I just read your article “How to Build a Career As An Artist”. I found the article helpful but I was hoping for a little more advice. I feel like every thing in our society is career driven.

Since I got my Associates in Arts in 2012 I have been working and saving so I can move out of my mother’s house and continue my education in an art school in California (I had the intention of being a prop maker). But now I’m 24 I have no idea what I want to do, and I am fearful of pouring a bunch of money into a school for a career that is always described as so inconstant.

I am creative and I love to make art in many mediums but like the Bruce Lee quote I feel “crammed and distorted by the classical mess.” Every one I speak to asks me what job do I want but really I cant answer that I just want to create. I don’t care if its alone or in a team or what environment it is specifically. It doesn’t have to be prop making or costume design or painting I’ll be happy as long as I’m creating and working with my hands and not at a desk all day.
Any advice or suggestions would be great. I’m just feeling very frazzled and conflicted and thought you could help.

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6 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Since you know you don’t want a desk job, and you know you want to work with your hands, you should just look at the list of jobs that are high paying and in demand. For example, electrical workers and plumbers are high paying and in big demand and it’s working with hands all day. Also auto mechanic.

    Making art is not a job. It’s just part of being human. We don’t get paid enough to support ourselves for making art except in rare circumstances. The people who make a living as an artist are people who could not imagine doing anything else. They would rather starve than not make art. It sounds like as long as you are working with your hands all day, you’re fine. It sounds like you do not want to starve or live at your mom’s permanently in order to make art.

    That’s fine. Most people have things they love to do that they don’t get paid for. They do it on their own time, because they love it — art, yoga, sex, etc. The list of things we love to do but do not require money from is very long. It’s fine if you make art that way.

    So forget about going to school for something that is not a specific, high paying, in demand job. Try lots of jobs that are not desk jobs. Find one you like. Make sure you only try jobs that will actually pay you enough to live off of.

    I hope this helps. And good luck.

  2. Emma
    Emma says:

    If you are interested in creating things with your hands and living in CA, one industry where there is money to be made is auto-restorative and customization. It is much bigger business in CA than in any other state, but still the number of people who can do truly good work is small. If you can paint, pinstripe, metalwork or do upholstery with a high degree of both quality and creativity, you can find steady work and make enough money to support yourself in CA. It’s hard for a lot of companies to even find reliable shop help, so if you are a hard worker, you can get an entry-level position to learn more. You just have to be into old cars – the work is too tedious otherwise.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      I like this suggestion.

      Here are some other ideas:

      1. Florist – generally you just need to get a certificate, which takes about a year and then you get a creative, hands-on job which doesn’t require sitting at a desk. You probably already have the basic eye for this, the classes will teach you about floriculture. You probably won’t get rich, but it’s a thriving industry and you’ll have a job.

      2. Wedding or event photographer- If you have a nice digital camera and photography skills you can get paid to take pictures of special events. Processing the proofs must be done online, but the actual picture-taking is quite active.

      3. Window display designer – You can easily do this type of design without much schooling and it’s very hands-on. I have had experience in it myself and I’m still working on my degree. It helps to have retail experience and/or a portfolio of work.

      4. Food/Beverage – Cooking, bartending, or some other food production (smoothies, coffee, baking etc) involves creating just as much as something hanging in a gallery. But it’s in much higher demand. If you have people skills, you don’t mind a little danger, and you also want to have fun at work, I recommend bartending. I did it for a few years and there is a lot of opportunity for creativity in mixing drinks, depending on the kind of establishment you’re with.

  3. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Don’t go to art school unless you’re crazy for art! As someone who was mad enough to get a BFA in painting (not at an ‘art school’ but a liberal arts school), I don’t regret it for a minute; I didn’t want to do anything else with my life. But you don’t need a BFA to ‘be an artist’. If you’re making and exhibiting your work, you’re an artist already. There are thousands of free courses and tutorials online to help you learn. Making art is a continual high learning curve.
    Since the return on an art career tends to be pretty low, a degree is only worth it if you have a solid plan to get a return on that investment. Since you have an AA already, you’ve had some good foundation classes, and could benefit from a BFA/MFA, but only if you are focused and have definite reasons for investing in your art career.
    The only reason to get a degree:
    * Go to a top school like Yale or RISD where you can network your way into galleries, if you want to sell your work for a living. But the debt will be crippling.
    * Get an MFA/PhD to teach at a university (that’s the plan for thousands of graduates every year, most of whom won’t succeed). Ditto to the debt problem.
    * Get a Bachelors in Art Education, where your degree will pay off as soon as you graduate, will eventually pay for your masters, and could take you around the world if you like in international teaching. But it takes a particular personality type to enjoy teaching art (I didn’t really)

    I did a BFA in painting and printmaking, and have accidentally landed in a lucrative (relatively) artist-in-residence position in a challenging city I really like. They pay me to make my art, pay for my studio, housing, & art supplies as well. In return I give arts workshops and help promote their org. Without the degree I couldn’t legally be employed in this country, or most others. So, yes, my degree has paid off.

    Some of the jobs I worked to get here in my 20s and early 30s, most of which gave insights into art and paid the bills (sometimes barely): freelance scenic painter for prop companies; gallery coordinator for open studios; wall/mural painter for rich peoples’ homes; illustrator; travel-writer; handmade paper-seller at an art store; clerk at a store which made handmade portfolios for artists/photographers; workshop coordinator for a photo festival; radio DJ.

    But I have never really aspired to the gallery-centric arts scene, or the theory-driven academic arts scene, or lucrative and practical ‘applied arts’ like the many design fields which are popular today.

    Your ideal career options are at the intersection of your personality type, class/family background (or reactions to them), and whatever the technology-driven artistic/creative trends are of your particular generation.

  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Btw Penelope nailed it concisely as usual:

    “So forget about going to school for something that is not a specific, high paying, in demand job. Try lots of jobs that are not desk jobs. Find one you like. Make sure you only try jobs that will actually pay you enough to live off of.”

    Just ignore most of my post above. Sounds like you’re keen on design and working with your hands. Try out different jobs, figure out what it is you like about them, then only get a degree if necessary for specific training for a lucrative job.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I’m assuming you have put together an impressive portfolio of your artwork, right?

    If you want a job, like a prop maker, then you just need to move to LA and start as an intern somewhere. Save up your money for six months of expenses, come here and see what happens after reaching out to everywhere and anywhere in the industry with that portfolio. If it doesn’t work out, at least you are not in debt up to your eyeballs in student loans and you can concentrate on finding hands on work.

    If being in the industry is not important to you, then like others have said, any job working with your hands like a technician.

    Good luck to you!

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