Monday, September 16, 2013

Art by the Numbers

(Brought to you by Self Employment In the Arts )
This is not the first time I have written on this topic and I'm sure it won't be the last.  As artists, all you have to do is look at the numbers to understand why you need to know more than just the creation process and implementation.  

I do not consider myself an artist.  Sure, I might dabble in a little French Horn or trumpet playing now and then - but that is the extent of my artistic pursuits.  Administrator, program director, marketer, fundraiser - these are all words that describe what I do.  And guess what?  These descriptions match pretty closely to the academic courses I took while in college.  Of course there are skills I have picked up along the way, but I graduated from college with a lot of the knowledge and tools needed to start my career in business.

On the other hand, you have artists.  They are taught all about creating but very little about business while pursuing a degree in the arts.  You might be saying, "Well of course, they are majoring in art and not business."  Correct.  But, here is where the numbers become so critical.

  • There were over 2 million artists employed in the United States in 2001, according to the 2001 Current Population Survey.  
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6 out of every 10 artists are self-employed
  • Also according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50% of musicians work for themselves
If I'm an art student right now in college, my chance of being self-employed in the arts sometime in the future is greater than always being employed by someone else.  Simply put, you're more likely to be self-employed than not.  So, if you want to increase your chances of succeeding - you will also want to increase your knowledge of business.  Otherwise, it is like only preparing yourself for half of what your career is going to demand.  Would a baseball player only learn how to throw but not catch?  Would a piano player learn only to read treble clef and not bass?  You need to develop yourself not as an "artist" but as a "professional artist" - one that has both artistic skill and business savvy.
Here are my top five tips to get you started:
1)  Take a business class.  If you are already at a college, take a look at what is being offered in your business department.  If your lucky, some schools have music business or other similar classes.  If not, intro to business, accounting 101, business law, and intro to entrepreneurship would all be good choices.

2)  Shadow a professional artist.  Find an artist in your area and see if you can shadow them for a couple of days and if possible, longer.  Make sure you have the opportunity to see all of what they do and not just quick snip-its.  The more shadowing you can do, the better understanding you will have of the skills you need to develop.
3)  Read. Read. Read.  Whether it be on your tablet or in a magazine, find articles and books written about being an artistic entrepreneur.  There are a variety of types from those that profile working artists to those that are in the form of a workbook.  For a list of great resources including books and blogs, visit our website at

4)  Sign up for an internship.  While similar to shadowing, an internship will allow you to be more involved with a business over a longer period of time.  Remember the key here isn't getting paid, but learning the business.  Even if the internship isn't exactly what you are looking to do, there still will be valuable lessons learned.  Maybe you don't want to own a gallery, but interning at a gallery will help you understand the gallery world from the non-artist side as well as other business skills such as marketing and client relations.  

5)  Attend a workshop or conference.  See if there are any workshops or events in your area geared towards career development for artists.  Remember, the key is to find a program that addresses business.