Be Nice, Be Visible and Trust Your Gut: 7 Tips for a Life in the Arts

February 26, 2016

So, you studied art. Now what? The question has weighed on the minds of many students and recent graduates (not to mention parents), and to get to the bottom of the issue, SVA Alumni Affairs hosted a panel discussion last week featuring alumni from a range of disciplines sharing their experiences as artists and advice on how to transition from art school to the professional world. Panelists included Scott Bakal (BFA 1993 Illustration), Jenny Morgan (MFA 2008 Fine Arts), Kate Neckel (MFA 2002 Computer Art), Vincent Peone (BFA 2007 Film and Video), Annie Watt (BFA 1974 Media Arts) and Heidi Zito (MFA 2012 Photography, Video and Related Media). Here is a rundown of some of the tips they provided.

alumnipanel735Be Nice
Relationships are one of the most important parts of being an artist. In an industry where a little luck can go a long way, the panelists each shared stories about how an unlikely meeting or reference led to a job, which led to another and another. As Peone admonished, be nice—because you never know who you’ll meet.

Be Visible
Thinking back on the two halves of his career, Scott Bakal credits his decision to become more visible in the art world and community as the key to his success. Around 2006, after taking a year away from art during his “mid-career freak out,” Bakal began actively networking, entering competitions and volunteering to get his name and face out there, and he immediately saw the benefits.

Other panelists talked about the importance of maintaining social media presences and keeping in contact with potential buyers. Zito, for instance, regularly updates her website with new work and sends out semi-annual email blasts to collectors to check in and show new projects.

Persistence Pays Off
Reflecting on her 40 years of professional experience, Watt credited her success to persistence and a willingness to work all the time, even if it meant for nothing. Always taking pictures, Watt’s passion and love for her work was recognized by others, and are ultimately what helped her get noticed for bigger and better jobs.

kate735Trust in Yourself
Jenny Morgan shared a story about her father that resonated with the audience, and illustrates how important it is for artists to believe in their work. As a child, Morgan recalled piecing together cardboard shapes only to throw them away. Finding them in the trash, her father rescued them, telling her, “You can’t throw these away. These have value,” and framed the work. From then on, Morgan knew that her art was meaningful.

Take Care of Yourself
Self-care might seem self-evident, but artists are passionate and driven, and they often find themselves forgetting basic daily necessities, like eating. As Morgan admitted, “The work suffers if you’re not taking care of yourself.” Rather than give in to the romantic ideal of the suffering artist, be mindful of activities and regimens that give balance to your life, such as naps and meditation (Neckel).

Set Immediate Goals, Accomplish Them and Set More Goals
The conventional wisdom of dream big, achieve big may not be the best model for artists. The panel agreed that what is most important is setting smaller, achievable goals that build confidence and validation. Setting incrementally higher goals that are within reach will aid in your artistic and personal development.

Make Art that Pleases You
The balance of client and personal work is the ultimate challenge for any practicing artist. “You can’t find yourself in jobs you hate,” warned Watt. “You don’t have to do something for money,” she added. “But you need to do it to be creative.”

Photos by Jacqueline Iannacone (BFA 2012 Photography).

Related post: Four Common Myths About Artists and Why They’re Not True

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