It’s that time of year again, graduation season; when thousands of starry-eyed college grads scramble their way into the workforce. It’s the time when the phrase “I’m an art major” can go from cool and edgy to, well, daunting.
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While the romantic notion of the starving artist might be an attractive one at eighteen; at twenty-two with a BFA and a mountain of debt the notion of living on ramen while you ”find your voice” may be a bit less appealing. The fact is few people will ever become Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, and if like me the notion of teaching turns your stomach you may feel like options are limited. This mindset probably accounts for the startling number of art majors working outside of their field.
Never fear arty kid! You may not make six figures, but a degree in fine arts can open up a world of options. Here are a few strategies to a non-traditional creative career path.
First, consider your skill set
The common misconception about a fine arts degree is that you spend all of your time learning the craft of making art. The fear in your parents’ eyes at the mention of art school probably comes from the notion that you will spend four years learning to mix paint. The truth is; art school cultivates a wealth of skills that have nothing to do with applying gesso to canvas.
A fine arts degree encourages creative thinking, organization and time management skills, an ability to give and accept criticism, independence, writing skills, confidence and flexibility; all traits that potential employers will drool over.
It’s this breadth of knowledge that has lead top companies like Google to fill their investment teams with designers.
A favorite professor of mine used to say that after four years of art school if you couldn’t invent a job for yourself someone didn’t teach you well enough. While the typical undergrad-residency-grad school- teaching job path may be safe, there are thousands of creative options that break the mold.
After considering your skills get resourceful and search out non-traditional jobs that employ both your crafty and creative sides. Have a specialization in ceramics? What about creating porcelain models for dentists? Painting more your speed? Try a job in restoration, or forensic illustration. Find your bliss in collaboration? Ever think of starting a community art center?
Since leaving school three years ago, I have designed teaching programs for contemporary arts camps, led tours of public sculptures in Cleveland, owned a gallery and ceramics studio and made money at freelance writing. I have friends who are curators, docents, appraisers, illustrate medical journals, archive private art collections, design album covers, and just about everything else you can think of. Don’t limit yourself to the typical; you never would in your art so why would your job be any different?
Artists are natural born sales people. While the notion may make you cringe a bit, it’s what we do. Honestly, what is a critique but a sales pitch? Making a living is not selling out. Once you leave the comfort of school, if you really intend to develop a career you have to maintain that confidence and momentum. Sell yourself like a used car. Own your abilities, your skills, and your unique perspective, and never sell yourself short.
Outside of the classroom it is easy to feel that your voice is not important or valid. As an employer, I appreciate a fresh perspective and an employee who is willing to contribute to the conversation. Because of the unique way most art programs are structured fine arts majors have a clear advantage in these areas. Don’t be afraid to let prospective employers know that.
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Life after school can feel scary and at times limiting, but with a little ingenuity and creative thinking that studio art degree could be the door to something completely unexpected. Need more inspiration? Let us know in the comment section below...