I noticed a few key things missing from the curriculum when I attend Art School. It wasn’t the subject of professors or chapters in a book. It was rarely mentioned in regards to masters of the past or present. Not even in Pop Art 101, did we really truly learn how Warhol knew these things. I’m sure that perhaps they may delve upon these subjects in your Masters education but I known many graduates who went into this being clueless. It’s one of the most important aspects of a successful art career and that of an art business.
From my own experience in these years, this is what I’ve learned…
1. Gallery work isn’t the only way to go. You have other angles of the art career to consider: illustration, industrial design, animation, commercial home decor market, gallery/fine art scene. The potential career paths are endless. Not vertical. And what I’ve learned in school is that, unless you can think outside that “art” box, you’ll never know that you can be more than a painter or an illustrator. You will learn many mediums and processes, but how it applies to a career is usually unconsidered. Never truly elaborated on. Study the fields you’d like to work in, now or in the future. Look up alternative careers in art.
2. You don’t have to have a degree to be a working artist, or a become a successful artist. You can start your career at any time. It’s about self-motivation, self-promotion, and self-education. You can start showing your work, offering it to the market you wish to approach while building your portfolio. As my artist friend, Hugh Macleod told me, you never really stop learning. You haven’t even arrived yet! Most artists either work on their degree at the same time as doing their work, or they end up having to drop out of college because their work is keeping them busy. Do what you know will help you move forward and be successful. And continually better yourself. Don’t think you know what you want just yet or that you have fine tuned your craft.
3. You can work on your business portfolio separately. Your student portfolio is a body of work from your studies. They don’t necessarily reflect your personal style of work. Don’t worry about that. Build your personal portfolio in your own time. The benefits of being an art student at the same time is that you get a separate time to build your talents, your skills, and your unique perspective aside from your personal work. If you want to use your student portfolio to build your professional one, that’s a great and immediate way to offer examples of your style and collective message to a gallery.
4. You don’t have to draw or paint as an artist. There are all kinds of media to work with, and that is why they have you take all the classes necessary. It is so you can train yourself in each media, and find out which one is most comfortable for you, or reflects the work you want to create. And each medium will teach you something, improve your skills on other mediums and open up a whole new world to you. Art isn’t always drawings and paintings. There is sculpture, digital art, fashion displays, demonstration art, book design, installation art, etc.
5. Your creations aren’t supposed to be perfect. There is more to art than realism. Time and again I have seen someone get upset because they can’t draw a human or other object in perfect composition or commercial quality. Art isn’t always realistic, and it isn’t always perfect. What you have to learn and accept is the fact that your signature style and vision is more important than skill. But skills improve personal style. Look at Picasso’s Blue Period and then look at his most popular work. Look at Warhol’s design past. They actually had artistic skill. Real talent. They worked hard and it took them time to develop their vision.
6. Not everyone is an artist. We can all create things. Sometimes someone can be a phenomenal sculptor or painter. But even if they are, that doesn’t mean they should run to the nearest art supply store and start working on a career in art. Even myself, I don’t expect this to be the only thing I do in life. Maybe art won’t be a career at all for me in the future. The point is, you can be good at something, but that doesn’t mean you should feel pressured to do it. America today is especially fascinated with celebrity and fortune, and the unfortunate thing is that most people want to do something that gives them that kind of attention. That is unfortunate. Don’t determine your career based on your skills, but on your needs and goals in life. There are some great subjects on how art can apply to a totally different vocation. Creativity is a skill and a gift that can be applied to every career.
7. An art career is HARD! One of the biggest mistakes you could make as an artist is to believe that EVERYONE will be able to have a career in art because they want to. You may be the most amazing artist in the world, have the motivation, or even the money, but not everyone is going to be welcomed and wanted by the world. It will take you years to become successful, and even if you do, that does NOT equal money. I can guarantee you that. Fame does not equal money. Owning your own business is one of the most stressful and overrated jobs in the world, and to have an ART business even MORE so. Good luck!
8. You need to know business and marketing to be an artist or have a good friend who does. What they don’t advise is taking a minor in marketing or business in Art School. And the unfortunate thing is many artists leave it up to fate or galleries, or people. It is a hard business, but no one can sell your art better than you. If you educate yourself in marketing as well as learning all the opportunities and costs of getting your art out there, the better you are off in the world.
9. If you’re going to be an art teacher, be prepared. Not only are Art teachers dealing with a lack of respect for their profession in many places but the importance of Art Education dwindles as schools cut funds on the music and arts programs. You may find problems within the staff, the politics, and the students. You will fight to have the funds for art supplies. May not be the case in some places. It’s an honorable job and someone has to fight for it. Being an art teacher isn’t all fun and games.
10. Art is utilized for more than commercial and decorative needs. Many artists use their work to promote a cause, a concept, or message to the world. They don’t expect to make a living, but use it as a “ministry” or mission. They are adding to the world around us, inspiring us, moving us and challenging us. Art is a powerful tool. We can create amazing stories with this. No matter your vocation, angle or style.