Choosing to pursue a career in the arts isn’t for the fainthearted. The prospect of finding a job that can support artistic passion while simultaneously putting food on the table is limited by a society that increasingly devalues creative expression in favor of rational reasoning; an educational system with dwindling funds for fine and performing arts instruction; technologies that have changed not only how art is made, but how it is experienced; and an audience that appears less interested and less willing than ever to pay for arts exposure.
Certainly, the arts are changing in the U.S. But they aren’t dead yet. Critical investigation shows that while art creation and art consumption are drastically different than they were even just ten years ago, there is still enough potential — via new genres, new audiences, new patrons and new opportunities for interactive collaboration — that artists of all kinds can actually make a living doing what they love. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll need for a career in today’s art world:
Of course, you’re going to need talent to be an artist. But perhaps more important than your skill level is your ability to persevere in the face of adversity. As mentioned, making money as an artist isn’t easy. You could have the genius of Pablo Picasso, but if you aren’t mentally able to endure the pressures you’ll face and don’t have the determination you need to hone your craft, then you’re not likely to get very far. To be a great artist, you’re going to need the drive to practice and experiment and reassess over and over and over again.
Experience and Instruction
It’s probably a wise idea to pursue some type of arts instruction, whether that’s attending a liberal arts college or opting for a specialized art school. A case can be made for either. A bachelor’s degree not only offers a more reliable means by which to earn money during any downtimes, but it can expose prospective artists to inspiration that comes from studying the world at large. An immersive arts program, on the other hand, can help students refine their skills by offering moral and instructional support that they might not have previously received at home or in school; it can also provide a network of established professionals to collaborate with after graduation. Whatever your preference, you must choose a path that allows you to continuously create, seeking opportunities (volunteer positions, internships, class assignments, etc.) that help you build a portfolio that accurately demonstrates your talent, growth and potential.
It might not seem apparent, but art is a business. Most of the time, the object is to create a product that other people want to buy. And because many artists want to work for themselves, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of basic accounting and marketing principles so that you can manage your finances and turn a profit. You should also have some knowledge of qualitative and quantitative market research design so that you can better appreciate and anticipate market demand.
Finally, support is critical for success. You should surround yourself with at least one person who can share lessons from his or her life experiences; give constructive feedback; provide motivation and encouragement during difficult times; and expose and introduce you to individuals who are capable of inspiring, instructing, promoting and possibly even sponsoring you when needed! Having someone by your side only makes it easier for you to succeed!