So What’s it Going to Be? Liberal Arts or Professional Studies?

Yes! It is finally spring, which ushers in the graduation parties, both high school and college. I am at the point now where my friends have kids who are eyeing college with both trepidation and excitement. Having worked for over 20 years in higher education, I get invited to a lot of these graduation parties and am privy to the liberal arts vs professional studies debate.

Sometimes it gets ugly with parents on opposite sides or parents ganging up against their kids. But here is the thing: Liberal arts, or education for education’s sake, to become a well-rounded person was losing its panache when my friends and I were going to college. Studying for a “profession” was where it was at. Oh, there were still liberal arts students at my Ivy League institution who nervously eyed us at recruiting functions – would they get the jobs or would we as the professional, internship-toters edge them out? Maybe all of this was a function of what was happening with the 80s robust economy. Be a professional, make a lot of money, make America great.

So flashing forward through the decades, past a major economic depression, past the boom/bust/mini boom of technology markets and here I am, facing down the “Well?” accusatory stares of my friends and their offspring: But again, here’s the thing. The lines between liberal arts vs professional studies have become blurred. There isn’t necessarily only either/or anymore. Nope. No one likes that answer, but it’s the truth.

So I bring out my education again as an example. Back in the 80s when I tried to get my advisor to sign off on my schedule which included the requisite social work classes, along with creative writing, religion and Latin studies, he thought I was crazy. But I convinced him because I had enough AP credits that I had room in my schedule for it all. I had to wait until after graduation to take the music, writing and stress management classes I wanted when I could get tuition remission in my higher education jobs.

Today, this works in reverse too. So many liberal arts students are coming to college with AP credits that they can add professional studies to their schedules. And the colleges and universities are loosening up too, allowing this to happen. The key is to plan ahead to get the prereqs for the professional studies classes finished in the first or second year. The way is then clear to add professional classes that will complement the liberal arts that students pursue.

Parents eye me suspiciously. “But does that really work?” they ask. Let’s take an internship and a job example. Internship: I had a film student in the late 90s who had grown up with a movie camera in his hand. He knew “everything” there was to know about making a film. He spent over $20K on his demo reel which he shopped around to potential internship sponsors. Remember, this is the 90s when every film studio wanted highly skilled interns. You know what? They all hated him, and he had a really hard time finding an internship. He didn’t want to start at the bottom. This guy wanted to immediately get his hands on the most expensive camera on the studio lot. As an intern sponsor at Industrial Light and Magic, one of the premier Hollywood production houses, once told me: “I would rather have an intern who is willing to follow our training program which takes them from running for coffee to reading scripts to participating in the shooting action. If that means I take a liberal arts major who doesn’t have all the technical skills but who is willing to learn, I’m okay with that.”

Now a job example: Did you know that many Disney artists studied liberal arts? Well yes, yes they did, much to the chagrin of all the specialized art and design graduates out there. So why? This is what the recruiter from Disney told me: While Disney requires that all of their art has that “Disney” quality about it, the company recognizes that the key to longevity and icon status comes from their artists willing to learn and to innovate.” That means that sometimes when you are a trained professional, you get so caught up in the technique and the design that you are learning, that you aren’t willing to move ahead to build and innovate because you learned “this is how it’s supposed to be.”

So, blurring the lines between liberal arts and professional studies can be a bit scary for both parents and students, as I’ve worked out in my conversations with them. Getting more out of a liberal arts education may mean spending more time and money, both of which make parents nervous. And we already have college (and high school) students complaining that school is making them stressed out. And they are right – it is. This type of program is going to be jam-packed with liberal arts classes, professional studies classes, internships and experiential education. It may mean that students need to take a gap year to take a break or expand their schedule to fit in a mini coding boot camp or a certificate program such as the brand new Eastman School of Music’s Career and Leadership Certificate program. But the benefits of such education would be tremendous: we would be both educating our students and preparing them for what comes after graduation. I like that because to me the best possible ending of a student career is a graduate who is confident and knows where he or she is going.


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.


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?

Do You Need Professional Certification?

I have several types of career consulting clients who have asked me about professional certifications: those who do not have a college degree, but want credibility with their clients, those who have a college degree  that needs updating and those who have a degree, but want to pursue a different career field.

My answer to “Do I need professional certification?” It depends. some fields such as IT usually require a college degree and sometimes certifications in order to stay current. Other fields such as life coaching can be pursued with a degree in counseling, but the life coaching certification may give you more credibility.

So how do you know if you need certification? There are several ways to find out. You can do an internet search for the national association for your career field. If you need certification, your association will list what certification you need. They will often also provide certification education and access to exams or recommendations on how to get them.

Another way to determine if you need certification is to search for jobs in your interest area. If you need a certification, the job description should list it either as a must have or like to have if it is preferred.

You can also ask people in your targeted field. Post the question to LinkedIn career groups or on your timeline. Set up an informational interview in your targeted career field and get a professional’s thoughts on certifications such as which ones are the most relevant for you. You should also ask what knowledge the certification should provide.

Once you determine, yes you should have a certification, it is time to look at certification programs. Investigate whether they are accredited and whether they provide legitimate certifications, diplomas, etc. The Corinthian Colleges debacle should be motivation enough to do your research – you do not want to spend a lot of money on a useless certification. It is NOT enough that a program is accredited. Research the accrediting body to see if they actually exist and how they determine whether to grant accreditation to a program. You can also check the Better Business Bureau to ensure that the program you are considering is not a scam.

A professional certification should provide you with the knowledge you need to pursue the career you want. It is up to you to decide if the program is affordable and will teach you what you want to learn.

Art Internship Ideas

For all you student artists out there trying to finish up your end-of-the-year portfolio projects, I feel your pain. The weather has finally gotten nice, and while all those liberal arts students are able to study outside out the quad, there you are, stuck in the studio. And for those of you who have not gotten around to finding a summer internship, you are probably disconsolately staring at the prospect of a long, hot summer doing something like house painting.

Well, don’t despair. You may think that all of the good internships are taken, but that may not be true. If you don’t look for internships and ask about them, how will you know? There are a myriad of directories out there for arts and entertainment, too many to list here. Check out your school’s career services, the library or your local big box bookstore to find internship directories. 

I include entertainment in this blog because if you are an artist, you should be looking for opportunities in this industry as well. The video game industry not only needs testers, they also need graphic artists and painters to bring their creations to life. Theaters and opera houses also need artists and textile and fashion designers who can help mount their productions. Casinos and hotels routinely need artists as well to keep their facilities up to par and looking beautiful.

Then there are the fashion houses, the museums, the art galleries, book and comics publishers and the auction houses who need summer help. These are the internships that seem to fill the fastest. Did you find an internship like this whose application deadline is past? Sit down and write out a list of what you want to learn this summer and what you can contribute to an internship site. Then get on the phone and call them up. Ask if the internships are filled and give them the 30-second take on why they should consider you. Be ready with an online portfolio or a mini portfolio you can send out right away.

Not interested in spending the beautiful summer indoors? There are internships in art for you sun lovers too. Check with parks and recreation departments, your local highway department or local arts festivals. Summer camps will often hire artists as camp counselors to run the art activities for the kids. You are a creative person, so be creative. One of my art students collaborated with the Phoenix highway department to design and create mosaics along the Phoenix interstates. Not sure I would want to be outside during the day doing that, but most of the layout and cementing of pieces was done at night.

So you have called many places that offer internships to only be told no? Do not stop there. Another one of my students wanted to learn about pop-up book design and production. There were not any publishers who were offering this type of internship. So we called publishers, and one decided to hire her for the summer. There is no reason you cannot do the same – call a video game producer, a theater, or a park that does not offer an internship. Call and offer your services, but be prepared. Know what you want to learn and what you can contribute and commit to. What if they tell you they can’t pay you? Negotiate for free lunch/coffee service, a stipend, or get them to fund all or part of your transportation costs like a bus pass.

Taking the initiative may mean the difference between a boring summer and one that could change your life. A risk worth taking, yes?


Breaking into Publishing: Old School vs You School

When I moved back to NY state from CA, I ran into a high school friend who asked me what I had been up to “out there.” I told her I had been a freelance editor and writer. She was curious, “How did you get into that?” I had to stop and think because my career in publishing started old school style. I volunteered to transcribe lectures for a small philosophy press publishing a series of books. I became friends with my editor, and we decided to swap transcripts for proofreading. It was a short step from there to copy editing. I didn’t get paid, but I got a lot of valuable experience which led to freelance work in NY and CA. Yet, even though I was a competent writer and took many writing classes, it was still a challenge to get my writing published. My story is typical of so many people trying to get into publishing. At some point, you have to forget old school and go to “you school.”

What is you school? It is taking the steps to educate yourself on this fascinating career without necessarily spending years of your life working without getting paid just to break in. If you went and got a degree in journalism, creative writing, communications or English, you are ahead of the game. These degrees are still in demand in publishing. If you did not get a degree of this type, do not despair. There are certificate programs that can teach you some of the skills you will need. While not every publisher gives these programs credence, the skills you learn are legit. Legit skills, a keen eye and writing talent can help you get a publishing job even if you do not have the “right degree.” Certificate programs include the USDA graduate school’s Certificate in Editorial Practices evening program. Another certificate program is sponsored by Find info about this program here.

Of course, many writers debate the merits of the MFA in writing. Whether you go this route or sign on to a content farm to get your writing published, there is no substitute for practice. A content farm, though a rather unsavory term, publishes authors’ articles while earning money by placing ads on the articles’ pages. Writing on a regular basis hones your writing skills, and a content farm will pay you for publishable work. Some examples include: Demand Media Studios, and For a list of content farms, click here.