Speaking from personal experience, I know it’s difficult as a newly graduated fine art student to decide what next step to take in your career. On the one hand there is the strong desire to continue working as a practicing artist, on the other there are bills to pay, a future to plan for, and the need for stability.
Unfortunately, not all fine art degree programmes invest time in teaching about the practicalities of the art world or the art market, so it often falls to students to make sure they have an understanding of it. Engaging with the market is vital and reading art news or going to openings are definitely things you should be doing, however there is a lot you can really understand only through experience.
Easily romanticised, the art world is an industry, and it keeps going thanks to the work force behind it. Forging a network and understanding the way the wheel spins will not only help your personal growth and potentially sustain you, but will also help you be a smarter and more strategic artist. Simply put, marketing yourself works best when knowing the audience and the buyers. Most jobs will give you some level of growth and transferable experience but positions in the art world draw upon your passions and knowledge. Not only will these roles be the ones that give you the most advantages as an artist in the long run, but they can also become a career you can enjoy. Learning about organisation, communication, efficiency, administration, and how to display and discuss artworks, are all things that you will need as an artist.
There still exists an unfair stereotype of the artist being creative, emotional, and only interested in their art, leading to the misunderstanding that artists are unorganised, unreliable, and not suited for office jobs. Although I have met people like that in my work with LWAI, more often than not that is not the case. Artists can actually bring a lot to the table in a professional career; flexibility, creativity, adaptability, research skills, a deep understanding of artworks and artists, an ability to discuss artworks not only analytically but also emotionally. These are often innate qualities an artist has that can also be very useful in a commercial setting.
A key suggestion for recently graduated artists is to make sure that they separate their creative practice from their art market career. This means, for example, not mentioning the exhibitions you have participated in when writing your CV for an administrative role. We often find candidates who are light on experience do this thinking it will at least show they have done something, but it could instead send the message that you are interested in finding a filler role rather than a career, and an employer will always want to give the role to someone who they feel really wants it. In general, keep only relevant jobs on your CV, or ask a recruiter for advice on what to keep and take out.
If you are continuing a professional practice alongside a position in the industry, there is the important question of how to balance money, time, and stress. A full time job will mean less time to make art and, if you have a studio, paying that rent can seem absurd for the time you’ll be there; but you may not have enough space at home to work and studios offer a great interaction with other artists. Ideally you would get a part time job that can sustain you, but those are highly coveted positions.
It’s also not easy to be productive and creative when you are so concerned with outside factors. Deciding what to prioritise and how to make your time work is a personal choice that needs to be taken independently but it’s important to be honest with yourself on what kind of stress you would be able to handle more effectively. Be realistic about what you want your life to look like, set a realistic budget and use that as a metric for the salaries you’re looking for.
Remember that your practice will change with time and will be informed by your experiences, so do consider changes to be a benefit. Not having a studio space can be a stressor, but there are other ways to keep your practice and relationships alive if you are flexible; a change in circumstances can often be an opportunity instead of a step back.
Everyone has different backgrounds and skills, but we have found a lot of artists to be well suited to positions like gallery assistants, technicians, and studio assistants.
- Studio Assistant: In this role you gain insight into how an established artist works. It is a good jumping point for a lot of careers, with a mix of responsibilities including: gallery liaison, admin, bookkeeping, PA responsibilities, fabrication, space management, and logistics.
- Technician: This is a good role for those who want a lot of flexibility as technicians often work freelance. They are needed throughout the art world, at galleries, museums, moving companies, and fairs. This role sometimes also involves fabrication, but you would need to feel very confident in your tech skills. Very senior and professional technicians can become project managers working on incredible installations and getting to use their creative thinking.
- Gallery Assistant: A position with very broad responsibilities, this is a great opportunity to see the commercial side of things first-hand. A GA often gets to do a bit of everything; admin, logistics, PA duties, artist liaison, client liaison, fair organisation/applications, writing press releases, research, and database management.
These are only a few of the many possible careers you could pursue as an artist, and we always recommend looking at job descriptions (even of jobs that you may not be suitable for now) to get a better sense of responsibility and the skills required as this may inspire you to choose a path that can lead you to a specific role.
Ultimately whatever decision you make should be the right one for you – your job will be where you spend most of your time so I strongly believe it’s important to try to find one that will make you happy and give you a sense of purpose. If that’s the case, you will leave your job feeling energised and that feeling might even contribute to the creation of new artworks.