Findings from a recent survey by The Sunday Times — the weekend edition of The Straits Times — have painted a grim picture of respondents’ perception towards artists in Singapore, as the occupation tops the list of jobs considered to be the most “non-essential”.
A whopping 71 per cent of 1,000 respondents surveyed cited “Artist” as the least essential profession, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic where persons working as doctors and nurses, cleaners, garbage collectors, hawkers and delivery persons are deemed the five most essential.
Arts practitioners, such as award-winning comic artist Sonny Liew, pointed out the absurdity of the “rankings”, especially when artists are deemed to be less essential than telemarketers.
“Makes one wonder where all the music, tv shows, films, illustrations, graphic design, books, and games we’re consuming come from – perhaps there is a magical vending machine that dispenses them without any need for human input,” said Mr Liew in a Facebook post.
Many members of the public, arts practitioners and laypersons alike, similarly criticised the rankings, as many people have been relying heavily on material produced by artists — from musicians to actors to filmmakers and writers — to survive long stay-home periods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ST also came under fire for publishing such rankings, with many commenters highlighting the irony of the infographic being made by a graphic designer — who is, by definition, an artist.
Several commenters questioned the decision behind publishing a list of purportedly “non-essential jobs” without dissecting problematic views that have led to such classifications.
They also pointed out that the definition of an artist is not only confined to those who practice fine art, but also those who design things ranging from fonts to websites to electronic gadgets and even entire homes.
One commenter opined that ST’s crucial mistake was not specifying what is meant by the term “artist”, in contrast to the “specified roles” listed in the rest of the jobs deemed to be “non-essential”.
One commenter argued that the perception that art and artists are “unimportant and dispensable” is not an unpopular one in society at large and is a view that “has to change”, which can be done by educating the public about the role of art “beyond the aesthetic layer”.
“Beyond visual art (the avatar of the painter is in the infographic), and including pottery, music, dance, theatre, architecture, etc. National Arts Council Singapore this is your report card, please see how you can do better,” said Yirong Li.
One commenter criticised the decision to even publish lists dividing “essential” and “non-essential” jobs.
The word “essential”, said art educator Christina J. Chua, is now “an overused” and “bankrupt” adjective that will “surely have less resonance in a post pandemic world”.
“Who is to say a doctor is more “essential” than an artist, and thereby deserving of more pay?” she said, adding that such roles “surely need each other to fill out the variegated landscape of humanity, culture and civilisation”.
“There has to be other value judgements, assessments and benchmarks to justify better salaries for workers,” said the co-founder of Metis Art Education.