In 2015, I graduated from art school.
Right after that, I moved to Colorado to intern at an art center. I had a fantastic time there, and I was really lucky to develop a lot of valuable, lasting relationships with artists at every point in their career. I learned a ton about myself, about the art world, and about people.
There, I assisted with weekly classes; I helped students develop their skills and encouraged conceptual thinking. As taxing as a 50 hour work-week was, Anderson Ranch was a place that fostered true inspiration. The landscape of the Rockies became a place for me to explore and think. The Snowmass/Aspen community became my muse, and I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone to create new work.
But in September of that same year, it was time to go home.
By October I was back in Tempe, Arizona, and reality began to set in. I got a part-time job at a local camera store, my student loan payments started, and the ability to consider myself an artist started to feel like a distant memory. And long story short, I quit my job after just 6 months, I was unemployed for 2, and then I was lucky enough to land an awesome inbound marketing and copywriting position at a video marketing agency.
With that time off, followed by a big decision to leave the photo industry, I discovered something really significant.
THERE’S MORE TO AN ART EDUCATION THAN WHAT MEETS THE EYE.
On top of perfecting your craft, you gain a really valuable set of skills:
- Art projects teach you how to be self-driven
- Studio classes teach you how to work collaboratively
- Critiques help you develop the ability to communicate really complicated ideas
- Your faculty and peers push you to always think creatively and innovatively
- And being a sad broke art student shows you how to work on a budget, and create awesome stuff within your means
What’s missing is how to apply all of this in the “real world.”
And I’m not saying that I’m the expert. But during my period of unemployment, I had a lot of time to think…
I LEARNED THAT I WASN’T THE ONLY GRADUATE THAT FELT LOST AFTER GETTING MY BFA
After talking to other artists that felt the same way I did after leaving school, I realized that we were never really given any definitive resources to make something of our education outside of continuing school (i.e. get a MFA and then become a university professor). And with only a few classes on professional practices, many of which students weren’t required to take, finding consistent, updated information was difficult.
Trying to connect the dots between my education and getting a job was something I had to figure out on my own. Even after a ton of research, I couldn’t really find anything to show me how to make the two relate.
So I decided that I wanted to create those resources, for both myself and artists like me.
But like I’ve already said, I’m not the expert.
And for the last year, there’s been something that’s made me feel worse than struggling to find a job that I was A) qualified for and B) actually wanted to do:
I’VE HARDLY MADE ART SINCE GRADUATING.
Again, I don’t think I’m alone on this one. Finding the time to make art is hard. School is this magical time in which you’re obligated to create. That’s why grad school always seems so appealing, at least to me.
Instead of making art, I’m trying to figure out what’s for dinner, which bills are coming up next week, taking my dog for a walk, or grabbing a drink with friends. I discovered that art-making doesn’t easily fit in with normal-life things. After an 8 hour day of writing, I’m not usually in the mood to get creative, and when I did have some energy at the end of the day, I always found another excuse.
But deep down inside there’s frustration and sadness, because I’m not doing that which I find most fulfilling.
So I started aftrART, to achieve the following 4 goals:
1. Provide Practical Resources for Emerging Artists
Here’s where I share with fellow artists:
- Some things I’ve learned since entering the world of entrepreneurial businesses and digital marketing that I wish I had learned while I was in school
- What I did to get a job that was outside of my studio discipline (and why I decided to switch fields, at least for now)
- How to see the immense value of graduating with an art degree
But of course, not all artists get the privilege to go to art school. And not every art school was as thorough as mine when it comes to professional practices in the arts. So I’m also going to share a lot of what I’ve learned along the way, like:
- Writing in the arts (i.e. artist statements, artist bios, cover letters, CV’s/resumes, and lots more)
- Basic business skills
- Fun stuff like taxes and budgeting
- And a whole lot more
2. Explore Art, Work, Life & Everything Else
I want people to walk away with is a library of resources that explore the various paths one can take when pursuing the arts.
I can’t tell you how many times I see misguided advice like, “you have to dedicate 8/12/24/200 hours each day to making art if you want to succeed,” or, “if you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to get your MFA.”
I believe know there are different paths to reach your creative goals.
For some, that absolutely means dedicating their entire life to art, at any cost.
Others definitely find grad school helpful and go on to be amazing art educators, curators, academics, or have a trailblazing art career.
But what about those that want/need the security of a steady paycheck in order to comfortably create work? Or the tenured professor that left their comfortable job in art academia to pursue something different? Or the people that feel an artist within them, anxious to get out, but aren’t sure where to begin because they never had the time to learn more and experiment with their creativity? Or the entrepreneurial spirits that love showing in galleries, but may not always feel like that’s enough?
So for both myself and others, I want to explore the many ways we can define being an artist in a flexible and inclusive way. By connecting with and interviewing creative professionals in my community and beyond, I hope we can all learn from their experiences — both their successes and failures — to start a conversation about what people are doing with their creativity.
Which leads me to the last objective…
3. Find Ways to Make Art More Accessible
When you’re in art school, you forget that other people aren’t as obsessed with art as you are. You forget that there are forces trying to eradicate art education across the country. You forget that a big chunk of the population feels alienated by galleries and museums.
Then, when it’s all over and you have the diploma you worked so hard for, people make jokes about how easy it is to get through an art program. And even though you thought you were prepared to enter a competitive job market, you realize how few art-related job openings there really are…
Even when I was in school, I wanted the art world to feel less alienating. I wanted to art feel more inclusive to those outside of those directly involved in art communities.
And even though there are some awesome organizations and leaders already working toward this goal, there’s plenty of room for progress.
SO, IN CONCLUSION…
That’s why this is here. From here on out, you can expect weekly blog posts, videos, and other resources accumulating on this site. You can also find aftrART on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and of course, you’re always welcome to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image courtesy of Josh Loeser.