Opinion: Art is not seen as a real job in Singapore. Don't pretend like it is.
Every day, we get a new response to the controversial infographic published on The Straits Times (14 June 2020). First, a survey respondent posted his explanation on Facebook. Today, it was Milieu’s turn to clarify its findings. Here are my thoughts…
Why Publish it in the First Place?
I fail to see why there was a need to publish the ‘top 5 non-essential jobs’. The original article was supposed to highlight how willing Singaporeans are to pay essential workers more. It is a good thing and should be celebrated, but the dominant conversation has become about ‘non-essential jobs’ which were not even mentioned in the article.
Milieu did not explain why this question was necessary. What exactly was the purpose of asking them to rank the jobs they deemed most unessential? Why did ST feel the need to publish this finding, even though it brings no value to the article’s main content?
Then came rich op-eds which explained that non-essential does not mean not valuable. Duh, artists know this. Heck, artists even know that they are ‘non-essential’ by survival standards.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs ranks basic needs such as food, water and safety at the bottom of the pyramid. Self-fulfillment needs, which artists satisfy, are on top. No prizes for what people would consider as essential, especially in such a bleak economic climate.
This is not why artists are upset at the article.
Artists were never seen as People with Real Jobs
Posting the infographic is rubbing salt in the wound. Think about the artist who lost his gig because of the coronavirus. Think about the other ‘unessential’ workers who were deemed redundant and laid off. Then they read about how unessential they are.
Some start wondering if their job even matters.
That is the point.
Infographics like these sting because they reinforce the belief that the arts are unimportant for a casual reader who fails to read between the lines. With enough repetition of this belief, some artists may even begin to feel this way.
Singapore’s history was about survival, and art was not a priority until the beginning of this century. Times have changed, but there are still negative stigmas associated with art as a job. ST is not helping.
How long must artists live with the stigma - to go against all odds only to have their legitimate jobs branded as unimportant? The hustle is real, and the struggle is too but somehow the job is not. The art community deserves better.
When artists cry foul about the infographic, they are not playing the victim card. If they did not have thick skin, they would have been out of this industry a long time ago. It is the grit, the passion and the measly rewards which keep them going. There is no need for sympathy.
What I ask for is the understanding that art is a path worth pursuing. If we cannot even accept this, then talk about artists’ essentiality becomes doublespeak for their uselessness.
Re-framing the Question
Instead of ranking jobs by how ‘unessential’ they are, a better question would be to find out which industry was most negatively impacted by the pandemic. This poll would have way more actionable consequences for government agencies and NGOs, who can pay more attention to groups who need help.
These days, the news we consume is already so depressing. There is no need for more unwarranted negativity.
I make unessential art here.