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Monday, May 16, 2022

Disproving the starving artist stereotype

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Art is all around us. Artists design the websites we visit, advertisements we see and logos we wear. Each of those artists has something in common: they got paid for their work.

Despite the stereotype of starving artists, visual art students have several career options. A keen eye and creativity are so valuable to schools, cultural institutions and businesses that artists can secure a constant paycheck with enough time and effort. Much like other fields of study, an arts degree is flexible if artists are open to different options. 

“Just like there’s not a career ‘businessing,’ there’s no career in ‘arting,’” Vance Farrow, associate professor of drawing and illustration at IUPUI Herron School of Art and Design, said. “It’s really a matter of finding your way. If a person has a degree in art and they really, really apply themselves, network and seek out opportunities, they will find a way. It might just not be the classical way of someone who just works in a studio.” 

The education profession offers artists three options: K-12, college or adult classes. Farrow said teaching K-12 requires a bachelor’s in art education and college requires a master’s. If an artist doesn’t have a degree or wishes to teach outside the educational system, instructing different levels of adult classes at galleries such as the Indianapolis Art Center is a possibility. Farrow believes all kinds of art education can make for a fulfilling career because they allow artists to help people.

“My job is really to help people learn how to better help themselves, to better access their own creativity and to better understand their place in society as a creator,” Farrow said. “… I find it incredibly rewarding.”

Working in a museum is an often-overlooked way to have an art career. Kelli Morgan, associate curator of American art at Newfields, said each exhibit is a collaboration. For example, curators conceive the exhibits and track down artwork, installers arrange the exhibit and conservators protect the art from damage. The best way to begin a career in museums is to intern and then become a professional’s assistant after graduation. 

“Nowadays with Instagram and social media we are very visual learners,” Morgan said. “You want a tangible visible thing you can see. It’s one thing to study something in a book. It’s something so much more special when you can go into a museum gallery and say, ‘Here is a quintessential representation of that topic.’” 

If artists want more control over their projects and schedule, then freelancing can be a viable way to make a living. The trick is for an artist to identify his or her skills and determine how he or she can be helpful to others. For example, freelance artist Shamira Wilson uses her graphic design expertise to design pamphlets. However, Wilson emphasized that it takes time for freelancers to build up enough clients to support themselves. 

“Be very patient with yourself,” Wilson said. “Remember it’s going to take lots of time and commitment to build up your portfolio. Sometimes you can think of success in terms of that big goal you want to accomplish, but focus on the process. The process is important. Practice your craft, continue to do research, network and meet people.”

Regardless which job they choose, Josh Betsy, a local artist who designed the kiosk for IndyGo’s Red Line, recommended aspiring artists find a mentor. He apprenticed under a painter from Armenia named Levon Gamgocian. Even though Betsy’s style and career path look much different than Gamgocian’s, the lessons he learned improved Betsy’s all-around skills while giving him confidence. 

“It gave a validity to what I was trying to do and where I wanted to go with my career,” Betsy said. “I could easily point to him and say, ‘Yes, there really is such a thing as having a career in art.’”

These options just scratch the surface of what students can do with visual art. Governments, businesses and nonprofits all need logos, designs and symbols and pay artists to create them. 

“People think [art] is something that exists up in these ivory towers far away from them and don’t necessarily think that every magazine they look at, every website they see, every time they see something like a billboard on the street, movie posters, these have been touched by people who have education in the arts,” Farrow said. “There’s a lot of ways to apply those skills.”

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

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