Art Careers and Supporters

Trying to do the work as a creative and build a career alone is really tough.

The actual creative activity might be best done alone – sitting in a room to write or sketch without interruption is one of the dreams. But what about the processes of being a business, and building a market for your work? The end result of being a one-person show, can be wearing so many hats that our vision can become obscured. Artists need support in the daily practical sense and in the emotional sense of having people believe in you – what might be called “informal support”, as well as support in their business undertakings, what might be more professional or expert assistance.

Informal Support – or Who’s Going to Clean the Toilet?

In history, artists with visible success and fabulous careers tend to be the men. While some of this can be attributed to bias in reporting, as it were, much of it is because men had (have) the built-in support system of their wives, sometimes their sisters, sometimes their mothers, taking care of the Daily Grind of everyday life. I read recently that Frau Freud’s wife would lay out all of Sigmund’s clothes for him on a daily basis and even put toothpaste on his toothbrush, to enable him to go to work without having a single distracting thought for his own domesticity.

I suspect that this kind of extreme activity is rarer today. It is more likely that creators have to look around their own life and take responsibility for at least some of the multitudes of daily tasks of ordinary life.

You might be a writer, but you might still have to clean the bathroom. You might be a great painter, but you might still need to make food at the end of the day. There are still plenty of statistics that show that women, even those with full-time jobs, still take on the lion’s share of housework and home keeping. One of my professional goals is to have sufficient income that I can hire a team. One of these valued team members is going to be a cook. 

In the meantime, one of the best ways that you can gain the support you need is to actually quantify it and ask for it with clarity. One thing that has helped in my house has been to ask to be left alone for certain periods of time (my office hours). Another is to clarify exactly what you’re doing and why it is so time consuming. If you consider the people in your family as similar to patrons, you might try giving them a report of your accomplishments and progress, or showing them your work if it is ready to be seen by others. This helps them become invested in your success. I think this applies even if your creative practice is entirely a personal undertaking, rather than for the purposes of a career. 

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Professional Expertise

Bearing in mind that I believe that there is more than room for creativity in all occupations and careers – it’s a necessity – there are some careers in the arts that don’t have the job title artist, artisan, maker, designer or creator. There are many careers working in various areas of the arts that support those individuals. 

Here is an incomplete smattering of the kinds of careers that you could consider if you wanted to work in a creative industry or the arts, while not being the artist yourself.

Agents

Artists’ agents take on many of the tasks of finding places for your work to be seen or finding opportunities for such things as commissions and work-for hire-jobs of an artist or creator. Many agencies specialize in specific fields, such as literary agents for writers (one of the most obvious). Then within their part of the industry might specialize in a particular genre. Agents help by knowing all the legal stuff, how to negotiate contracts, what is it a reasonable price, as well as where you might place your finished work. They don’t get paid till you get paid, so they have a compelling interest in furthering your career in order to further their own.

Gallery Owners and Curators

People who own galleries are small business owners with a commitment to providing a place for art in the community. As you move up in your career gallery shows are a way to be discovered, and for people to be able to see your art displayed rather than via a computer. Exhibitions can become places for the community to gather, as well as for you to network. Owning a gallery can be a risky proposition. Not every artist is necessarily successful. Some gallery owners also act as agents, representing all of the work of a specific artist. Others are more of a venue provider, that work with other curators and groups to show work on a consignment basis, or facilitate art based events.

Curators often work for museums or galleries. They will have a deep knowledge of certain kinds of art and a creative ability to combine interesting pieces to form a dialogue between the items so that an exhibition in itself becomes like an overarching piece of art. Many of them have special knowledge about preserving and conserving art pieces of different kinds. They are rather akin to the Head Librarian except the library is an art gallery.

Theaters

There is a whole plethora of support jobs keeping any theater running, from the box office and ticketing managers, to marketers, to fundraisers, to grant writers, to venue managers, to technical directors, to administrative assistants, even before we get anywhere near the Artistic Director of a company. See? Still lots of creativity.

Technical and Material Support Services

These are people like custom framers, people who specialize in packing and moving or mailing art work, suppliers who provide material via wholesale, or retail. These would include companies which make the artist materials like paints, clays, canvases or tools. Sometimes these are subsidiary divisions of larger companies, such as a chemical company that also makes fabric dye. There are also companies that provide manufacturing services, such as 3D printers, paper or canvas printers, or other related work like welding or casting. These people are artisans themselves.

Marketing, promotion, publicity

There exists a whole plethora of jobs for people who help artists be discovered or have their work seen, outside of a gallery. Of course, galleries usually need these kinds of services as well. Often your agent will help you by providing a marketing department within their agency, especially if they are larger. These are professional specialties.

Assistance in the studio or in your business

In the olden days, the lead artist, say Leonardo, would have a whole bunch of people who were their apprentices. The trainees would help with some of the basic and nitty-gritty work, for example pouncing a cartoon to a wall for a fresco, or mixing paint, or putting a background wash or final varnish on the canvas. These people hoped to become artists themselves. Sometimes it turns out that the old master work was done almost entirely by an apprentice.

People to help you in your studio could be anyone from people doing heavy lifting, helping with mixing, undertaking foundation work, or helping with the cleaning up. Installations often require a bunch of people to help with the set up. You might be a designer who has a number of crafts people on staff who help make the Prototype or the actual product.

Too much paperwork!!

You might want to employ accountants, tax preparers, grant writers, editors or proofreaders, or administrative assistants to manage your calendar, travel bookings or shipping. There are people who specifically focus on e-commerce and website maintenance.


Just thinking about trying to do all of this yourself, is exhausting, isn’t it? Yet so many of us creative practitioners are one-person companies. Personally, being ready to give up my control, trust stuff to others and be able to pay others, are some of my biggest emotional and practical challenges. I’m working on my reluctance with daily visualizations of what my ideal productive, creative day will look like with all the help. And it looks like dreams realized.