And easy is cheap.
In turn that undermines the case for proper funding of the arts – if anyone can make excellent art, then there’s no need to pay artists competitively or fund its development. Presenting Katherine as (just) a shop assistant also conceals the stark reality that most theatre makers have to do ‘money jobs’ to survive while disguising the systemic flaws in how the arts are funded and theatre makers are employed.
She goes on to note that the headlines also make subtle class assumptions about a shop assistant’s capability to create award winning art work and certainly that is another factor at play here.
According to the article, Soper mentioned on social media that included her second job in her bio as a way to emphasize that artists are balancing multiple roles. It appears that got turned around a bit on her.
While media channels really need to be more responsible about researching and honestly reporting on a creative person’s existence and career before their big break, it isn’t likely to happen. The romance of the humble origins in a garage is just too compelling a story, even if it isn’t true.