Don't give up the day job...

Yesterday I attended a workshop entitled 'Don't give up the day job.' The workshop was run as a collaborative event by Manchester Craft and Design Centre; Redeye (the photography network); and Castlefield Gallery and positioned as 'a day of talks, discussions and workshops encouraging photographers, artists and makers to draw inspiration for their personal practice from other paid and commercial work.' I arrived at the rather beautiful Bridge 5 Mill in Manchester, a 'sustainable venue' with an impressive recycling provision in each of its' shared spaces. As someone with an intention to introduce artistic and creative influences to support and inspire personal development in others, I was intrigued.

The basic premise of the day was the idea of allowing your 'day job' to inform and inspire your creative practice . This was beautifully illustrated by Andrea Allen's photos from inside the power station where she worked and Sam Curtis's recollections of his  'uninvited residency' at Harrods fish counter. Something that Sam said really resonated with me - he introduced himself with a list of both current and past job titles with the idea that you can hold onto and identify still with past roles as they have informed your work identity. Identity is something I am particularly interested in within a work context and a further discussion with a retail worker at the event allowed me to reflect on my own working identity. When I worked in retail and told people that was my job, there was always a wide eyed, nodding smile that seemed to say "oh that's nice, when are you going to get a 'proper' job?" I think looking back, a lot of that interpretation was to do with my own discomfort at the position I had found myself in in the overall 'hierarchy' of the working world. Retail and hospitality workers are sometimes looked down upon as demonstrated by the behaviour of customers who want the world delivering (with bells on) from someone scraping minimum wage. I think this is in part because the role is easily understood and in essence almost anyone could do the fundamental tasks of the job description. There is a certain gravitas in the mystery of someone else's 'important role' and a feeling of inadequacy, of feeling that you have no idea what someone does for a living or how they do it can be quite discouraging when trying to accept the importance of your own professional practice. 

This theme of professional identity was prevalent throughout the day with the self-deprecating assertions of 'I take photos' or 'I do, sort of, paintings' that were all a bit Brian from Spaced. I can absolutely identify with the feeling that it's a bit grandiose to describe what you make creatively as a job title - the advert for the workshop itself stated that it was 'for photographers, artists and makers' and I did feel a sense of subterfuge as I signed up because at present my 'maker' identity is purely a personal practice and not a commercial intention.

Something else that came up for me around identity was the labels that are given to people in a professional context. As part of her research, Susan Jones raised an interesting question about the adjectives used to describe artists (e.g. 'young'; 'socially conscious'; 'experienced') and how the artists felt about these assigned titles. I would be interested to facilitate a short activity with teams where they are asked to pick adjectives to describe their own job titles and that of their colleagues and then hold a discussion about their reactions to these descriptions. My own website proclaims 'creative' psychology because I couldn't quite make the cognitive leap to 'creative psychologist' without feeling like a fraud. I doubt that many people give consideration to the attributes they bring to their role outside of a performance appraisal or job application. Professional and creative identity is definitely an area that I will be exploring in future workshop development.

Overall, the day was inspirational, thought-provoking and has afforded me the opportunity for reflection as well as ideas to be developed. Interspersed with the impressive speakers we took part in a couple of 'world cafes' to collectively explore questions about our day jobs and how they perhaps already provided us with resources and inspiration for our creative practice. In the context of a one day workshop with strangers, the questions were correctly pitched at a macro level which ensured everyone could contribute, but, for me, perhaps did not explore the real issues of creative identity and of whether the assertion not to give up the day job was indeed the right one.