Commercialization of Your Fine Arts Career

One of the biggest challenges I faced in working in art and design was the student/artist debate of art for art’s sake and making a living at making art. The designer types in some ways were already set – they knew they would be designing for a specific industry and company. They were already in sync with the idea that their skills and work would be monetized automatically.

But fine artists, in many cases have a real problem with this idea. I’ve heard so many complain that an artist’s life is difficult, and there should be patrons who support them because of their talents. Others vilify those famous artists such as Thomas Kinkade for “selling out,” while secretly being jealous of their success. The prevailing attitude is that all of the most famous and best artists never had to actually sell their art for a living. That, somehow, these artists became famous and their works were exhibited in museums the world over without money ever exchanging hands.

Maybe that is true for some; however, if an artist wants to produce “art for art’s sake” today, that person must be independently wealthy or have a job that supports the work. A third option that I often tout to students and artists alike is to think about commercializing their work. It is possible, and artists have been doing this successfully for a very long time.

One of my favorite artists, Maxfield Parrish, is a case in point. He is very famous for his cobalt-hued and light-splashed paintings of neoclassical scenes, many of which ended up on candy boxes. Usually, my artistic career consulting clients give a not so subtle snort at this fact. But they are also brought up short by another fact – Maxfield Parrish had a very successful 50-year career as an artist.

Yet, he too struggled with commercializing his art, turning away from a celebrated career in engraving and illustration to paint landscapes. But the money still came rolling in as royalties from these paintings that graced calendars, posters and prints. Perhaps Parrish was a genius at monetizing his talents. What I do know is that he lived to grand age of 91 while continuously producing his art and influencing many other talented artists.

It is possible to make a living today as a fine artist. There are more avenues for monetizing artistic skills today than were available to Maxfield Parrish. Computers and digitization have made lucrative fine arts careers possible. Fine artists have to decide are they willing to learn other skills to get their art in front of the faces of the interested public? Are they willing to network and be entrepreneurs to create that interest? The alternative is to produce art in their spare time while working a full-time survival job. This is a viable alternative; however, producing art in this capacity ends up becoming a hobby, not a central life focus. The most basic career question becomes, as an artist, are you willing to accept your art as your life’s work or as your hobby?

 

 

The Professional Doldrums: Cue Professional Development Programs

As a college student, no one tells you about the professional doldrums – those two years or so after graduating where you struggle in survival jobs while trying to get your career off the ground. You can also end up in the professional doldrums after you have been laid off,  have opted out of a job for maternity leave or have tried to switch careers.  Thankfully, there are programs out there that are designed to help you get through these tough times.

Whether you are a musician and need a Young Artists Program (YAP) or a professor wanna-be in need of a post-doc program, the process of getting into the right program for you is similar. First, you have to ask yourself what type of program do you need? Do you want an incubator program where you are less in the public eye while learning your trade, or are you ready to step onto the performing or teaching stage? Do you need to get paid or can you afford to participate in a program without pay?

Also, what can you bring to the program in terms of experience and skills? Most professional development programs are going to ask you to have experience and skills. You can still be accepted into a YAP or an adult internship without some of these prerequisites, but you must have references such as teachers, coaches and professional colleagues who can speak to your abilities.

Your resume is important because this is where you list your abilities, skills and experiences. Concentrate on describing how you are a soloist and a team player. If you are a singer, list your solos and recital pieces first. Save the choral works and coaching the children’s choir for the related skills section. If you are applying for an adult internship, highlight your transferable skills sets. Don’t pad your resume with extraneous “stuff.” Your real skills and abilities become hidden, and it is obvious when you are adding “stuff” to make your resume more impressive.  You resume will become bloated and a chore to read.

Once you are satisfied with your resume, take a look at the program application. Not clear on something? Ask before you submit the application. Most programs will have a contact email address or number. Follow the application directions. Do not get eliminated because you failed to clarify a section or wandered off on your own tangent instead of providing the required information.

Most important: Get someone else to read your application and resume before you submit them. Another set of eyes will find the mistakes you can’t. Many people skip this step because they are too self-conscious or over-confident in their proofreading abilities. However, it’s worth the extra discomfort to be able to submit a mistake-free application.

Some professional development programs may ask you to submit a video as proof of singing or presenting abilities. Get help if you do not know how to do a professional recording. You should dress professionally and eliminate fidgeting. I’ve seen a number of masterclasses and presentations where performers/presenters have clearly been doing this for a long time, yet they still clear their throats repeatedly, say um, twirl their hair, scratch their noses, tug on their clothes, etc. Why do they do this? Because they are nervous. Concentrate on introducing yourself and your performance or presentation. Leave it to your recording assistant to ensure your sound is clear, the lighting bright enough and that you are not positioned to sprout a lamp or any other object out of your head to make you look ridiculous.

Your application introduces yourself to the program staff. Your social media profiles tell them more about yourself, who you are. Keep your profiles up to date and list them on your resume to make you easy to find online. Social media profiles have an advantage over the resume in that they should showcase what you are doing now and how you are developing professionally. They keep the story of you going.

 

So Your Kid is Having Career Day

We used to love Career Day when we were kids. It got us out of the humdrum, boring day-to-day classes, and it gave us an opportunity to hear what some of our classmates’ parents did for a living. One year we even got to dress up for the career of our choice.

But how do kids really learn about careers? Career Day is helpful, but one day really really isn’t enough. Working in higher education for several decades has shown me that by the time students get to college, a large percentage still have no clue as to what they want to do professionally with their lives. High school guidance counselors don’t help either when they tell students to sign up for college as undeclared majors. They can figure it out once they take a few classes, or so students are told.

The problem with this strategy is that 1) the initial classes college students take tend to be general education requirements, prereqs for the upper level classes that are more likely to define their likes/dislikes, and 2) it is an expensive and hit-or-miss way to find a career interest, especially when the student may need an extra semester to complete his/her degree.

I get the idea of education for education’s sake, but with college getting ever more expensive, students and parents want to see tangible results, a solid job at the end of four or six or ten years of study. And I am not sure we are doing a good job of telling our students at ANY level why getting a solid education is important. There is a push for more career coaching at the high school level. But we need to be looking at the lower grades as well.

For example, how good of a job do parents and teachers do in explaining why knowing the periodical table is important to everyday life and how it is used on the job? What do you tell a child who struggles to answer basic comprehension questions about a story read in class? Why is it important to know about the angles in different triangles? The question I hear most of often from students of every age is, “Why do I have to know this?” Perhaps we need to make every day Career Day and take time to explain why learning is relevant to everyone’s life.

Redefining Your Career Dreams

If you are pursuing a career in the creative arts, you’ll probably get at least one well-meaning person giving you this advice: “If you like anything else besides (music, art, acting, etc.) do that instead.” There are also those people ( some who may be your parents) who will tell you that if you aren’t “successful” in your chosen career by age 26, you need to go back to school for something else. Before you get discouraged and scrap your career dreams, maybe you need to redefine them instead by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How are you going to define success? This is a two-parter question because your definition of success depends on what you want out of life. Does success in your career mean that you are famous and live in a mansion? Does it mean you get to use your talent and are able to pay the bills too?
  2. What are you willing to sacrifice? We all initially give up some earning power when we go to school full-time to pursue a degree. But what are you willing to give up short-term and long-term, say, like, forever? I met 40-somethings in LA who happily lived in small studio apartments while occasionally landing bit movies parts. For them, success was being able to have some connection to acting while having a day job and living in an area of the country with a great climate.
  3. What makes you happy? Will you only be happy if you have a career as a musician? Are you willing to put up with family and friends who ask you “when will you get a real job?”
  4. What else does interest you as a career? I also met a nurse in LA who had a solid acting career. She went to nursing school after acting school and then set up her nursing jobs to take the hours that no one else wanted, often earning time-and-a-half and overtime. She built up her savings and reputation so that her employers were willing to let her come and go when she got cast in movies.

There is also the perception that if you do not “make it” in your chosen career, you can always pursue something related. For example, you can always teach or pursue arts administration instead of being a musician. This thinking sometimes leads to career trouble, however, because you need other skills in addition to musicianship. Can you actually teach? Do you have the patience because many of your pupils are apt to be kids who will need your patience as first-time or maybe even reluctant learners. . Do you know how to manage personnel, fund raise and take care of facilities as a budding arts administrator? Do you even WANT to do that?

One of the key things I’ve learned especially in working with creatives is that career dreams aren’t necessarily an end, a finite goal. It is often a long, rewarding process consisting of periodic redefining, tweaking and maybe even scrapping some parts of those goals.

Last question: Are you willing to commit to this process to create a life you can love?

Six Signs You’re Ready to Work From Home

The internet has changed how we work, taking us out of the cubical culture and making it possible to work from our homes. Whether you have the work-from-home option at your job or are interested in making a move to an at-home job, these signs will help you assess if you are ready to take that step.

  1. Your current situation is noisy, crowded and has constant interruptions, making it difficult to concentrate. You end up taking work home at night. Work productivity can increase when you work from home because there is less noise, less traffic around you and fewer interruptions. You can also set up your home office to maximize your work space.
  2. You can organize, multitask and prioritize like a boss. You will still have to do all three from home, and it can be a challenge when the laundry, cable TV and kids are calling you away from your computer/desk. Making a list first of what needs to get done by the end of the day can keep you on-track.
  3. You have mad technical skills. Even a minor computer glitch can bring a small business or home worker’s day to a screeching halt. As someone who is working from home, you’re not likely to be high priority on your company’s tech team list or with your IT help desk contractor. Your productivity at home stays on-track when you can fix the glitches yourself. Also, having an alternate place from which to work or a spare computer/tablet can keep you working even when the DSL goes down or your computer crashes.
  4. No means no. Are you good at saying no? You need to be when your office is at home. Word gets out quickly in the family, amongst your friends and out there in the neighborhood that you are working from home. Working from home becomes code speak for “flexible schedule and available for emergencies.” You need to decide in advance what constitutes an emergency and who you’ll be able to help. Manage your family/friend/neighbor expectations at the beginning to prevent yourself from having to say no too often.
  5. You use email, text and voicemail to prioritize your work. You know that not every phone call is top priority, and answering every call can throw your day off.  Plan time in your day to return phone calls either via phone, email or text, and keep an eye out for priority calls as they come in.
  6. You find it difficult to work in exercise on a daily basis. Even short walks around the neighborhood are preferable to sitting 8 or more hours a day at your desk. Many work sites do not have environments suitable for exercise, especially in the winter. It is much easier to fit in stair exercise or short neighborhood walks when you work from home.

These are just some of the factors to consider before deciding to move to a home office. Everyone’s situation is a bit unique. It can be a challenge to work from home, so make a list of everything you need to consider before making that move.

Getting Back to Work

It is not uncommon for people to take a career break. But whether you stop out due to maternity leave, a layoff or family illness, sometimes it can be a challenge to return to work. You may think you are guaranteed to get your old job back, however, this is not always the case. Business factors can change quickly, leaving you scrambling for a job.

One option is to start your own business, whether it is providing goods or services such as consulting on a freelance basis. The Small Business Association – SBA can help you get started. The career services or alumni offices at your alma mater may also have classes – you may have to pay for them – on re-entering the workforce or starting your own business. If you opt to freelance or consult, check for state or career organizations that can help you such as NYS Freelancer’s Union. Finding and following such organizations on social media is also helpful.

Another option if you are in good financial shape is volunteering your services. Look for businesses or non-profits who can utilize your skills and provide you with opportunities to learn new ones. This can help you transition into a new job or career, but be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act, put in place to protect workers’ rights to fair pay, can make volunteering and compliance to the law tricky.

Perhaps a better option would be to pursue an adult internship designed to help you re-enter the workforce. These internships are paid, last from 10 weeks to a year and can bridge the gap in returning to work. You will get a chance to update skills, to build your career network or perhaps to test drive a new career. There are many options out there, especially in the finance and legal sector. iRelaunch, a career re-entry resource, provides a list of internships as well as higher education re-entry resources here. This list includes opportunities at financial institutions such as Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and MetLife. OnRamp Fellowship is another career entry resource aimed at lawyers looking to get back to work.

If you do not see an adult internship program for your career field, think about creating your own. Come up with a strategy by identifying your skills that can help an employer. Define what you want to learn and do and how much you would like to be paid. This process is easier if you can write up your proposal as a contract. You can use your alma mater’s career services or the career resources at your local library to target companies. Use your career network to get your proposal in front of prospective internship sponsors. You may have to contact many companies before one agrees to an internship. Don’t get discouraged. When I worked in sales, the mantra went, “It takes 17 no’s to get to one yes.” It may take you a lot more than that, but an opportunity to get back to your career or gain entry into a new one will be worth it.

 

When Vacation Just Doesn’t Do It

It’s summertime, and everyone is in vacation mode. They are either planning, doing or recovering from a vacation. I have heard, “I need a vacation from my vacation” so many times this summer, that I am wondering what is going on.

We hear from the media, work, family and friends that we need to take a vacation to get a proper work-life balance. But do work and life always have to balance out? Sometimes they just don’t, and that is why maybe you should consider a gap year or a break from your career. So here are some ideas on what to do with your gap year or long break:

*Travel. Why? Traveling really does expand your horizons and change your outlook on life. You could travel across the country by train or RV. Or you could go abroad, staying away from the expensive tourists traps – you can always find fabulous pics online of the Sistine Chapel or Buckingham Palace that are far better than what you could ever take anyways. Get out, meet the people, experience the food and culture. You’ll get a feel for how we have become a global economy and what that even means.

*Career Education. Can’t quite cut the career strings for awhile? Then use your break to do a paid internship abroad – yes, they are out there for adults too. Or take some classes to improve your career skills. Study to meet certification or licensing requirements in your field. This type of career break enhances your worth to your employer and makes you more marketable when you return to work.

*Hobbies/Interests. Sick of your career and need a break? No wonder. If you have been doing everything the career experts have advised, you have probably spent the last couple of decades chasing after those valuable skills, that dream job and that promotion with the corner office. It is time to take a break and pay attention to what makes you who you are. You are more than just of the sum of your job and your family role. There are all sorts of vacations and longer breaks that cater to people’s hobbies. Love to write or paint? Then search for writers’ or artists’ colonies or in-residence programs. I could use up a lot of page real estate here giving you ideas. But you get it – do an online search for what you like to do. Have an interest that you have never explored? Same deal. Eleanor Roosevelt is reputed to have said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  A one-a-day scare is a bit much for me. And I am not advocating a break-neck adventure that could leave you on permanent vacation from your career. But getting out of your comfort zone gives you practice on taking reasonable risks and allows you to grow as a person and as a professional. Even considering a career break is the first step to pursuing that growth.

*Volunteering. Taking time to give back to your community, country or world is another great career break. Maybe you are like me and feel incredibly blessed to have been able to pursue an education and amazing life experiences. Pay it forward by helping other people. Teach English in a foreign country. Help maintain hiking and camping grounds in a national park. Run a lunch program for your community’s kids who often go hungry during the summer months when school lunch programs are on break. The opportunities are endless.

If you can’t see yourself taking time out of your career right now for a break, consider locally volunteering on an ongoing basis. Become a Cub Scout or Girl Scout leader. Help out at your local opera or theater house. Even these smaller, ongoing volunteer opportunities can give you a much needed break from work and give you room to grow as an individual.

Lest taking a career break makes you tremble with fear, don’t worry. My next blog post will be on work re-entry programs and how to re-enter the work force. Have a great summer!

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