Everyone wants to know what you will study in college. But do you know the answer?
As you read through the descriptions and courses, your eyes linger on the art department’s listings. You picture yourself manipulating copper wire in art metal design class and splicing scenes in video imaging and you feel happy — like those classes would hardly constitute what you think of as school.
Suddenly, your practical-self interrupts your daydream: What are you thinking? How could studying art possibly help you make a living in the real world? Besides, you are pretty sure your parents wouldn’t be exactly thrilled to hear you’ve chosen basket weaving over business.
So, you scroll back to Accounting. Though the classes sound dull, you are convinced you will at least be employable when you graduate.
If this sounds familiar, you are probably an artist at heart.
Somehow mentioning the study of art leads people to assume you will be a "starving artist." The truth is, not all creativity is found in the art department. With good information and a solid plan, you can enjoy a fulfilling and lucrative artistic future in nearly any industry.
It’s up to you to convince your loved ones (and perhaps even yourself) that your artistic aspiration does not guarantee a one-way ticket to the poorhouse.
Carol Lloyd, author of “Creating a Life Worth Living” and executive director of Greatschools.org, encourages creative types to supplement artistic training with a skill. She says those who expect to pursue traditional artistic careers need to recognize their lives will likely be entrepreneurial. It makes sense to hone marketing, communication, networking and money management skills to ensure you’ll earn a living.
“It’s unrealistic to think you will paint every day in an ivory tower and that someone will care enough to seek out and purchase your work,” says Lloyd. That’s a fast road to failure, she warns. “There are no serious artists out there (the successful ones) who do not have serious business acumen. They just don’t exist anymore,” she says.
But artistic careers are not just limited to studio painting, drawing and photography.
Choose your direction
Artistic careers encompass a wide range of positions across industries. Some require working collaboratively while others allow you to work alone. A few are technical and science-based while others let you imagine and create in free form. Each field suits different personalities and will require specific artistic and life skills. For instance:
Designers often work in team environments, translating ideas into art and form. Good designers know how to communicate well and are open to suggestions. Would you call yourself a visual person? When you study, do you draw pictures to better understand concepts? You might be destined for design.
Careers in design might include: visual, sound, graphic, product, curriculum and architectural.
Writers love words, but not all writers love the same kinds of words. Some prefer writing long, fictional stories while others prefer writing short, technical pieces or compelling sales messages. Do you journal and write letters to express your thoughts? Can you easily turn ideas into words? Nearly every industry, from car manufacturers to software developers, needs writers.
As a writer, you could write poetry, educational materials, screenplays, journalistic pieces, company manuals, catalog descriptions and grants.
Those who manage artistic projects know how to put pieces together. For instance, a museum curator doesn’t design art, but decides how art collections should be displayed for flow and visual effect. An editor might not write articles, but knows how to organize a magazine’s graphics, copy and advertisements. Are you the one who pulls group projects together? Do you recognize team member strengths and know how to use them? You might consider working toward artistic management in a field that interests you.
Creative management careers include art direction, event coordination, business marketing, wedding planning, museum curation and editing.
A continuing education will never be wasted, whether you choose a vocationally-destined major such as accounting, or an artistic one like fine arts. Traditional majors may help you break into certain industries, while artistic majors offer less obvious benefits.
“Art training helps you bring new perspectives to the workplace,” says Lloyd. In her office, for instance, a cinematography graduate improved her company’s website by incorporating filmmaking and documentary skills. Employees with artistic training are hugely valuable and can make their own opportunities to reshape jobs that aren’t so interesting, she says.
She suggests attending a four-year college if you can manage it. Technical schools are great options, too, but she emphasizes again that students absolutely must build technical skills to support their art. “You’ll need to merge your art with reality,” she says.
Today’s technology has ushered in the need for talented, creative and innovative workers. Visual art, industrial design and digital media are some of the newer creative opportunities available.
“Literature and painting offer a limited understanding of what an artistic career looks like,” says Lloyd. Too many give up after going through turmoil trying to figure out where and how they are meant to be creative, she says. “And that’s too bad because they were meant to have artistic careers.”
Do not fear your artistic desires. Use your creativity to look beyond traditional artistic careers and find new places where you can add beauty to the world.
Carrie Schmeck is a special features and business copywriter from northern California.
Teen Advisory Board
Q: What is your creative passion? Do you plan to apply it to your career someday?
“My creative passion is acting. I love being able to try out different personalities and being able to get away with it…I don’t plan to apply this to my career though.”
— Anna Kenoyer
Newell, South Dakota