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  • Jamie McCarthy

A 'Career' in the Arts is a Contradiction in Terms.

10th March 2015.

Having a career as an artist, a scientist, an educator, an academic (please add as you see fit) ... is to me, a contradiction in terms. These things are about being and doing something. As soon as you focus on 'having' a career you are no longer focusing on being or doing the thing, but on the success of the career.

This isn't to say you can't meet with success and recognition in what you do and what you are, but this is different from pursuing a career. A career is something that belongs to the world of business: arts, science, education, academia etc. don't belong to that world and used to present a radical alternative to it - a different set of values. Having a career moves a person into the world of business and, the more of a career you have, the harder it is to present any kind of radical alternative.

The business model has poisoned our humanities and sciences. It is so deeply rooted now that we don't even flinch when someone refers to our 'career choices' in the arts. When I say I don't have a career in music it has nothing to do with whether I feel like I do, or have done good or bad stuff, it means that I don't value the notion of a career as having any relevance to being a musician.

The word career suggests forward movement, progress through a hierarchy, a known career path, an upward movement in status. For me, in the arts at least, progress is not a goal, nor is following a known path, and the desired movement is decidedly not (nor should it be) always forward or upward. (I could live with the word occupation - music / sound is how I occupy a lot of my time. Occupation has none of the implications of forward and upward hierarchical movement at all costs. Even better, perhaps, being an 'amateur' - 'a lover').

It feels like it's time to fight back and reclaim our different value systems … it may seem like the business model is so pervasive that it is immovable, but I feel like I've got to keep saying no, reasserting and proposing ways of operating and valuing that come from the core of the things we do and are and not from an imposed model from the world of business.

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