No Starving Artists Here

Vincent Van Gogh as a starving artist (The Bedroom 1888)

Vincent Van Gogh as a starving artist (The Bedroom 1888)

One of my pet peeves centers on the common misbelief that most artists are starving artists. I say Bah Humbug to that notion!

The reality is that artists can live – and thrive – if they’re got the right tools. Colleges and universities across the country have received the message that artists need to learn about the business of their passions, and are incorporating the appropriate courses into their curricula. Makes sense to me.

Accounting, intellectual property, and marketing are just some of the key tools necessary to create and sell your art successfully. The details include understanding how to best price your work, what your copyright and licensing rights are, and how to promote yourself.

My local paper, The Columbus Dispatch, recently addressed the subject in “Artists Learn How Financial Side of Business Works.” It delivers some good tips and a variety of viewpoints on the subject.

If art is your passion, make sure you take these words to heart: you will benefit greatly from learning about and understanding how to manage the business side of your creativity.
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Art and Business at a Liberal Arts College

smart car 2

Smart Car

It’s difficult to find a school that combines the study of art and business for you.  It can be done, but requires time and dedication. I’ve been researching art programs at both large and small colleges across the country for a while now, and am still surprised to find how few opportunities exist for art students who want to enhance their studies with business courses.  As I referenced in an earlier post, we live in the age of iPhones, Smart Cars and ergonomic seating; the intrinsic value of combining design and business seems like it should be obvious. If you’re looking to merge the two in college, there are two paths to choose from; an art school or liberal arts institution.

The decision to attend a private liberal arts college or state university might seem like the easier road to combining art and business, but buyer beware. General studies institutions are typically larger, and offer a wider variety of introductory and even advanced business classes to integrate into your schedule. However – and this is important – attending a larger school doesn’t always solve the problem.  Here’s why. Even though a university offers business courses, that doesn’t mean they’ll be easily accessible to you. When signing up for classes, wherever you attend college, priority is always given to upperclassmen and to those majoring in that subject area, i.e. students who need the course to graduate. Some schools will open business classes to students who are non-business majors, but due to popularity the classes often fill up fast and you’ll have limited time to take them. The take away: even though a university may offer more business classes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get into the ones you want. Unfortunately, that’s the hard truth.

Don’t get me wrong, studying art at a liberal arts institution is an excellent place to gain an arts education. That’s where I did it! Yet, unless you’re seriously considering double majoring, I wouldn’t choose one based on their business listings alone.

So, how do you overcome being locked out of those classes you want to take? Do your homework now. Talk with the admissions representatives and ask the difficult questions; “how realistic is it that I can seriously integrate business courses with my art degree?” And “what classes will be open to me?” Then, once enrolled, work with your college advisor to ensure you’ll get the classes you want. There are no guarantees, but doing your homework before you’ve committed to a school will give you a clearer picture of the environment before classes even begin.

Art schools are a different story all together. They don’t offer a lot of business courses. Some list general marketing and business overview classes while others provide professional practice classes specific to each major. Once again, each school is different, so you’ll need to do some digging to find out how each one is set up.

I’ve found some winning offerings at four art schools across the country; CCAD, OTIS, SCAD and Ringling. I don’t want my posts to go on too long, so I’ll give you the details of what makes them stand out over the next two weeks.

The Business of Art & Design

Embody Chair by Herman Miller

Embody Chair by Herman Miller

I have a pet peeve.

When I was in college I was interested in both the arts and business.  Given the opportunity to study one or the other I decided to opt for the arts, and so earned a degree in textile design.  It was the right choice for me at the time. I love textiles and all they represent; their history, their tactileness, the processes used to create them, and their cultural implications. However, as much as I love textiles, I also love marketing, and in hindsight I wish that I had included more business courses in the mix. Even though I attended a large liberal arts university, (Go Dawgs!) combining courses – let alone degrees – from such diverse fields mostly wasn’t done then.

art and business need each otherStudents today have more opportunities to mix things up a bit – and I think they should. Through my years of work experience one of the important things I’ve learned is that art and business need each other. Artists need business to promote, sell and financially succeed at their craft.  Businesses need art to graphically depict their messages; to tell their stories.

How does this affect you? Well, if you’re looking to create a career that is directly related to your artistic passions then business or professional courses will help you build that successful path.  I recommend that you take a serious look at the business and professional options available to you as you consider which college to attend.  If for no other reason, do it so you can tell mom and dad you’re planning not to become a starving artist.  (wink, wink)

Let’s consider some details.  Obtaining a degree in a fine art is different than getting one in an applied art.  What does that even mean? Applied arts are mostly those with a direct connection to a specific function.  Think fashion design and advertising.  Stereotypically speaking, fine art is mainly created for its pure beauty.  Think painting and illustration. Does that mean if you study an applied art you’ll have an easier time finding a job and building a career?  Probably yes.  Whichever path you choose, business and professional courses should boost your understanding of how art and business affect, and even rely on each other, which in the long run could help you land a coveted job.

It’s been years since I studied my craft in college, and I have to say I’m still frustrated with the limited number of business courses available for art students wanting to augment their studies.  So, how do you research what business and professional courses are available at varying colleges and universities?  Unfortunately there is no one answer to that question.  But I’ve done some research into the subject, and will share what I’ve learned next week.

The Embody Chair is copyrighted by the Herman Miller Company.