Living Precarious Lives? Time and Temporality in Visual Arts Careers


  • Paula Serafini CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
  • Mark Banks School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom



precarity, time, temporality, artistic work, careers, creative labour


Although precarity has always been a characteristic feature of artistic labour, many critics now claim it is becoming more widespread and engrained. However, while the idea of precarity offers a good descriptor of the conditions of artistic labour, it also has its limits. Firstly, it tends to gloss over social differences in the distribution of precariousness. And secondly, precarity tends to imply a universal condition of ‘temporal poverty’ where all social experience appears dominated by the frenetic demands of a speeded-up, unstable and fragmented social world. In this article, we show how these two omissions are interlinked and prevent a more nuanced understanding of time in artistic labour. Drawing from findings from empirical research with working visual artists in the Midlands of the UK, we propose three schematic ways of thinking about the organisation of time and temporality in routine artistic practice. We name these three temporal contexts ‘the artistic career’; ‘the time of making art’ and ‘the temporality of the work’. By researching how artists might be differently positioned in relation to time, we suggest, we not only obtain a more precise understanding of how professional artists’ lives are organised, managed and lived, but also a more distinct understanding of precarity itself.


Bain, Alison (2005): "Constructing an artistic identity", Work, Employment and Society 19:1, 25-46.

Bain, Alison & Maclean, Heather (2013): "The Artistic Precariat", Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 6:1, 93-111.

Banks, Mark (2014): "Being in the Zone of Cultural Work", Culture Unbound 6, 241-262.

Banks, Mark (2017): Creative Justice: Cultural Industries, Work and Inequality, London: Rowan and Littlefield International.

Banks, Mark; Gill, Rosalind & Taylor, Stephanie (2013): "Introduction: Cultural Work, Time and Trajectory", M. Banks; R. Gill & S. Taylor (eds.) Theorizing Cultural Work: Labour, Continuity and Change in the Cultural and Creative Industries, London: Routledge, 1-16.

Becker, Howard (1982): Art Worlds, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Benjamin, Walter (2008 [1936]): The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, translated by J.A. Underwood, London: Penguin.

Bennett, Dawn (2009): "Academy and the Real World Developing realistic notions of career in the performing arts", Arts & Humanities in Higher Education 8:3, 309-327.

Bergson, Henri (2004): Duration and Simultaneity, Indianapolis, New York and Kansas City: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1993): The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, New York: Columbia University Press.

Brook, Orian, O'Brien, David & Taylor, Mark (2016): Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Cultural Industries, uploads/2018/04/Panic-Social-Class-Taste-and-Inequalities-in-the-Creative-Industries1.pdf

CAMEo (2019): "It Takes a Region to Raise an Artist: Understanding the East Midlands" Visual Arts Economy, CAMEo Research Institute: Leicester.

DCMS (2016): DCMS Economic Estimates, London: DCMS. government/collections/dcms-sectors-economic-estimates

de Peuter, Greig (2014): "Beyond the model worker: Surveying a creative precariat", Culture Unbound 6, 263-284.

Dombrowski, André (2013): "Painting Time: Impressionism and the Modern Temporal Order", Institute for Advanced Studies,

Eikhof, Doris & Warhurst, Chris (2013): "The Promised Land: Why Social Inequalities are Systemic in the Cultural Industries", Employee Relations 35:5, 495-508.

Eshun. Kodwo (2003): "Further Considerations of Afrofuturism", CR: The New Centennial Review 3(2), 287-302.

Frith, Simon & Horne, Howard (1987): Art into Pop, London: Methuen.

Gerber, Alison (2017): The Work of Art: Value in Creative Carriers. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Gill, Rosalind & Pratt, Andy (2008): "In the social factory? Immaterial labour, precariousness and cultural work", Theory, Culture and Society, 25:7-8, 1-30.

Hammersley, Martin & Atkinson, Paul (2007): Ethnography. Principles in practice (Third edition). London & New York: Routledge.

Hardt, Michael & Negri, Antonio (2009): Commonwealth, Cambridge: Harvard Univeristy Press.

Hewison, Kevin (2016) "Precarious Work", S. Edgell et al (eds.) The Sage Handbook of Sociology of Work and Employment, London: Sage, 428-443.

Ingold, Tim (2013): Making: Anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture, London & New York: Routledge.

Kalleberg, Arne (2009) "Precarious Work, Insecure Workers: Employment Relations in Transition', American Sociological Review, 74: 1, 1-22

Lee, Pamela (2004): Chronophobia: On Time in the Arts in the 1960s, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lindström, Sofia (2016): "Artists and Multiple Job Holding-Breadwinning Work as Mediating Between Bohemian and Entrepreneurial Identities and Behavior", Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 6: 3, 43-58.

Lingo, Elizabeth L. & Tepper, Steven J. (2013): "Looking Back, Looking Forward: Arts-Based Careers and Creative Work", Work and Occupations, 40:40, 337-363.

Lütticken, Sven (2010): "Transforming Time", Grey Room, 41, 24-47.

Mahon, Marie; McGrath Brian; Ó Laoire, Lillis & Collins, Patrick (2018): "Artists as workers in the rural; precarious livelihoods, sustaining rural futures", Journal of Rural Studies, 63: 271-279.

McRobbie, Angela (2016): Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries, Cambridge: Polity.

Miller, Diana (2016): "Gender and the Artist Archetype: Understanding Gender Inequality in Artistic Careers", Sociology Compass 10:2, 119-131.

Nagel, Alexander & Wood, Christopher (2010): Anachronic Renaissance, New York: Zone Books.

Neilson, Brett & Rossiter, Ned (2005): "From Precarity to Precariousness and Back Again: Labour, Life and Unstable Networks", The Fibreculture Journal, 5. Available at

Paying Artists (2014): How We Got Here uploads/2016/07/How-We-Got-Here-Culmination-of-Paying-Artists-Consultation-Process-2014-16.pdf

Pasquinelli, Cecilia & Sjöholm, Jenny (2015): "Art and resilience: The spatial practices of making a resilient artistic career in London", City, Culture and Society, 6: 75-81.

Prosser, Thomas (2016) "Dualization or liberalization? Investigating precarious work in eight European countries", Work, Employment and Society, 30: 6, 949-965.

Saha, Anamik (2018): Race and the Cultural Industries, Cambridge: Polity.

Sharma, Sarah (2014): In the Meantime: Temporality and Cultural Politics, Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Souriau, Étienne (1949): "Time in the Plastic Arts", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 7:4, 294-307.

Standing, Guy (2011): The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London: Bloomsbury.

Throsby, David & Zednik, Anita (2011): "Multiple job-holding and artistic careers: some empirical evidence", Cultural Trends, 20:1, 9-24.

Vosko, Leah (2000): Temporary Work: The Gendered Rise of a Precarious Employment Relationship. Toronto: Univeristy of Toronto Press.




How to Cite

Serafini, P. and Banks, M. (2020) “Living Precarious Lives? Time and Temporality in Visual Arts Careers”, Culture Unbound, 12(2), pp. 351–372. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.20200504a.