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Want to Succeed as an Artist? Look for a School With a Practical Edge

May 4, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Most students who graduate with degrees in fields such as studio art, creative writing, theatre arts, and other artistic areas don’t have careers as working artists. Some go into business. Others—usually considered the lucky ones—support their artistic careers with teaching or go back to school for an MFA. Many colleges provide excellent artistic instruction—but not much help when it comes to the business end of having a career.

College should do more than just teach you how to make your art better. It should prepare you for a career in the arts. Here are a few signs that your college takes you seriously as a working artist—and can help you hit the ground running after graduation.

Professors with commercial success

Have your professors had any success in the artistic world where you aspire to work? There are several benefits to being taught by people who have actually survived as working artists. They’ll have connections and an understanding of what type of work is commercially viable—and that will help you tremendously in learning how to produce the type of work that will lead to a career, not just a professorship.


The job market isn’t easy for anyone these days—and it’s always been difficult for creative types.


Business classes for artists

Many very talented people fail as professional artists because nobody taught them the business of their craft—and they didn’t learn it on their own. It’s not an easy thing to learn—artistic careers are notoriously difficult to break into. If your college takes you seriously as a working artist, they won’t just have classes in creative pursuits. They’ll also teach you how to manage yourself and your art as a business—how to buy supplies, price a piece of art, find an agent, get published—whatever applies to your creative passion. They should have classes that help you hit the ground running when you graduate—so you’re not left to figure out the business end of an artistic career on your own.

A connection to the professional community

You should look for a college that has connections outside campus and actively works to hook you up with them. If you’re an actor, your college should offer opportunities for you to meet agents and casting directors. If you’re a writer, you should have opportunities to submit your final novel to a literary agent. Ask the college who it can help you meet during the course of its program.

Alumni with successful careers

One sign that a college does a great job in helping its artistic graduates with their careers is a long list of successful alumni artists. Who graduated from the school? Did they graduate within the last decade? How many of the graduates from your department now have a career in their field? These are all excellent questions to ask the school before enrolling.

The right internships

An artistic career isn’t the same as a career in business. You don’t necessarily need a resume to succeed—what you need is talent and business sense. You can develop both, however, in a hands-on position somewhere. As an assistant to a working artist, you can develop an understanding of how the art world works. You can intern at a publishing house, gallery, recording studio, theatre company—and get a sense of the business end of your artistic pursuit. It may also provide you with valuable connections when you graduate. Ask your school what types of internships are available for students in your field.

The job market isn’t easy for anyone these days—and it’s always been difficult for creative types. The stronger your traditional or online college’s artistic department, the less likely you’ll have to spend your life in a career that has nothing to do with your creative passions. Look for a traditional or online college  that offers business classes, connections, and internships for creative students that are designed to help you survive on your own and market your work—and you’re more likely to get ahead.




Colette Over a year ago

You are so spot on, absolutely right! Gemini School of Visual Art is exactly the kind of school you are referring to, and unfortunately there are not many like us around. Our instructors are all working professionals, highly successful in their fields. Men and women who remember how hard it is to get into the business of art and who are happy to 'give back'; they have all agreed with their employers to take 3 hours out of their week to come and teach our students. Ours is an intense 4-year career training course and our students graduate and find jobs in the video game industry, advertising, publishing or freelance if that's what they prefer. Our alumni can be found in companies such as Disney Interactive, EA, Edge of Reality etc. etc.
For years we were considered ''outcasts' as parents wrinkled their noses because we are not a degree granting school - it is ever so refreshing to read a professional write about non-traditional career training - thank you for publishing your thoughts on the subject.
Colette Barcilon
Gemini School of Visual Arts

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