I’m an artist….what now?

Recently, I was a guest speaker on one of my all-time favorite educational programs, The College Prep Podcast, hosted by Gretchen Wegner and Megan Dorsey (for more show info, scroll below!). My topic of choice: arts kids and college. Regularly, my student roster is filled with high-schoolers who have aspirations within the visual, performing, and cinematic arts. The students (and especially the parents) all have the same question:

So…how does one actually go about make a living doing this?

I know, I know…no one wants to be a “starving artist.” And you don’t have to be. As a post-grad working artist in LA who has just self-funded an EP and signed my first modeling contract, I know a bit about navigating the road from “model-walking” down a grocery aisle in my mom’s heels to getting paid to do it on a professional shoot. :)

Managing your education can seem daunting when your end goal is to pursue a career in the artistic world. No need to stress! Here are a few tips to keep in mind along each step of the way:

Should I attend university?

  • Almost every burgeoning artist has the thought, “do I even need college?” This is a deeply personal question that should become a serious discussion between you and your parents. And, you can seek advice from third parties (i.e. your guidance counselor, your instructors who have worked with you in the arts, your agent/manager). Consider these things:

    • Goals that span your entire career

    • What could you gain from a college education?

    • Tricky one: what you could lose from a college education RIGHT NOW in your career (i.e. are you a heavily working actor right now receiving highly competitive offers that might lead to a film/tv franchise)? College will always be an option.

    • Could you benefit from a small “gap” in your education to explore your artistic options before going to college?   

Which school should I go to?

  • There are sooooooooo many colleges. Here’s a short list of things to look for in a school if you are keeping your artistic goals in mind:

    • Intensity of school’s art program: Conservatory-based, liberal arts, dual degree programs

    • Career advising and support SPECIFICALLY for artists (i.e. is there a database to explore artistic internships and jobs? Are there winter or summer sessions sponsored by the school that enable career exploration in the arts?)

    • Alumni with successful careers in your artistic field of interest

    • Alumni/undergraduate mentorship opportunities

How do I craft my artistic personal statement?

  • If you are applying to a strictly arts program, odds are that the school will ask you to write down your thoughts as to who you are as an artist. If you are applying in the liberal arts vein, you may still have the opportunity to write about your passion for the arts as well on your application. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

    • Show the journey of your development as an artist (i.e. how did you become introduced to your artistic field of interest and what did it mean to you then? How have you explored your art since then and what does it mean to you now? What are your goals?)

    • Don’t be afraid to try to articulate the way your art impacts you emotionally in a creative and personal way. What do you imagine when you dance? Are you transported to fantastic worlds when you write? After all, you are an artist!

What do I do while I’m in college?

  • Outside of the classes you will take, you’re going to have a bunch of time to supplement that education with things that will help your launch after college. Here are a few things you can do to keep you busy as you continue to develop as an artist:

    • Explore new influences: College is a unique space where you have ample time to explore. If a class sounds intriguing to you, take it! Who knows? Maybe that physics class will affect your understanding of how the body moves in dance.

    • Create, create, create: DO YOUR ART. You need content.

    • Learn the business side of your artistic craft: It’s called “show business” for a reason. You should have a solid understanding of all of the aspects of your field of interest, including the business side that will end up determining your income. Try to pursue internships in this arena.

    • Early on, start thinking of ways you can support yourself after college before your art starts making money. Think you may want to tutor? Get tutoring experience while you are in college. It’s tough when you graduate to get a job doing ANYTHING without some degree of experience.

After I graduate, then what?

  • Yay! You have a degree and are super talented. Awesome. Now how do you become a “working artist” without having to be a “starving artist”?  Here are a few steps to keep in mind:

    • Have a startup mentality. As an artist, you are essentially running a startup with YOU as the product. This is where that business knowledge comes in handy. You’ll need funding, you’ll need marketing, and you’ll need a solid product that will also need protection.

    • Think about where you need to live ultimately. You’re going to need to gig, audition, showcase, etc. Figure out what city you need to be in for the art you are pursuing. Set your sights on moving.

    • BUDGET AND SAVE BEFORE YOU MOVE. Sit down with someone who understands finances and make a budget. How much money do you need to be making in your city of interest to afford normal things (rent, food, clothes) AND artistic things (studio time, materials, funding for projects)?

    • Search for the most FLEXIBLE and well-paying work you can find. Working a 9-5 (or 9-7 these days) as an executive assistant may not be for you. You must have time to create content and seek opportunities while bringing in money.

    • SAVE MONEY each month. Being an artist (i.e. funding your arts startup) can get expensive once you start building your professional portfolio.

    • Brand: What is your message? What makes you unique as an artist? What are you trying to give your audience through your art?

    • Get yourself out there with your personal branding (i.e. social media, artist website)

    • Network and collaborate

    • Seek further mentorship once you have an idea of your professional goals and a good grasp on your brand. You cannot do everything all on your own.

Good luck!!! And, if you need any further advice in this area and someone to encourage you about your life decision to become an artist, hit me up at madisongreer@post.harvard.edu.


More About The College Prep Podcast:

For those of you who are looking for an additional resource to beef up your knowledge on the admissions process, I highly recommend becoming a regular listener on the show! Check out their website at www.collegepreppodcast.com .