Choosing an art career or even a creative career in any field can be very intimidating and a journey full of struggles. Based on a recent report by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, 56% of art students who graduated left the field altogether because they were having a tough time earning an income (2014).
Conventional wisdom tells us that taking up an art career can lead to unemployment, financial struggle and a lot of unpaid student loans. That being said, the image of the starving artist along with the whole background of financial difficulty is looking more and more like a myth, at least in the modern day workplace.
The image of the starving artist along with the whole background of financial difficulty is looking more and more like a myth, at least in the modern day workplace.
There is a struggle in being an artist in the same way that there is a struggle in any chosen career. But for the art majors, or those choosing to switch to art-related fields later in life, there is an added layer of difficulty because there are no paved career steps for them. However, that should be no reason to stop following your dream of having an art career. The key is maintaining passion for your art and moving forward with that belief. You are bound to come across an opportunity that will help you succeed.
Here are some tips and suggestions to fast-track your creative career whether you are a fresh graduate, making a career switch, or even planning a retirement hobby.
Why Build An Art Career At All?
Our society might sometimes discourage creative careers as unsustainable and there might be many risks involved; however, more and more people are choosing to follow their dreams and opting for unconventional and individualistic career options. The main reason for this is that when you choose to be an artist, you make a career out of something you love doing. This also means that you will always be passionate about your job and never lose motivation. Even if you fail in this path, you will force yourself to get back up and try again. There might be many more obstacles that you would come across but after all, no pain, no gain.
James Chisholm, an artist based in Salem, Massachusetts, talks about his art career and how he decided to make the switch from business to art in an interview featured in our biannual magazine, ArtisSpectrum.
When asked about his experience, he told us, “Although I went on to attend Boston’s Northeastern University as a Business Administration major/concentrator with the possibility of a partnership in a family business after graduation, I eventually found myself being pulled back to the artistic side. After befriending a fellow Northeastern University student, who had decided to transfer to an art school rather than continue his civil engineering studies, I started to reconsider my own career direction and started again to paint artistically.”
James Chisholm is now a successful artist known for his breathtaking landscapes that capture the natural terrain of New England beautifully. Not only is he an exceptional artist, but also an inspiring teacher and instructor and has been teaching art for the last 40 years at several institutions and museums, including Harvard Extension School and North Shore Community College. Chisholm’s success and experience prove that a career in the field of art can actually be very fruitful if you work hard and remain resilient.
Pursuing something that you love doing is not the only advantage of an art career. The fact that you are constantly creating something greatly helps in maintaining your mental health as well, even if you might not be extremely successful on the commercial front. This is the key to living a happy and content life! In the creative industry, you have the independence to aim for any position or any status as long as you have the skills and the capability.
You are not bound by any corporate hierarchy systems. Your status in your career and how much time you take to reach that status solely depends on how hard you work and how good you are as an artist. The best part about a career in a creative field is that you come across like-minded people who help you grow tremendously.
James Chisholm also encourages more people to take up a creative career. “It is not the easiest way to make a living, but it is possible with the old standbys of hard work, dedication, and most importantly, a love for the art making process. The world obviously needs people willing to take up the challenge that art careers pose.” All in all, a creative career makes you a healthier and happier person!
The Importance Of Networking For Your Art Career
The first step in building an art career is putting yourself out there, learning how to market yourself as an artist, and keeping tabs on what’s going on in your professional circles. Basically, networking is the key, as it is in any other profession.
Networking is often considered a necessary evil. Even though many artists are not comfortable doing it, it’s absolutely paramount that you rigorously sell yourself. In fact, networking is everything when it comes to a creative career. You need to know how to promote yourself and, more importantly, how to sell the work you do.
Build relationships with like-minded people or people who appreciate your work. Help out others, whether as a volunteer at art events or teaching a class; attend your local art association gatherings, and become a familiar face in your local art scene. Don’t be shy to bring your Artist’s Business Cards and talk about yourself as an artist and your art. Stay in touch with important people you meet.
It’s essential to be very pro-active about this, even if it means physically showing up at a gallery with your portfolio. Not that this is what you should do specifically, but going to art events and gatherings and actively talking to people and telling them about yourself is the most important thing.
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Find A Job That Boosts Your Art Career
“Find out what you like doing best, and get someone to pay you for it.” – Katherine Whitehorn
The struggle to reach where you want to be could be very challenging and economically straining, especially for fresh graduates. If you are someone making a career switch, you might have some capital saved up from your last job. However, that also means that you need to spend judiciously. Sometimes, the best thing to keep you floating economically is to get a job that suits your creativity and even helps you grow as an artist.
On this subject, Chisholm remarked that the fact that “art production can fit in a number of career choices” is often ignored. You’ll be glad to know that 80% of art students say that they are working a job that is related to their field of study in college (from the same report by SNAAP mentioned earlier) and 82% of older art graduates say the same.
And even if you’re not a graduate of an arts course, a portfolio can usually earn you consideration for positions in the arts field. “One of the most important areas to focus on in order to develop a successful art career is creating artwork or working in related fields, such as graphic design, photography, video and film media or something that can be endorsed and supported wholeheartedly by concerned parents,” noted Chisholm.
80% of art students say that they are working a job that is related to their field of study in college
The key ingredient to finding a good day job that will support your art career is to find one that doesn’t drain you of your creative juices but will instead help you bring more focus to your art. An art-related day job is also a good way to meet more people in the business and to learn from more experienced artists. The ideal job will offer exposure to your craft and inspire you in many different ways.
Building Your Resume And Actively Participating
Waiting to be ‘discovered’ is not the way to go at all. You need to have a colorful resume and an even better professional portfolio. Being an artist does not mean just painting or sculpting or creating. Being an artist means constantly being involved in art. Once you understand this and start following it, you are bound to get noticed.
The best way to build your resume is to seek affiliation with established art galleries. The art world is a competitive place and having the support of a gallery can be very beneficial. You are bound to get many more opportunities and higher visibility in the art market than an independent artist of the same caliber if you are endorsed by a gallery. Most artists that have had gallery representation will agree with the fact that you start getting offers for exhibitions immediately after you sign up.
James Chisholm, following his exhibition at Agora, was asked to submit his artworks for the North Shore Community College “artist of the year” category. He was also invited to attend and speak at several professional gatherings at celebrated institutions like Harvard University and the Boston chapter of the Algonquin Club.
Now preparing for another exhibition at Agora next month, he told us, “Although the Agora Gallery web site demonstrates the strength and professionalism of the art works being shown and the appearance and layout of its interior spaces; my first visit confirmed my initial impression of the seriousness of purpose the Agora Gallery has in presenting new artists to the New York art scene.”
Another way to add substantial accomplishments to your resume is to actively participate by keeping yourself updated on what’s new in the art circles, Joining Art Competitions, taking courses, responding to open calls and even volunteering your time for art-related events. Having one or two pieces selected in an art competition is a great way for you to gain exposure and visibility to potential galleries.
Blogging and being active on social media is another avenue to take if your art career could use some exposure. Take the time to learn the best ways to market your art on different social media platforms. The online world is all about quality content which is why the art community is in a really great position to dominate it.
Useful Article: Finding Art Collectors Through Social Media
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter when you begin. An art career is all about the journey and making most of the opportunities that come your way. Like Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than you are capable of living.” Put yourself out there, meet new people and, most of all, keep creating!
Want to give your art more time, and leave the marketing and promotional hassles to someone else? Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.
Join the discussion: If you are an artist, please do tell us about some of the challenges and obstacles you faced in your career path and how you dealt with them.