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Which route will you take as an art school graduate?

The Art School Graduate Guide: Plan and Start Your Artistic Career

Which route will you take as an art school graduate?

So you decided to go to art school, worked hard, pulled countless all-nighters and graduated – Congratulations! But what now? As an art school graduate, you may be at a bit of a loss of where to go next. There are a lot of important decisions to make – including if you even want to make a career out of art. BFAMFAPhD conducted a national study to see how many art school graduates go on to make a living as an artist and found that the results were pretty dismal. Out of 2,000,000 graduates, only 10% were making a living from making art. If you’re a woman or minority, the numbers are even lower for you: 83% of working artists with an art degree are white. And despite the fact that 60% of art school graduates are women, only 45% of women make up working art school graduates in America. 

In this article, we’ll give you some insights to try and figure out if pursuing an artistic career is the best route for you as well as advice on how to continue with your artistic endeavors. 

Still deciding if art school is right for you? Read our last blog post.

Grad School?

You’ve just finished your bachelors degree – so do you want to continue schooling? That may or may not be a route you’re considering. As an art school graduate, continuing education is certainly an option, but as with deciding to attend for an undergraduate degree, it’s a big decision to make.

There are some great art schools throughout the US, such as Alfred University in New York, that will fund your education if you’re accepted. Some will offer you a teaching fellowship as well. Others will be expensive and you’ll have to be on the look out for grants, scholarships and loans. If undergrad put you in a lot of debt, you may want to hold off for a while and see how you can break into the art scene without extra schooling.

Here is a great resource created by BFAMFAPhD that shows which schools offer funding for their MFA programs as well as the costs of tuition for schools such as Cranbrook, Harvard, Yale and others.

Grad school does come with many positives though. You’ll have access to studio space and equipment, be surrounded by like-minded people and continue to learn and grow as an artist. A graduate degree also gives you the option to teach at a college level while without it you are limited to K-12. It’s definitely a path to consider, but certainly not necessary to become a successful artist.

Make Art

If you’ve decided not to pursue further education at this time, leaving art school means losing access to their facilities and studios spaces – so where will you make art now? Depending on what medium you work with, this could a simple relocation or it could require a bit of searching.

If you work in a medium such a digital art or painting, it might be reasonable to just set aside a place in your home or apartment. However, you might prefer a space away from your house, then you could consider looking for a dedicated studio space. Cities tend to have studio spaces available for rent but those can get pricy. This is a great chance to think outside of the box and consider finding a space to share with other artists or to look outside of the city. For some ideas on finding an artist studio, check out this article from Burnaway.

If you’re working in a medium that utilizes more heavy duty and specialized equipment, such as glassblowing, you’ll have to look a bit further. Unless you’re planning on building your own studio (like April did!), you will want to work for artist co-working spaces in your area. These spaces will give you access to other artists and equipment that you otherwise might not be able to afford.

Living Arrangements

Having a space to make art is important, but you’ll need a place for yourself to live too. With high living costs and student loan debt, many current graduates are moving back home with their parents. If this is an option for you, it can be a great way to save some money and buy you time to build up a solid career. 

Already have a space of your own? You might need to contemplate if you can afford to continue living solo. If you have a large enough space and don’t already have roommates, that may be something you want to consider to cut down on rent costs. 

Some cities even have residencies set aside specifically for artists with special pricing based on income. One example of this is ArtSpace, which can be found throughout the United States. This is a great options for both solo artists and artists with families, giving you a chance to have access to art facilities, studios and galleries while living in close proximity. 

Make Money

Now that you have spaces to create and live, how will you pay for everything? 

Create a budget and figure out how much you’ll need to make to sustain yourself. Are there many jobs in your field that will allow you to support yourself? Will you need to take a job in a similar or different field to fund your life and art practice? This may just be a temporary situation until you gain financial stability and grow your art business. Or you may just want to have a career separate from being an artist.

Different jobs can have different advantages, so it’s good to think about the different ways a career could benefit you. Bartending is a job that pays really well but won’t have much to do with your art practice. Alternatively, working as an assistant in an art gallery will keep you in the field with plenty of networking opportunities but it will likely offer lower pay.

The key is to find a balance that allows you to be financially independent while continuing to incorporate art into your life.

Taking the time to create a budget can give you a more tangible idea of how to plan ahead with your finances. This site has some great budgeting worksheets to help you figure out how much you need to make and how to allocate your funds.

Make Money With Your Art

Whether or not you take a job in a different field or make art your main priority, there are plenty of ways to make money off of your art. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Participate in art shows and/or art festivals (Look at sites like CaFE or EntryThingy)
  • Become acquainted with other local artists and galleries
  • Build up your social media presence – especially Instagram and Pinterest
  • Create a website with a webstore or an Etsy page (for advice on creating a website, check out our blog post)

Prioritize and Set Goals

With all this information gathered, you’ll need to start prioritizing. What aspects are most important to you and what can wait?

Are you okay with putting a full time artistic career on hold while you save up money? Or would you rather dive into working as an artist and save money by living in a smaller place with a few roommates? 

Having goals is also extremely important. Where do you want to be in one year… five years… ten years? Having some idea of where you would like to end up can help you with making decisions now. It doesn’t mean you have to stick with this plan forever, but having visions for your future gives you direction in life.

How Did We Do It?

If you need some real life examples, look no further! Team epiphany has worked hard and found unique ways to make careers out of art.

After graduating from art school, April rented space at different facilities, sometimes driving hours away to make work. She would travel all around the country to sell her work at art fairs. One year she did 40 shows! It was a lot of traveling and hard work but also exciting and fun. She was able to see the whole country while meeting interesting people. Once April purchased the building that is now epiphany (fun fact: it used to be a TV repair shop), she needed to stay in town more and transitioned to a wholesale model selling work directly to galleries. With her own studio, she was traveling less, only going to wholesale shows twice a year. 

Rebecca Silverman was an undergrad at MSU when she started working at a shop near campus that primarily sold locally made glass. She fell in love with the medium and wanted to learn how to work with glass herself. She started networking, meeting glass artists and asking to work for trade in their shops, persuading them to let her clean, organize, or do anything necessary to convince them to begin training her in their craft. Rebecca now has over five years of production hot shop experience. She continues to take classes at Corning Museum of Glass, sells her work at art shows and has created her own lampworking studio in her garage.

These are just a few examples of how artists have worked hard to grow their art practices. When you find your passion, you’ll find ways to make it work and adapt the rest of your life around it. 

So, what now?

There’s a lot to consider in regards to your future as an artist. Becoming a successful artist and keeping an active art practice while keeping the rest of your life afloat takes a lot of planning, time and energy but is also very rewarding. We hope this blog post gave you some insight and ideas about how to plan for your future.

Keep an eye our for a future post discussing what causes artists and art businesses to fail.