Art for a Living

By: Emily (an actual SFA major!)

Working in Career Services, I meet students from a variety of different majors. There are future educators, engineers, scientists, computer programmers, actuaries and businessmen and woman that come in for guidance and resume advice. Yet there is an unmistakable void that I have difficulty ignoring. Rarely do I get the chance to meet students that are pursuing art.

It isn’t all that surprising, really. People typically have a lot of advice for you when you tell them you are an art major. After disclosing your art major like an embarrassing secret to a roomful of political science microbiologists and corporate advertising actuaries, you are often met with the same question: what are you going to do with that? The answer is simple and yet makes us feel like silly children. It should be no surprise that you want to do art with your art major, but if you are anything like me, you list off your goals and accomplishments to make it seem as if you have a foolproof plan for life.

Many art students strive to be taken seriously, yet feel misunderstood and underestimated by people in other disciplines. It is stressful to consider future plans, so why would you willingly ask advice from someone who might laugh at your dreams and tell you that the chances of getting a job in your field are slim and your salary will be minimal?

Art for a living

You, my friends, are not exempt or excluded from the career support offered by Career Services. If you are considering a life in the arts, here are some things to ask yourself:

Are you a perfectionist?

Practice makes perfect, but if you are a perfectionist, you might have difficulty enjoying the muddy process of rehearsing. You might feel uncomfortable sharing your work with other people. You might spend hours doing touch ups and editing, but dread giving the final version of your manuscript away. When you finally reveal your work and get feedback from others, are you the kind of person who obsesses over criticism? There will be people that don’t like your work. You will get rejected more times than you can count. If you have difficulty handling feedback, you might run into challenges as an artist.

Do you like to take risks and experience change?

Sometimes you will be on cloud nine and everything will be wonderful. You’ll get hired to play a gig and actually get paid to do what you love. Then, in a blink of an eye, you’ll be looking for work and spiraling into a depression, wondering if your good days are behind you. With a life that can shift quickly from high to low extremes, it’s important to ask yourself: how much stability do I need? Will I need to teach on the side or work part-time? Do I consider change stressful or exciting?

Do you have skills that could provide you with an income?

What might be beneficial to learn in order to sell your art? Will you need to learn how to make an enticing website? Would it be useful to take classes outside of your major to learn how to write grants, market your product or manage your own small business? Making a living as a full-time artist is hard. There may be times in your life that you will need multiple day jobs in order to pay your rent. Taking time to learn other marketable skills can be a good idea. I have friends pursuing art that are also certified as yoga instructors, real estate agents, bartenders and ordained ministers. By becoming a jack-of-all-trades and building up your tool belt, you will become more versatile and better able to support yourself financially in difficult times.

Are you able to maintain relationships and ask for help?

With performing arts in particular, networking is essential. With so many talented performers auditioning for a limited amount of job opportunities, competition in these fields are steep. Sometimes who you know is just as important as what you know. Don’t wait for graduation to start networking! Start practicing by striking up conversations with classmates. Get to know your professors. You will find that many of them are an invaluable resource and usually want to help you get your foot in the door.

Above all else, remember that if you change your mind about pursuing a career as an artist, you can still be an artist. If you have an itch to create, then make time to incorporate art into your life.  Also remember that if you are an art major, Career Services is a great resource open to all students. Come and visit us sometime.

Read Emily’s other posts

Photo: Milwaukee Art Museum by Ellen Hatfield

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