10 things about being an artist that art teachers don’t tell you

Theoretical, Tutorials

Original article from The Guardian written by Emily Browne

What art students need to know is: can I make a living from being creative? The answer is more complex than you might think

There are many misconceptions about the art world. Ask someone to describe what it means to be an artist, and they will probably paint a picture of one of two extremes. There is no perceived middle ground, no stability, no security: there are simply those who make it, and those who don’t.

The quintessential artist-failure is dedicated, talented, yet tragically unappreciated. Regrettably, their work acquires value only after their death.

The other extreme is the artist-celebrity. The conceptualists, the YBAs, the Damien Hirsts – these cunning characters are able to sell anything, particularly if it has some kind of biological waste product artfully smeared across it.

If popular opinion is anything to go by, the creative sector is a huge gamble, braved only by reckless, or masochistic, individuals. But if you’re an art student, you need to know if this “make or break” view bears any relation to reality.

I’ve completed three years at art school, and am now an MA student, and as far as I can see – no, it doesn’t. But with all the stereotyping that goes on, it’s tough for students to work out what to expect from a career in the arts. So let’s try to make things a little clearer – and maybe dispel some myths along the way.

Here are 10 honest truths about work, life and leisure in the creative industry.

1. Many artists work freelance. A study by the Arts Council finds that 41% of creative workers are self-employed. Temporary work contracts can make for an interesting and varied career, though periods of unemployment between jobs are a reality for some artists.

2. Freelance artists budget carefully. Being self-employed means you are without pension, holiday pay or maternity benefits. Contingencies such as falling ill or having children require pre-emptive financial planning.

3. Artists self-promote. Many showcase their talents on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Linked in, as well as on their own websites. Having a good online presence shows employers that you are self-motivated and digitally literate.

4. Artists love socialising. Networking events are the art world’s equivalent to job hunting, but with less misery and more booze. Whether you’re searching for commissions or trying to advance your career, networking gives you the chance to meet industry professionals and expose yourself to new opportunities.

5. Many artists form collectives to publicise and exhibit their work. Kate Rowland, an illustrator from the collective After School Club explains: “Being in After School Club is great for motivation. It allows us to utilise each other’s skills, therefore we have more resources to help one another. It’s kind of like a creative support system. And lots of fun.”

6. It’s all about your portfolio. The visual arts are less grade-centric than other disciplines. An art director at a graphic design company once told me he’d think twice about hiring someone with a first-class degree, as he worried they’d have no time for hobbies outside of work. In his words, not mine, “they might be really boring”. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high – another employer might appreciate a first-class candidate. Rather, you should focus on making your portfolio the best you can possibly make it. A good body of work speaks louder than grades.

7. Some artists supplement their income with a second job. Doing so gives them financial security while they exercise their creative passions. Take a look at some of these prolific “double jobbers”.

8. Many artists take on internships to help kick-start their career. Working for a company can prepare you with essential industry skills and improve your employability. The question of payment is a hot potato – in general, the shorter the internship, the less likely you are to get paid.

9. Job opportunities are growing. There are currently over 1.9 million people working in the creative industries. However, by 2016, the government expects this figure to skyrocket, with an additional 1.3 million new jobs in the private sector alone.

10. The creative sector is characterised by high levels of job satisfaction. As a result, the industry is highly competitive and jobs are sought after. If you have the passion and the motivation to stay ahead of the game, then a creative career can be an exciting and rewarding experience.

Social media and me

Diary, Social Media, Tutorials

Yesterday I did a little research on social media and how to improve mine. I’m fully aware of its capabilities, but like everything in life, if you want to win at something you have to persevere until you can reap the rewards. It’s not enough to expect it all to come to you, waiting for someone to show an interest on the off chance is very likely not going to happen. You need to go out there, make connections and talk to people, it’s called social networking for good reason!

You also need to make sure you are prepared for the long haul, to establish yourself and become a name on people’s fingertips. I find a lot of people I speak with don’t get Twitter, thinking its all about sharing tweets of updates about your lunchbox contents and television habits. Twitter isn’t Facebook, if you want to chat to friends about your latest lasagne success complete with photos or let the world know you’ve overslept, Facebook is your platform. I find that Twitter is more about creating important* conversation, sharing information and letting your followers know what exciting projects you are involved with. That’s what hash tags # create, conversation.

I use Twitter as a brand of myself, as an artist and a recent project manager, it’s a platform I can contact people I wouldn’t normally be friends with on Facebook, to see what’s going on in my field of interest, by choosing to follow accounts that have relevance to me both topically and locally. This is the key thing here, when deciding who to follow.

There are a lot of spam followers out there, attempting to follow all 500 million users to promote their business. I always like to check who has followed me, I tend to ignore the Plumbing Firm from Bolder, Colorado, since I have no geographical need to use their services. But a local artist or service from Yorkshire will grab my interest and I’ll check them out. If I like them I’ll follow back, I imagine many people do the very same, it builds up an audience of like minded individuals and useful contacts. I’ve built my network and found information that has helped with my burgeoning career in this manner.

Similarly what you tweet has to be engaging. There is no point in tweeting about nothing, or your dinner, it will only get lost in amongst all the other 200 million active users tweets…

I write a blog, as is obviously evidenced here, but without the use of social media, it would probably go unread, the probability of an interested person stumbling across my website is extremely low. The power of the retweet is limitless. I wrote a blog post inspired by something I read, after I had clicked on a link tweeted by an account I follow. Tagging @ the author of the piece in my tweet, using this simple and personal interaction, the author was interested in what I had to say, and retweeted my blog to her 500 different but like minded followers. And so the snowball grows.

Here are my 5 top tips!

  1. Socially selective – decide which social platform works best for you.
  2. Personable – don’t blanket tweet, it’ll become annoying and we all hate spam, speak to individuals and tweet like the human you are.
  3. Conversation – join in the conversations, create conversation, contribute.
  4. Connect – follow accounts that are interesting to you, don’t follow every one in the world just to boost your follow count, it’s a waste of time and energy. Instead…
  5. Engage – write something worth reading, and people will be interested.

*by that I mean, important to you, whether that’s political, televisual, health, fashion, charitable, global, local etc. it’s your conversation!