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How beret dare they: survey says artists are the most non-essential workers

Social media backlash prompts clarification from researchers after Singaporean newspaper poll paints artists in poor light

The survey was illustrated with illustrations of workers in the different sections, with the artist wearing a beret and sporting a moustache. Photo: Alan Hardman

Artists hoping to help during the coronavirus pandemic may consider putting down their paintbrushes and packing away their easels after being deemed the most non-essential workers in a survey published at the weekend.

Many on Twitter and Instagram voiced surprise at—but also saw the funny side of—the results of a 1,000-person survey published in the Singaporean newspaper the Straits Times. The publication listed the top five essential jobs, with doctors and nurses coming out top, and the top five non-essential jobs with artist pipping telemarketer to the top position. Cold calls are seemingly more essential than art, in the eyes of those surveyed. In the poll, 71% of people listed artist as a non-essential job, while 86% listed doctor or nurse as an essential job.

The survey was illustrated with graphics and illustrations of workers in the different sections, with the artist wearing a beret and sporting a moustache. Jeremy Nguyen, a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine Tweeted a photo of the page on Twitter pointing out that “they had to commission an artist to make this”. Many of the respondents to his tweet added that much of the entertainment that we have consumed during lockdown has been created by artists.

The British artist Richard Woods also posted the survey on his Instagram pages, garnering dozens of comments, including a “Woo hoo!!!” from the collector Kenny Schachter and “better take all the rainbows and hospital murals down” from the stylist Grace Woodward.

The survey was commissioned to look at the differing views on essential workers following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, with one of the key findings being that most respondents would favour improved wages for key workers.

The market research company responsible for the results, Milieu Insight, subsequently released a blog post detailing its methodology after some of the backlash online. The survey gave respondents a list of 20 jobs from which they would first pick the most essential and then, from the remaining ones, the jobs that are “absolutely not essential”, selecting as many for either list as they wished. Furthermore, essential workers were described in the questionnaire as having to meet “basic human needs”. The company added in the blogpost that “some could argue that art is a basic human need, and many of us at Milieu would agree”.