A Real Artist Wouldn’t…

Throughout my life I have frequently seen articles about all the careers you can pursue with X major. Some of the options seemed a little far fetched and based on individual outlier examples. (Though philosophy majors have racked up some interesting achievements so perhaps it is I whose vision is limited.)

Over the last few months it occurred to me that when it comes to arts careers, the “if you are not suffering, you are selling out” philosophy might be influencing mentors and educators when it comes to providing advice to young students and practitioners. More accurately, it may be less about starving as purity of practice.

I haven’t assembled enough examples to really support this thesis, but I thought I would toss the idea out there to spur some thought and draw attention to how career options are being communicated, including in one’s personal practice.

I started thinking along these lines last Fall when I was attending the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship in Education SAEE conference. One of the research presentations found that music conservatory graduates felt they hadn’t been prepared for anything but a career as a member of an orchestra or as a soloist.

This isn’t necessarily groundbreaking news. It has long been observed by both faculty and students of all disciplines, including arts, science, business and law, that more people are being graduated than there are open positions. One of the goals of SAEE is to find ways to train students to better manage their careers and make their own opportunities. It is still a fledgling effort, though.

A little more recently, I was listening to faculty from the video game design program at my university on a video conference talking about the program and career opportunities. It wasn’t until a prospective student asked what other career options existed for the degree that the faculty members mentioned there were some graduates that had gone into medical imaging and simulation and were actually making quite a bit more money than those who went into the gaming industry.

I was surprised to learn that there were good options in the medical field. It had never occurred to me that such opportunities existed. I don’t think they were intentionally hiding that fact, especially with all the other things they needed to talk about. Still, there was something in the way they spoke about the medical field careers that made it sound like the less preferential option versus the core focus of the program. Given that the program is pretty competitive and rigorous, it could only raise the profile if they touted a range of career options.

It is natural that we are all biased toward what we perceive to be the pure practice of our discipline. The question remains, are we telling the broadest, best and most interesting range of stories about the opportunities our disciplines afford?

It isn’t enough to convince people that what the arts and culture represent and create have resonance and meaning in their lives with an eye to making them consumers. There is also a need to mention the diverse ways these skills can be manifested and practiced even if they lack some elemental of idealized purity. Or if we feel some practitioners are bastardizing and demeaning an art form with lack of skill and discipline.

At the very least this would create a growing awareness of all the ways artistic vocations are practiced and improve the perception of the arts as a career path.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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