Where’s the return on investment for that a bachelor’s in art history or an MFA? How do artists support themselves. What can I do if I’m a visual thinker?
You can answer those questions with, “Get a day job.” But there’s a lot more you could do besides that. Here are some career paths that are open to visual thinkers, whether or not you have a degree.
Museum concierge. Parents want their kids to be able to go through a museum and appreciate it, but the parents can barely get through an art museum themselves, let alone make it interesting to a pre-teen. High-end tutoring companies contract out this sort of rich-kid playdate to art-history types. And entrepreneurial art types can create customized paths through museums that will keep adults interested. I went on a Museum Hack tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the tour it blew me away with how quirky and interesting it was. (Notice: Melissa trailed behind taking pictures.) But you don’t have to run this business out of New York. You can do it anywhere there’s an art museum. And, the best news? You don’t need the museum’s permission to do it.
Hospital training. Erika Hayasaki wrote in the Pacific Standard, that there has been lot of talk in medical circles about the decline of doctors’ observational powers. This decline emerges because more and more diagnostic work is done by machines, so physicians are becoming worse at paying close attention to patients with their own eyes and ears. So some hospitals have begun to offer doctors modified art appreciation classes in an attempt to revive their atrophying skills of pattern recognition and awareness.
Video advertising. Online advertising is growing at a much faster rate than offline advertising due to the explosion of video. Creating online ads is half science, half artistry, on the Internet you can measure your progress and success. So if you’re great at making ads that run before videos, you can earn a lot of money (and where else can you remember hearing that about any form or art?)
Art manufacturing. I bought a bunch of items from a woman who does cashmere upcycling. She makes everything out of machine-washed cashmere. Everything we bought from her is soft and doesn’t shrink. I asked why she doesn’t sell to Anthropologie and she explained that she’d have to create patterns and create styles that can be mass produced, but she prefers doing it one by one. (And no web site.) Ceramicists I have talked to say the same thing. So clearly there’s a market for artists who are willing to play the game of mass production. Some examples of artists who do it well: Molly Hatch and Nathalie Lete. But you can bet they have someone behind the scenes who understands both logistics and art.
Go for broke. You could just take a risk and go to New York. But get ready for extreme poverty. Jamian Juliano Villani is a painter who lived in such a small space when she arrived in New York City that she painted in the same room as her bed, and because her bed was the only thing she could see, it ended up in every painting. Still, she held two solo shows in her bedroom, with dirty laundry in the corner.
Now her paintings sell for $20K each. But be careful what you wish for. She says that when it comes to building her reputation as a hot young artist in NYC, “It’s like another job on top of painting.” And she says, “All these people do is just party and hang out. I think to myself am I a socialite or am I a fucking artist?”