Benefits and hardships: Why (and how) should I raise my awareness of fringe benefits?

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Fringe benefits denote supplements to a job’s wage, and are often used by employers to motivate and recruit their staff. Examples for common fringe benefits are private health care, childcare reimbursement, employee discounts or additional weeks of vacation – the list is endless. Uncommon fringe benefits often are the consequence of a specific industry or job situation: an ice cream parlor offering free ice cream to their staff, a pet store allowing their employee’s dogs to accompany them. Some of these benefits are implicit, and might not have been actively thought of by management – yet still improve an employee’s situation: a calm workplace, considerate colleagues and bosses, reasonable commutes, etc. These are the consequence of a working situation and of the employee’s personal affinities.

The financial situation of emerging artists is rough on various levels: artists don’t get employed to pursue their practice, so there’s no possibility for employers to improve their motivation through either salary or common fringe benefits. Emerging artists usually already have a hard time to establish any sort of income reliability. Since sales tend to be their work’s least frequent marker of success, it’s reasonable to consider a wider array of benefits: the freedom to pursue one’s passions, the possibilities of engaging with friends and family, etc – the artist’s life offers various rather unique, albeit mostly non-monetary benefits. While these won’t pay your rent, they can still improve your quality of life. They are the consequence of your personal affinities – your appreciation of them always depends on your character.

Examples could be:

  • Work related:
    • Flexible time management
    • Freedom to work on what you want (to pursue your passion)
    • The experience of people caring about your work, and to see their life expand as a result
    • The experience of people living with something you created
    • Deep discussions about art and life

  • Societal benefits:
    • Being part of broader social circles
    • Increased sensitivity for community problems
    • Increased sensitivity for human rights issues and equal rights
    • Increased aesthetic sensitivities
    • Standing out to people who pursue ordinary jobs
    • Free drinks at openings
    • Dinners that are paid for
    • Invitations to collector’s homes
    • The possibility to use collector’s holiday homes
    • Knowledge of fellow creators: artists, musicians, actors etc
    • Knowledge of powerful people: lawyers, doctors, politicians, etc

Benefits and hardships

Lists like that quickly sound corny – they risk over-cherishing. The point is not to be euphemistic about hardships, but to understand how your life differs from others on a structural level, and to raise your awareness about situations that come normal to your lifestyle, while being rare to others. Understand that each of these benefits likely has downsides associated to them – each benefit can hide a hardship:

  • Flexible time management vs. an imbalanced quality of life, due to working without time constraints (mornings, evenings, nights)
  • The freedom to work on what you want, vs. a total lack of clarity about what to do
  • Working without a boss, vs. the lack of external gratification after having accomplished something
  • Being treated to dinner, vs. the economic inability to treat someone else to dinner
  • Knowledge of powerful people, vs. being the powerful person yourself

Interactions of benefits and hardships

Your life as an artist has an enormous amount of challenges and hardships. Raising your awareness of their interaction lets you attain a more holistic, and thus more realistic view of your life. To this end, consider doing the following:

  1. Understand your life’s benefits 
  2. Understand your life’s hardships
  3. Understand how they are connected, and how you can increase the occurrence of your benefits; you can often do so by analyzing your hardships.

Emerging artists establish a place to pursue their work practice, and then network to increase their chances of survival.

Artists usually enter their profession in a slow, gradual manner; even after graduating from art school, there isn’t ever a hiring moment that upgrades their student precariat to an employee’s situation of financial potency and security. If anything, they get hired for side jobs: to work at a café, a book or art store, etc. These jobs themselves will likely carry fringe benefits, and it makes sense to stay aware of them.

Ultimately though, emerging artists establish a place to pursue their work practice, and then network to increase their chances of survival. This slow progress into their self-employment, usually happening over many years, can make them unaware of their changed circumstances – even though some of them would truly feel important and worthwhile if they would have appeared overnight.

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