Many thanks to guest blogger and artist Annie LeFevre for this post and accompanying comic strip. Right on Annie!
This September, “back to school” holds new meaning to me as I will be commencing my fourth and final year of college at NYU, thus culminating the formal education that has governed the majority of my years on the planet. I have been an artist since even before I was a student, and I’ve had the great privilege to attend schools my whole life that have supported my creativity. Ultimately focusing on creative production in college with courses in art history, art theory, and writing about art, while learning the techniques of silkscreen, ceramics and photography, I have been prepared to think critically about the art of past masters, of my peers and of myself; I’ve been prepared to trust my own creative instinct and develop skills both technical and emotional that enable me to tell my story as an artist.
However, what my peers and I haven’t been taught (or even prompted to pursue) are the “real world” skills that every artist benefits from: skills that will carry us beyond the safety of our classrooms and studios, into the world where we as artists need business acumen in order to sustain our practices and making a living off of what we love to create.
When people ask me about my educational experience, they ask two questions, often in the same order: 1) what is your major? and 2) wow, what are you going to be able do with that after you graduate? I have trained myself to confidently assert that I am an artist, and that I will be pursuing a creative career, which can have many manifestations. Though I have learned to do this with an unfaltering voice directed at people of all ages and expectations, the reality is that I’m not so sure I will graduate with the skills I need in order to put my money where my mouth is (or, rather, make money off my verbations.)
I am grateful to the professors that have instilled in me the confidence of a young artist, but it is a confidence I worry will fade as I find myself unsure of how to incorporate my creativity into a livelihood. I want to be taught business skills, but I want these skills to serve to protect and cultivate my creativity, stoking its fire rather than stifling it. I want to be taught how to set up my own business model, not a one-size-fits-all deal, but rather one that reflects my unique vision and capabilities. I want to be taught how to successfully navigate collaborations with both artists and sponsors; I want to be taught the language of business in the dialect of the art world. I want to learn to create return on the hours I pour into my art.
My major concentration of creative production has given me a good foundation in learning what it means to work with and around artists, but it hasn’t offered me the resources I need to learn to sustain my own creative practice. I want to be seen by my professors as a potential creative entrepreneur with a upcoming career in producing my own work, rather than an undergraduate art student with no goals for future production. I wish that I had been encouraged to think of the business aspect of the art career I aim to have after graduation.
If my program required students to take classes in small business during the first semesters of university, my peers and I would learn not only the value of developing a healthy business mentality, but how many ways in which they can apply those skills to their artistic path. There seems to be a perpetual mentality around young artists that making art to sell is the same thing as “selling out” — I would like to see a course that challenges this mindset, and instead convinces students of the benefits in thinking prudently about their artistic futures.
When I consider my approaching senior year, I think of the requirements I’ve fulfilled for my creative major. Instead of looking at this soon-to-be-completed course load as the end of an educational era, I choose to look at my final year of school as one of opportunity to seek out a course such as the one I have mused about. If I pursue business training, then I believe I can emerge out of university as an artist, ready not only to continue to learn, but also ready to make a living off of making my mark.