Friday, February 10, 2006

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

What sort of creative are you? Are you a "primary" - writing new work. Or a "secondary" perhaps a biographer or a journalist or something similar? Or "tertiary" working in the creative industries but a bureaucrat, an arts administrator or similar. I only ask. I'm a "primary", by the way, but this blog shows I'm also a "secondary", but I've never even quite managed to get a job as a "tertiary" - bookseller, administrator or the like - not in the arts at least. A recent job interview was pretty much a "tertiary" one, and I blew it. I was totally nervous, babbling about everything rather than answering the questions. Post-mortem; I was trying to fit my "primary" and "secondary" persona into a job that I could have done very well at if I'd just stuck to the "tertiary." The problem is: weirdly enough, you only seem to get a shot at these "secondary" and "tertiary" jobs if you ARE a successful "primary." Poets as professors; novelists as reviewers. Conversely, you ony seem to get a shot at the "primary" if you're already in the "secondary" or "tertiary" - journalists with book deals, agents turned authors. Doing a non-arts related "tertiary" job and combining this with my "primary" work seems to somehow suit my temperament; but it doesn't always make it easy to move between the two. And I'm probably making a moutain out of this particular molehill, of course. Because maybe its not the primary-secondary-tertiary split that is important but the professional/amatuer. I don't make money from any of my creative activities, so therefore I'm an amatuer. And maybe I'm happiest being that way. I wouldn't be the first.


Maassive said...

It's interesting how you've put it together. I'd disagree with the distinction between primary and secondary, where you seem to have drawn the line between fiction/non-fiction. In film for example, I think Errol Morris (for example) has put more art into his documentary work than 95 percent of fiction film directors. In writing, well I don't think anyone can argue that David Foster Wallace's essays or Rick Moody's autobio/literary crit The Black Veil are anything but primary creative works. It's the type of energy you put into your "secondary" work that counts ... whether in non-fiction/journalism/biography you treat your work as art or craft. But I suppose the same can be said of fiction in an age of MA workshopping, much of which feels more craft these days.

As far as tertiary goes... perhaps film and music are the only two arts where any decent amount of practitioners are able to make a living without supplementing it with some sort of tertiary income. I remember Michael Chabon used to tour around as some sort of motivational-like speaker. Everyone else teaches. I think that's why I've been equally pursuant of "primary" and "secondary" work: I don't want to be a writer-professor. A novelist-journalist is a bit more interesting. The tertiary stuff... well, that can be just as creative as anything else, now can't it? Depends on what you're doing and what sort of control you're allowed.

Just rambling here, I guess. I've always had trouble finding someone to give me money for anything... I've taught myself to believe, though, that it's not what you know, or the more cynical who you know, but the willingness to outlast the competition. I might be wrong with that theory, but I won't know until the end.

Adrian Slatcher said...

I think you make two very valid points here - that only film and music provide enough primary jobs to sustain incomes - and my distinction between primary/secondary is increasingly an irrelevant one. Yes, and no, I guess. If you read John Ashbery's "Selected Prose" or Les Murray's "Paperbark Tree" they both make the point (I paraphrase badly) that they don't see this as their creative work, but something subsidiary, albeit valid. I'd say a lot of artists would say the same. David Bowie said something along the same lines when being criticised about his film career; that when a creative person is asked to do something creative that interests them, they're highly likely to do it, even if it wasn't something that came directly from their heart.