Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Reaping the artists

I've come across several old friends in the last couple of weeks, all artists in various disciplines, and all people who supported a lifelong dedication to their craft with a couple of days' work. And all now unemployed.
The first was a brilliant man whose work is in every art-loving household in the country. I had always thought of him as someone who was on the staff of the college where he worked. But he looked up from where he was sitting and reading a manuscript with one hand and rocking his baby with the other, at a table in a cafe, and greeted me gladly, and then told me that no, he'd been a part-timer. "They were always on at me to go full-time, but I wanted to work at my own stuff." When the reaping time came, he was for the high jump. "It costs too much to get rid of someone who's on the staff, and the union will back them, and they'll be entitled to redundancy," he said.
Next was a star, a household name whose craft and technique must have been invaluable to his students in the 20 years he has taught them. One day a week, though. "It was the reaping," he said, and laughed. "They just scooped out all the part-timers and got rid of us all."
Another had a newspaper column; the editor rang up and said sorry, all the columns were going to be done in-house from now on.
Another provided regular witty, arty pieces to a magazine; de trop now that things are tight - syndicated material will fill in.
It's a crazy, crazy policy, leading to mediocrity. The best minds of our generation - of two or three generations, given that a generation is taken to be 15 years - can't work, while the play-it-safe people continue to trudge in and collect their wages.
The only near equivalent I can think of is the 1920s and 1930s, when the left-wingers were deliberately frozen out, and left the country in droves, leaving a tight-arse right-wing republic fawning on the bishops and doffing the cap to the gombeen men. And we all know what that led to. But maybe that's what the Irish people want.

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