I’m spending this afternoon reading Kate Oakley‘s new review monograph, “Art Works” – cultural labour markets: a literature review.
It’s a major new addition to the field and I expect will prove an important teaching tool for many lecturers. Oakley surveys the last half-century of research in cultural labour markets, as well as the nature of creative work itself. You could say she examines art as a job, hobby, vocation and calling, as well as from the sociological and cultural economic perspectives.
She then moves on to discuss the idea that work in the cultural sector is a template for all kinds of work in the future, the geography and organisation of cultural work, outlines the literature on creative work as ‘precarious labour’ and looks at the implications of these studies for cultural policy and education.
Oakley is a significant figure in the field and so this review will end up defining the way much of the field is envisaged. It’s a thorough and highly readable account that I sincerely hope finds it way to policy-makers in Australia. It should enable them to better understand some of the implications of the nostrums and platitudes that so often litter government arts policies in this country.
One policy point that immediately comes to mind is the evidence this study furnishes for the value of emerging and fringe arts festivals and other infrastructure that supports early-career opportunities for artists. Oakley points out the literature repeatedly underlines the difficulty faced by artists transitioning from education and training to creative work:
Honey, Heron and Jackson find that most of these artists attended art college, and that many considered the years spent there as a ‘special time’ during which they could dedicate many hours to artistic practice (1997:vii). Many artists considered the first year after school the most difficult, a finding which concurred with that of earlier work (Blackwell and Harvey 1999), which found that cultural workers often experience a difficult time post-graduation, as they struggle to make contacts, organise a portfolio, and negotiate (often multiple) work contracts.Honey, Heron and Jackson find that most of these artists attended art