Today I read an interesting article in the Guardian, by Emily Browne, "10 things about being an artist that art teachers don't tell you."
From having talked to many artists, both established and aspiring, I don't think it comes as much surprise that after art school you are unleashed into the world with typically a pretty poor perception about what your in for, what your chances of making it are and what the realities of getting there are as well. It certainly was an eye opener for me. I knew in making the decision to go to art school that I wasn't doing it for fame and fortune, but I wanted to be successful and make a living, and I didn't know how to get anywhere else after I had walked down the isle to get my degree.
Here are the 10 'truths' described in the article: (Quoted truths in purple)
1. Many artists work freelance. A study by the Arts Council finds that 41% of creative workers are self-employed. Temporary work contracts can make for an interesting and varied career, though periods of unemployment between jobs are a reality for some artists.
I remember finding that about halfway through my junior year in school, except outside of design work, I would have a hard time believing that percentage is that low. Freelancing is great, it can give you tons of freedom and chances to do all sorts of different projects, but you are essentially becoming a business owner, and that is something most are not ready for.
2. Freelance artists budget carefully. Being self-employed means you are without pension, holiday pay or maternity benefits. Contingencies such as falling ill or having children require pre-emptive financial planning.
If you're not working a day job, or accomplished what one of my instructors told us was the best possible pieces of advice, to marry somebody with benefits and a full time job, a major illness can be a serious and life changing set back. I've heard plenty of horror stories. So yeah, you had better get yourself at the least an IRA account and a good financial advisor.
3. Artists self-promote. Many showcase their talents on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Linked in, as well as on their own websites. Having a good online presence shows employers that you are self-motivated and digitally literate.
Times were different when I graduated 10 years ago, social media was virtually non-existant in the mainstream at that time. (Wow, how quickly times change.) So a big part of self promotion was all about cold calls and mailings. We were sort-of kind-of prepared for that in school. I mean, they talked about printing postcards... But the truth of the matter is, if you expect to be found and swept into the best galleries and publications while never leaving your studio or taking your nose out of your sketchbook, you may be waiting a loooong time.
4. Artists love socialising. Networking events are the art world's equivalent to job hunting, but with less misery and more booze. Whether you're searching for commissions or trying to advance your career, networking gives you the chance to meet industry professionals and expose yourself to new opportunities.
Well... Kind of. If you're an introvert, as many artists I know are, this is kind of a tough point. Not networking and self-promoting can be a the downfall for a serious introvert in their ability to build a career. And of course, it helps to live in a metropolitan area where there are networking and art meet-ups. But nobody can argue that networking is priceless. I am lucky to live near Chicago, where there are many events and groups to get involved in, but I admit, I need to be better about getting going and driving my butt into the city from the burbs.
5. Many artists form collectives to publicise and exhibit their work. Kate Rowland, an illustrator from the collective After School Club explains: "Being in After School Club is great for motivation. It allows us to utilise each other's skills, therefore we have more resources to help one another. It's kind of like a creative support system. And lots of fun."
This is true and sort of ties in to the point above. Quite a few of the art shows I've taken part in were organized by other artists whom I know and respect.
6. It's all about your portfolio. The visual arts are less grade-centric than other disciplines. An art director at a graphic design company once told me he'd think twice about hiring someone with a first-class degree, as he worried they'd have no time for hobbies outside of work. In his words, not mine, "they might be really boring". This isn't to say you shouldn't aim high – another employer might appreciate a first-class candidate. Rather, you should focus on making your portfolio the best you can possibly make it. A good body of work speaks louder than grades.
Again, pretty much true. Clients are typically looking at your portfolio, rarely ever your resume. Nobody looking to hire me has ever asked me what my grade point average was in college, your work and professionalism should speak for themselves.
7. Some artists supplement their income with a second job. Doing so gives them financial security while they exercise their creative passions. Take a look at some of these prolific "double jobbers".
Many do this. Many, many, many. Until you are established, or have a partner with steady income as I mentioned above, or are just a serious risk-taker, (or live at home with patient parents) you're gonna get a job to pay the bills because no landlord cares if your art isn't selling one particular month. It's hard to juggle a job and put the hours that you want into building your art career, but it can be necessary at least to get started. And if you can get vested in a retirement plan while your at it, more power to you.
8. Many artists take on internships to help kick-start their career. Working for a company can prepare you with essential industry skills and improve your employability. The question of payment is a hot potato – in general, the shorter the internship, the less likely you are to get paid.
Yup. I know a lot of people who went this route, and it seems to be especially useful in our particular economy for those right out of design school. It's a great way to get some credible experience and pieces in your portfolio that aren't just 'school' projects.
9. Job opportunities are growing. There are currently over 1.9 million people working in the creative industries. However, by 2016, the government expects this figure to skyrocket, with an additional 1.3 million new jobs in the private sector alone.
Not to be a negative nellie, but I'll believe it when I see it. Maybe in web and design?
10. The creative sector is characterised by high levels of job satisfaction. As a result, the industry is highly competitive and jobs are sought after. If you have the passion and the motivation to stay ahead of the game, then a creative career can be an exciting and rewarding experience.
This is true. Like I said earlier, I didn't do this to make millions. Like many others, I pursued this career because I couldn't do anything else. You could pay me 6-figures to sit in a cubicle, but I would be a miserable human being.
The one item I would add to this is that it's imperative to always be expanding your talent/skill set. If you work digitally, know the newest software platforms. If you paint, keep learning new methods and pushing your understanding, if you do design work, stay up on the newest outlets, multi-media is king. Keep learning!
It's a business and it's hard work, but it's worth it if you love it. I'm still working my way through these truths and trying to make a successful business myself. So here's to a elbow grease and paint stains... and a little luck for everyone out there pouring their passions into their respective canvases. ;)