The Perception of the ‘Starving Artist’ is Obsolete

A friend recently shocked me with her statement that no matter how creative and artistic her daughter is, there would be no way she was going to let her advance in the arts at school. She’s pushing her to be a doctor instead. No doubt that some parents, like mine, do not see a great future in the arts for their children. They get pushed toward other directions and fields of study instead with the hope of them growing and making a successful career at it. "Starving artists" was a romanticized, coined term for artists during the renaissance era who actually thought that being poor while creating art was a popularized trend. Today, art is more than just paint on canvas or a carved statue; a true artist’s mind can bring amazing creative thinking in various fields, creative or not, that non-artistic people would struggle to achieve.

Students advancing to art schools, are still making a good investment towards their future. Art education has for long been deemed as a waste of time and money. And under that scrutiny, art schools have had to work even harder to assure their incoming students of the great choice they are making. Besides teaching students to hone their artistic skills and better understand the artistic world, it has also been very important for the institution to allow their students to connect and network in their field by way of internship opportunities. By the time students graduate, they have had experience in their field and enough connections to introduce themselves beyond school. In an article by Daniel Grant for The Wall Street Journal he explains how from a 2011 report, unemployment rate in the first two years for those graduating with bachelor of fine arts degree is 7.8%, dropping to 4.5% for those out of school longer. The median income for bachelor of fine arts graduates is $42,000. For artists who pursue graduate degrees, unemployment rate for recent graduates drops to just under 5% with a yearly income increasing to roughly $50,000 (“A Fine-Arts Degree May Be a Better Choice Than You Think”). These numbers hardly portray a poor lifestyle. Artists who want to make a career doing what they love are happier following that road and also grateful to be able to make a living off of the arts, without any pressure other undesired careers could put them under. In the end they have a better quality of life then if they pursued an alternate career.

Art today has expanded into so many directions and it holds a high place in each one. An artistic and creative mind can evolve into the design field and without questions its evident that taking that direction, one can never go wrong. It takes a moment to look around and notice, everything, we wear, sit on, look at, live in, hear or touch is a product of a creative professional. Including a design on a T-shirt, a book cover, a screen on a smartphone, the lampshade and the table it stands on, everything is envisioned and created by an artistic mind. If a student chose to pursue the digital art form, possibilities are also endless and worth exploring into. A company or business needs advertising that works and delivers a message, whether it’s printed on a book, magazine, a wall, billboard, or splashed on every website online, the advertising image is the creative design of digital artists. Television channels and any streaming media look for funding through commercials, whom film directors, musicians, writers, actors, stylists, make-up artists, costume designers all work together to create. Just mentioning this field alone, artists cannot be demeaned if they chose to follow an arts major in school.

Branding is a major part of any business, and artists would know very well how to creatively sum up a business’s services and qualities, into a fitting branding logo. Carrying that sketch book while growing up is how artistic students were able to capture a flow of thoughts or ideas, in a visual manner. Any plan is sketched and notated and artists learn how to break down problems visually to find solutions. That is the kind of brain exercise that helps an artist translate a business’s identity and perception into a company logo. Complimenting that knowledge with a degree in art is learning the importance of the psychological effects of color and design which is a very valuable skill in brand logo design.

In the case that their creative career ended at college, the student has still developed some amazing skills, which can be very useful in the current job market. ASU School of the Art director, Adriene Jenik wrote a great explanatory article about some key proficiencies that students can acquire through a graduate arts degree. She broke it down into eight categories explaining how artists develop certain skills that can also lead them to being great team leaders.

-She starts by explaining that an artists’ constant need to tap into their creative thoughts to come up with new ideas that can be visually expressed in their artwork, proves to be the successful training to brainstorm project ideas in this competitive business world (“So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!”). With every new piece of art work or art assignment come new concepts and ideas, pouring out of their creative minds that encourages constant brainstorming. In the highly competitive business world, there is a constant need of fresh ideas for businesses to keep up or better yet, get ahead.

-Undergraduate artists learn to synthesize and build complex projects from the ground up by gathering contradictory ideas into a larger, well balanced whole. In additional to what other undergraduates learn by analyzing, interpret, deduce and breakdown a subject into smaller parts for closer examination (“So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!”). By working on art projects, students are given the confidence and challenge to bring together their ideas and create something or be a part of a much larger project which is very much like being a part of a team in their future career. Most of the time in the working world they are required to create something much bigger from scratch rather then analyze what is already there. Hence why artists are known to “think outside the box.”

-Research is vital when trying to work on a creative project that requires going back to the roots. In order to create a piece of representational artwork, the artists need to reference back to its history, culture and any written accounts to reflect, translate and compose that knowledge into the artwork (“So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!”). This is a skill expected by all art students from the get go throughout their course in order develop original research projects, in other words, their artwork. While not necessarily a skill developed by non-artistic majors, it is certainly adaptable to a future career or business.

-Once an artist dives into a project, they tend to focus on nothing else. Adriene Jenik talks about walking through and looking in on classroom activities and noticing art student’s intense focus while they work on projects. Students are not learning by just looking on or reading, but they apply a more hands-on approach while experimenting, trying different processes, over and over again to perfect their techniques, while getting better and better at their expressive project. While mastering a skill can take a life time, students are learning they have a visceral understanding of the time, tenacity and ongoing disciplined practice required to get really good at something (“So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!”). In other words, any artistic project requires, time and patience to master the work; time put into constructing and mastering any business work plan and seeing a project through until it’s done.

-All artwork and design is meant to be displayed and put “out there” for the world to see. So an important process in creative projects in school is to be able to give and take criticism. A pedagogical contribution of the art classroom is known as the critique (“So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!”). Students and teachers critically gather to analyze and discuss students work. A process that not only helps students better their work but also helps them accept criticism and value feedback from others. But it’s also a skill that is very valuable while working as part of a team in their future career. Over time, regardless of how harsh or mild criticism at school has been, students have enough exposure to actually value any input or simply realize what could be helpful and constructive to them.

-Art students are resourceful. They can see beauty and possibility through their powerful and vivid imagination. Whether it’s the use of space or materials, school requires sharing limited resources that teach the skill of innovation and repurposing.

-All art student are required to complete a project to earn their degree, exhibiting their focused skill by taking care of all the details involved in preparing, designing, mounting and publicizing a professional show. This involves attending to all details, including securing of specialized facilities, equipment, and permissions. Seeing an entire project through they understand the need to scope and scale their ideas to fit their time and budget (“So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!”). As opposed to other undergraduates, say business majors that learn all there is to know about their major by reading, and researching, art majors are actually conducting business with other entities outside of their circle of faculty and campus.

-And finally, an observation to mention is, that art schools get personal and intimate. They cap classes at 20 students due to equipment access and safety (“So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!”). Students enjoy close interaction with their instructors and even while being admitted to that same school, they are already each known by name. Faculties and students alike discuss work and exhibits and share the excitement of all their work progress and achievement. An instructor in a class of over 130 students could hardly be expected to know half his class as closely in person while a 20 student class room in an art school allows its students to be closer to each other and as well as their instructors. This is an encouraging and positive environment that students in bigger colleges cannot experience.

One can only hope that parents will start to realize that encouraging children to grow and evolve as artists isn’t something to be scared of. Whether they continue to create in the same art medium they enjoy all the way through life, or whether as they grow, it evolves and takes a different direction, if they feel strongly about it, they should be encouraged and led towards their dreams. Nurtured creative souls can be successful and even more, they can be happier and more excited about their creative careers and the challenges they face. Challenges, which for the most part, would only encourage and excite them to tap further into their creative flow.

Works Cited

Grant, Daniel. "A Fine-Arts Degree May Be a Better Choice Thank You Think” The Wall Street Journal (2013). Google. Web. 27 March. 2016.

Jenik, Adriene. "So Your Son or Daughter Wants To Be an Arts Major?!” ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Blog (2013). Google. Web. 27 March. 2016.

Image: School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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