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Seeing that a lot of questions are from youngsters about career paths in the arts I thought it might be helpful to have a thread that dealt with the issues all under one roof.
"Should I choose a career in the arts?"
Many will have answers to this. I'll kick off this thread with mine:
The best way to answer it is for me to give a quick potted history of the state of the 'art world' both 'commercial' and 'personal'.
The great days of illustration are over, the days when magazines competed for artists to produce work for their covers, publishers for book illustration, strips for newspapers...all has dwindled to a fraction of what it was even in the 1980s - and that was a fraction of what it was in the 1930s to 1960s.
Nearly all the artists of today who would have been gainfully employed in those years are now clinging to one life raft.......Fantasy Art. It's a big raft, since it is blown and maintained by the abundant economic winds of the games industry, but it is a very, very overcrowded one as you can imagine.
Also the gallery system is not what it was during the great days of the Paris Salons and is only a husk of what it used to be in the early part of the 20th century. This is because of the emergence of the new information delivery system; namely the modern media explosion and the internet. The 'superstar' artists of today are therefore no longer plastic artists (painters and sculptors) but media savvy essayists with the conceptual objects they produce being judged and accordingly valued by how successful they are at provocation and the celebrity it generates....tailor-made for media reportage and dissemination.
Hence the plastic arts practiced by the 'gallery painters' exist under the main commercial media radar whilst still maintaining the high artistic concerns (among the serious and dedicated) that the practitioners always had from Giotto to Rembrandt to Picasso. The difference is that the 'high priests' of society no longer sanction or patronise it on anything like the scale they did in the past and the artist is left to find buyers in the bazaars of the connoisseurs; the 'gallery system'.
You need to know this. Very few will tell you this either because they are clueless or do not possess the wit to realise it, are deluded or lie about it.
You need to know this because the pursuit of art as a 'profession' or 'life calling' is unmercifully hard due to attitudes towards the plastic arts in our current global culture and its impact on those practicing it within the context of that culture.
And there's the thing. It is a sense of context within society that will hit hardest on the individual, more so than difficulty earning money even.....To forego the sense of belonging, being valued, being needed by the society you live in for the sake of pursuing something means you have to love it....love it even more than yourself. Because your heart will be broken many times.
So, here you are, a young man or woman of 18 standing before all this and thinking "How the fuck am I going to know if I want to commit myself to a lifetime of that?" Some days you think: "Yay, I don't care, I love doing this stuff, its wonderful, I don't care, bring it on I'm up for it, the artist's life of beauty and dedication and passion and magic....yippie!!"
Other days you think: "Boy, that friend of mine who's just got himself a job in the bank, saving up with his girlfriend to get their first little place...all set to enjoy the little things of life, delight in a new dress, friends round, a dog, picnics with the kids and growing old together...it ain't so bad, that's what Norman Rockwell painted and what he obviously loved."
So this is the question you must ask yourself, not lightly or as an amusing diversion, but acutely aware that 'this is my god damned life I'm talking about!'
It can be put like this:
Your chances of living the life that Norman Rockwell painted are far higher than becoming Norman Rockwell. So what kind of person are you deep, deep down? How important is security, a sense of place in society, a sense of context, a sense of belonging, really, honestly, deep, deep down? Because if you know this you will have some idea which to choose, which way to place your bet. It will even help you with how to spread that bet if you are so inclined.
Only you will know the answer to this and it may take a little while to find it. I can only lay before you the facts as I see them from my experience.
You are probably someone with great sensitivity to the subtleties of life, far more than is average. This is rare and it is what is awakening the artist within you. But sensitivity to the subtleties, the beauty of life has to be seen along with other character traits. You must see yourself as a whole human being, not just as the artist bit. Because it is the whole human being that walks through life, not just the artist.
You have asked me for diamonds and I seem to have only given you a broken bit of mirror. But the answers it holds will be far more valuable to you than anything else I could ever give you.
Good luck my friends. Whichever road you take.
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Some really good insights. And while I agree with most of it, the alternative is rarely that rosy. I just want to offer another warning that the Norman Rockwell life of couples living together while the song 'Somewhere that’s Green' plays in the background is as unlikely as becoming Norman Rockwell.
I'm 56 and I watched my friends and family get married and divorced multiple times since their teens and twenties. they gave up their childhood dreams for others or what they thought was love, most became bitter and beaten spiritually. Those that had children had an even harder time.
While it seems choosing a more mundane and safe path sanctioned by society is easier, those people that sell out their personal dreams because of pressure from others regret it later in life. Ben Franklin said those that would trade freedom for security deserve neither. I would say that those that would trade their dreams for normalcy deserve neither.
While I'm only 21, I wanted to add something in the same vein as dpaint. No matter what path you choose in life it's going to be hard, you're going to get knocked down a few times and either have your spirit shattered or near so several more times. So why not run through the fires of Hell for something you feel passionate about rather than what you feel you have to do in order to have financial stability, normalcy, or whatever it is one may believe they can't get doing what they love?
Artists, actors, singers, writers... they all have a hard road. But people succeed, however few, and many more try and never quit trying. That's life.
An Artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision
All painting should be poetry. Nothing else. No ugliness, no vulgarity, no sordid dirt or chaos or commonness.
Great words Chris, this will be a very useful thread, .... " I would say that those that would trade their dreams for normalcy deserve neither." <<<< totally agree with this, when i was a child i said i was gonna be an artist, later on, because of society pressure i was deciding on whether or not get a career in medicine or something that would get me a wealthy life easy, but stayed strong on what i wanted and now i am in art college, and i'm happy to have made that choice, i know i would have regretted later on if i had done otherwise.
I've started off this path in art at the age of 20 (still am 20), and while it's very young, it's still very stressful to realize that I only have a couple (maybe three) years of college left (or self study) to get up to a decently payable level. Very stressful. But it could be much worst. If I'm not up to that level in a few years, I'll just get a fulltime job somewhere that is not related to art to work on my art until it is.
I want to get into that oversaturated field of fantasy art now, but it's funny because that's not why I started art originally. I wanted to hang around outside and paint stuff in oil because I really like nature. And I also don't care to 'belong' or have a normal job/ career path. My writer friend always complains about this belonging thing, I think she'll have to realize that it's a much harder career path than she thinks....creative writing, that is.
Well I'm going to go for it and hopefully won't be stopped too many times along the way. Mark my words, my struggle will be worth it!
Last edited by Deadlyhazard; July 24th, 2011 at 02:17 PM.
I have never doubted myself. Since i left school ive taken many different paths and tried many different things that i thought i might want to do, but not once have i ever said "hey ya know what? fuck it" despite my parents always telling me i just need to get a job and "grow up" and "stop living in the dream world". After a lot of failed attempts to succeed at different careers i started to wonder what i was going to do.
The whole reason i got into concept art was so i could do model sheets for a friend so we could make a game lol But from that i started having so much fun to the point where when it was time for me to do some coding or modeling i would be like "hey, dude.. umm gunna do the level design or something" lol And now where am i? about 3 years into my art development and after a few breaks while i got my life together, im back and more determined then ever.
I have chosen this path and fail or succeed I will never stop.
"The whole point of practice is to do it until you can do it right." - dpaint
Nothing is ever completely secure. The oil industry suffered a sort of collapse in Texas back in the 80's. We all know what happened to the US Steel workers. Manufacturing in the US has dropped in general. Jobs that used to exist vanished with the advent of the computer, or in favor of machines doing the work. Financial institutions vanished overnight, either from toxic debt or Banks pulling their capital during the crisis that began in 2008.
TL;DR: Nothing is life is ever secured or guaranteed.
Thinking the only art is illustration or gallery work is narrow minded and insulting.
Maybe you should go watch a movie some time. Stay through the credits - the sheer number of artists that work on them is simply astounding. Art hasn't gone away at all, it's simply adapted - and that's just one example. Did you know the number of artists in the Animation Guild that are employed has been growing? And that doesn't even include non-union boutiques. There's also the game industry which didn't exist during Norman Rockwell's era.
As for artists being more sensitive than others - meh. I thought it was bullshit the first time I heard it, and I still think it's bullshit.
Great thread Chris, and well written - thanks. I'll just briefly add a couple observations which haven't been brought up...
rabbit run makes a good point about artists/art adapting. Actually on a second reading I think you are including games and entertainment as part of the "Fantasy Art raft"? Besides entertainment another important area of "art" is industrial design. We live in such a materialistic world where so many gadgets, products, vehicles and toys are constantly designed, manufactured and marketed. Artists, at least one type of artist, is at the very beginning of the product development cycle.
On a personal note, one of the reasons I am so passionate about sharing information about "art" and the potential careers (and battling the bullshit) is because it is so tough. So if a young person wants to head that direction they really need to go into it with eyes open and work as hard as they can to be as good as they can be. "Art" is a challenging career to be sure...but law school is no piece of cake, or studying architecture for 12 years, or however long that takes now.
Personal anecdote II: I credit Roger Dean for inspiring me to be an artist back in the 70s - I wanted to grow up and be an "album cover artist"...still working on it!
How come no one mentions all the hours spent alone? It's been almost a year since I decided to become an artist and i must say i didn't expect, nor did anyone warn me of how much time i would be spending alone drawing full time. Though i must admit i've come to enjoy it.
It will be interesting to see if or what new fields for art open up in the future and if our society will shift back to valuing art more than it does now.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)
On topic, I'd have to say...do what you like, but make sure you are fully committed and work smart as well as hard. Oh, and stay flexible and keep the blinkers off, you never know what opportunity is round the corner.
I've been self employed for the past fifteen years. I've never had more that about a years worth of security in all that time. In my humble opinion, unless you've got more money than you know what to do with, there's no such thing as security, but that's not a bad thing, it keeps you on your toes.
Check these out too:
Rotor - GoGoJoJo
"Limited drawing skills are OK if they are offset by a fearless commitment to putting images on paper."
"I mean, What is a chair? It's an anti-gravity device." Glen Keane
"The difficult part is continuously realizing when you've stopped enjoying the process, and re-aligning yourself. It's kind of like meditation/being an art ninja..." ceddo
Well one thing I've noticed a lot of is that illustrators don't just do pretty pictures anymore. I've noticed at cons people who strictly drew are now doing more of a product design application. They'll learn how to knit to put an illustration simplified to stitch form. They'll design their artwork for t-shirts (not relatively new). Or they'll create keychains or other things besides just a cool print of "Whatever the hell character is popular" I've seen people also design plushies of works they draw.
Thinking over some of the responses (and thanks for those everybody!) I guess I ought to sharpen up a couple of points I was making:
Life is a struggle no matter what you do. But its even more of a stuggle if you're a lizard who has found they have somehow crawled into Norway, a crab that's sidled up amongst the rainforest... not to mention a human being with skills in a form that society has less and less need for.
It is not artistic aptitude that I'm talking about. I'm talking about understanding what set of skills are needed for today and tomorrow's world.
Creativity is a fundamental, not a skill. So an understanding of what skills are needed to find a place for your creativity into today's world is absolutely vital to fulfillment as an artist and human being.
Even the fantasy industry will have less and less need for painters (even virtual ones) as the mimetic technology becomes more fluent to use.
I know this is tough for many people to swallow, I really, really do. If someone comes up with extensive proof that I'm wrong I would be as delighted as everybody else. I have no axe to grind here.
My concern is that the truth about this is not properly realised or expressed fully enough.
I have students showing me their illustrations with a concept of the industry that is at least 20 years out of date. It is a moral duty to straighten them out so that their calling to be artists does not end in impotent disillusionment.
If you are training to be a soldier in today's world you would have to have a pretty well thought out and clear reason to be learning archery for the purpose.
Last edited by Chris Bennett; July 26th, 2011 at 01:14 PM.
I can see now why so many artists are crazy. You gotta be crazy to choose it as a career. ;-)
My sketchbook thread:
But the end result is so very often what motivates people to become artists. It is when you enjoy something for its own reward that you know you will have a chance to survive the social price of following a calling that is irrelevant to most people.
The dream of being an artist is as foolish as any other dream and the dreamer will pay the same price for it.
Accepting facts and acting on them is what it means to dance through life. To quote Alan Watts and others like him - "You are then truely in the moment"
Last edited by Chris Bennett; July 26th, 2011 at 02:39 PM.
Fame, immortality, the bohemian life, being special, showbiz razzmataz... Even the idea of sitting in a quiet country village studio at your drawing board chatting with your children's book agent whilst looking forward to a roast Sunday lunch down the pub.
Last edited by Chris Bennett; July 26th, 2011 at 03:02 PM.
In think we've done kids a terrific disservice by telling them to follow their passion; that a creative life is the only life of value to society.
I had a very enjoyable career in art, but it was a close run thing. Many, many times I wished I had taken a course in pharmacy or engineering and kept art for my leisure activity. If I had it to do over again, I probably would.
I was once on the receiving end of a critique so savagely nasty, I marched straight out of class to the office and changed my major (sketchbook).
You see, i find i am most joyful when i'm drawing or working on my art, almost like how a dancer may feel most joyful when dancing. Now here's this thing called an artist, where if i choose to become it, i will spend the majority of my time drawing and doing that which makes me joyful.
Granted im only 22, i've been working since i was 15. I went to college after high school and had a 9 to 5 up until last year, and may i say i was the least bit joyful while doing this.
I would rather spend the majority of my life doing what makes me happy rather than not, especially when i have the opportunity to do so.
As for fame, being special, and razzmataz... that's all secondary.
You'll also spend time sending out invoices, doing your taxes, being nice to people you don't like, wheedling art directors. It varies depending on what field you go into, of course, but if you're going to do art for money...chunks of it are going to be like any other job.
Plus...you know you'll probably not get to draw anything you like, right? And the person buying it from you might not be very nice about it, right?
I was once on the receiving end of a critique so savagely nasty, I marched straight out of class to the office and changed my major (sketchbook).
And at times those chunks are going to be like any other job WITHOUT the money!
I'm just going to paint because I love it. If I turn out like LS Lowry then that's a bonus, but not why I do it. Day dreams are all well and good, but I live in reality.