HOW DO YOU TURN THE PASSIONS IN YOUR LIFE INTO A CAREER?
I’m a 22 year old visual artist from Shreveport, La. I’m currently in school for my BFA in studio art and I mostly paint and make prints. In my case, how does art, caring for people, teaching teenagers, community development, and social justice all come together in a practical “I love what I do and can still pay the bills” kind of way? How did you come to the place of teacher, songwriter, artist, etc?
So, you’re in art school, getting familiar with your passions while learning a crap load of skills with the added pressure of having to figure out how to channel everything into a post-grad “real world” career. Right off the bat, I’ll say that the artist life is best for people who are self-motivated, do not struggle with procrastination, and are not allergic to hard work. If you struggle with all of those & went to art school, congratulations you just wasted a lot of money and my advice will probably be a waste of your time.
I’ll assume that isn’t you and you’re a passionately hard worker who is willing to take the harder road of synthesizing all your passions into a career.
First, I’ll prepare you with the hard truth: the transition out of college is more than likely going to be disappointing at one point or another. I can count on my hand the artists who graduated and immediately started making money off of their art practice/in the way they wanted to. For most, there was a season of working a job they hated while they made plans to come out swinging in their desired field. Right now you might be thinking of finding an ideal “job”, but after you graduate the struggle might be just finding a job period. Don’t let it discourage you. The hard times build the character you need in order to sustain and be grateful for the “my dreams actually came true” seasons.
Here’s 8 things to remember when trying to make the dream happen.
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Well before you graduate, look into creative job options and create a list of positions you would be interested in that would engage all if not some areas you’re passionate about.There are many you’d never even know about without some investigation. Look into creative direction, freelancing, teaching, museum positions, curating, the non-profit sector, art therapy, restoration, etc. All of those job types have potential for a focus in social justice and one would argue that all art IS community development.
Understand that what pays the bills might not be the answer to ALL of your passions. Be okay with that. It doesn’t reduce the importance of what you do off the clock.
2. MAKE A LIST OF YOUR NEEDS & WANTS
Are you looking for a position with health insurance? What salary range to you need to survive? Are you willing to work a “day job” to support your art? Do you want to be your own boss/is freelancing the right path for you to take? Do you want to solely show and sell art through galleries? Do you consider yourself solely a conceptual/fine/commercial/folk artist? Do you need a job that will get you studio access? What are your primary passions and your secondary ones? Are you willing to compromise on a couple of these while you work your way up to your ideal?
3. PACKAGE YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY
Website. Business cards. LinkedIn profile. Resume. Cover Letters. Sleek interview outfits. Baller handshake. Even a little brochure with images of your work. Have these on hand and slang em like there’s no tomorrow. Network, network, network like crazy. Get out of your house and go to events. FOLLOW THROUGH ON YOUR WORD, that’s professionalism. Opportunities will come through word of mouth, but if you flake on people, your less-than-stellar reputation is going to close doors.
A list of what I professionally have prepared:
-A sleek binder full of images from lessons divided into each grade. A written educational philosophy. Sample lesson plans
-A music website, a separate website for teaching, a separate website for visual art (a couple of these aren’t currently up and running).
-Professionally shot images of past artwork.
-Several versions of an artist statement.
-14 different cover letters depending on the type of job I’m applying for.
-An instagram for my classroom (@bzintheart)
-Sample writing pieces.
4. UNDERSTAND WHICH ART FORMS SERVE WHICH PURPOSES (for you).
You asked about how I became an artist/musician/teacher. All of these art forms are “vehicles” for different things I want/need to communicate. I teach because I am fulfilled by serving others and am hella good at it. I write music to communicate emotions. I draw because it’s the only time my brain is quiet. I make jewelry to make some quick money. I create sculptures to communicate theological concepts. I tell stories to feel a little less alone in the world. My philosophies and beliefs (social justice, christianity, serving others) all shape the subject matter of my art and the communities that I engage it with it. Depending on the needs of whatever season I’m in, certain art forms will take priority over others. Keep in mind that what makes you the most money might not be what “fulfills” you the most/what makes you money doesn’t need to be the channel for all of your “callings.” The overall way you live out your life/treat your neighbors/spend your money will fulfill your convictions.
5. FIND YOUR MENTORS
Keep up with artists who are doing what you want to do. Study their practices and seek to emulate them. If they are accessible enough, ask if they are willing to mentor you. So much about the artist life is fluid and unstructured, having mentors will help you set goals.
In my experience, my mentors were always the people that refused to entertain my griping about how hard it was sometimes. Stick by the “no excuses” people, they’re good for you.
6. GET YOUR FINANCES IN ORDER
Income isn’t always consistent in creative fields. It can be further aggravated by student loan responsibilities. Do not let your finances fall through your hands. You need to check your credit score, learn how to defer loans, make payments regularly, and write out a budget. If you don’t know what your credit score is, or how much you owe to whom, then you should be panicking and you should take a day or two to figure it out. The long term consequences of neglecting this area of life are not worth it. And for those who skipped over this paragraph because their creative brain aches at the thought of paperwork and numbers, I’m going to repeat— if you aren’t fully aware of your finances, you should be panicking. Pause. Turn around. Go and get your ish in order.
7. PAY YOUR DUES AND WORK YOUR WAY UP.
Starting out, I had nothing to show for my promise as an educator besides a binder full of mediocre lesson plans that would make any experienced teacher laugh. My first job in the education field was a substitute teacher position in the alternative high schools (where kids go when they get kicked out of regular school). It was a job that no one else wanted and the only thing I could get (I actually loved this job), but it got me exposure to administrators. One of these administrators eventually offered me a full time art teacher position.
In your case, you might have trouble getting a graphic design job at a socially-conscious firm you really respect. So, apply for their receptionist position. You might have trouble getting a swank gallery to show your work— wash their windows. While you’re physically there, network with the powers that be while refining your portfolio and in casual conversation your real passions will get brought up. Those small opportunities will get you access. Additionally, use a crappy experience at a crappy job as motivation to grind harder for the better stuff.
8. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
I never expected to be making music. I never expected to start YOUNG LADY. I never expected that I would be writing for Forth District. I had what I thought was a very clear vision of being solely a gallery-showing artist when I started art school, but some how music came out of no where and took a place at the forefront of my time. And to be honest, the best opportunities came after several years of crippling disappointment. The only thing that remained consistent through out all of these seasons was that I worked my ass off, prayed, and never gave up. Things came out of NO WHERE. Do you want to know how I got connected with Humble Beast? When I was stressed out I would secretly record songs with my laptop’s built-in-microphone. One night, on a whim, I sent these songs to a hip hop friend at church (I wasn’t even that into hip hop and had no intention of making anything of music) and a month later I was in a studio. I point to situations like this as evidence of higher power. Sometimes, things unexplainably fall into place. When those chances come, absolutely kill it. Put your most professional foot forward and stun people with how passionately you approach the work.
If you would like Catalina to answer your questions submit them to Catalina@ForthDistrict.com
Catalina Bellizzi, AKA CATAPHANT AKA Ms. BZ (to her students) is a visual artist, inner city art teacher, singer/songwriter, and occasional music producer from Chicago. She frequently collaborates with artists of all types and has learned many things the hard way. You can find some of her vocals on tracks from Humble Beast, Mellow Orange, & Illect artists, with her own EP on the way. Inspired by the glass ceilings over women in music, she founded YOUNG LADY (www.youngxlady.com), a creative brand that gives grants to women in hip hop. BZ earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts with an Emphasis in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has experience as an art school admissions counselor. Trust me, she can help you get your art together.