There is often conversation about how people employed in arts and cultural pursuits overwork themselves (or are overworked) and are seeking to throttle things back to achieve a work-life balance.
However, a recent FastCompany article suggests that people across the board are overworking themselves. In describing the situation, they draw parallels to the type of longing for meaning associated with spiritual or religious pursuits.
“We have spiritual lives, we have physical lives, we like to have intellectual stimuli in our lives, we have our communities and our families and friends; humans are complex, and to have a really healthy balance, it requires all of those components,” says Rachel Bitte, Jobvite’s chief people officer. “Expecting all of that to come from your work could be an unrealistic expectation.”
The authors mention that at one time it was assumed that the more affluent people became, the more leisure time they would pursue. In the 1980s, that was generally the case. Yet in the last 30 years, the opposite has happened and work is valued over free time to the point where we actually fear having work taken away by automation.
Thompson adds that this concept of pursuing passion through work can be beneficial to many–and he includes himself among them–but a majority aren’t able to pursue meaningful work, and the expectations placed on work are often unrealistic.
“We expect to realize our full humanity in work, within the job, rather than other parts of life. That is new,” says Benjamin Hunnicutt,..
Hunnicutt adds that the fear of automation replacing human labor would have been unimaginable to the philosophers and thinkers who questioned the meaning of work throughout history. “Before, the promise of technology was labor-saving devices,” he says. “Now it frightens us. We can’t imagine an alternative to work.”
As I read this, it occurred to me that there was another nuanced dimension to the belief that artists don’t work because they are doing what they enjoy.
In the context of few people finding fulfillment in their work and the concept that people fear “forced leisure,” the idea that artists find fulfillment in something that appears to be a leisurely pursuit probably frightens people on a subconscious level.
At one time people welcomed the advancements of automation on an assumption that robots would create things of value for the benefit of general society. But when work itself is valued to the point where survival is only available in exchange for work, then robots are perceived to be stealing work from you and transferring the benefit to a few.
Instead of pursuing leisure, you have it involuntarily thrust upon you and want to be rid of it so you can support yourself again.
When artists appear to voluntarily be doing what many would long to do if they could have leisure without fear, AND ask to be paid, there is a suspicion that something is amiss. The only way this situation could exist is if there were some secret cheat those artists are keeping to themselves, right?
Yes, it takes many fewer words to encapsulate this long-winded discussion as “you are doing something fulfilling and fun, you shouldn’t be paid for it…”
But if you think about it, you would realize that phrase wouldn’t be thrown in your face so often if the benefits of automated labor were more widely welcomed and shared, removing 40++++ hours work as a critical element of survival.
People may think that those in the arts are following their bliss while they live in fear of their livelihoods, but honestly I get a little anxious about our livelihoods when I read articles evaluating the ability of artificial intelligence to create viable prose, music and visual arts compositions.
That shift in attitude didn’t happen so very long ago. Perhaps an opportunity exists to reverse that trend over the next 30 years.