Careers in the arts require planning too

Much of the information we share in AIEmail is geared toward traditional career paths, with most issues focusing on such topics as choosing a college, getting in to the college you choose, learning how financial aid works, and choosing a major. Planning these steps along your career path is crucial to reaching your destination, and the information presented in these issues is relevant and useful regardless of your career goals.

But what if your dream is to be the next Green Day, the next Halle Berry, or the next George Lucas? Can you skip planning for your future and just work on finding an agent?

The answer, in a word, is no. Follow your dreams. Just be sure to keep your eyes open while you’re at it. Be dedicated, work hard, and put your art or whatever your passion is — first. Know what you want and what you’re willing to sacrifice for it. If you reach your goal, great! You can taste the sweet fruit of success. If not, have a plan for what you’re going to do next.

That doesn’t have to mean trading in your ripped jeans, amp, and tour bus for a tie, a cubicle, and a grocery-getter sedan — unless you want it to. There are many ways to make your passion a part of your life, both professionally and personally.

One art, many options

You can think of the options for pursuing your passion as following one of three main paths:

  • Artist: This is the “all-in, no compromises” path, with the goal of being a musician, painter, actor, or other creative professional as a sole means of livelihood. This path generally requires the most risk with the weakest safety net. You’re not likely to get health insurance as a lead guitarist, for example, and most professional actors struggle to make ends meet. But it’s difficult to reach the pinnacle or your field without pursuing your art full-time.

  • Journeyman: This option involves making your art into your day job; career examples include music teacher, graphic designer, professor, or museum curator. This “compromise” path provides more security in the form of a steady paycheck and benefits, while allowing you to make your passion a part of your everyday life. A lot of art is about craft—getting better and better at a applying a set of skills, and there’s a deep satisfaction to be had. You may never be on the cover of Rolling Stone, but you won’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, either.

  • Hobbyist: Not everyone wants to pursue a career in their chosen art form, of course, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your art altogether. There’s much satisfaction to be gained from holding a day job and saving your creative pursuits for your free time. You can play in a band on weekends, hang your paintings in restaurant galleries, or take roles at your local theatre—and probably have more creative control than those in art-centered careers. The word “amateur,” after all, is directly related to the word “amor.” Amateurs do their art for the love of it.

Remember that choosing one of these paths doesn’t close the other ones forever. In fact, the most important thing is to know when the right time to switch paths comes. Set milestones at the outset by which you can measure the progress of your career. Have a plan, work hard, and then know when and if the time comes to change course. If your crowds are getting bigger or your parts are getting better, then keep going. If, on the other hand, you find yourself approaching middle age still living paycheck to paycheck, it may be time to change course and make your passion a part of your life in other ways.

All of these can be fulfilling options, and choosing the right one for you involves weighing the benefits and risks each entails, and deciding how those match up against your rock and roll (or hoop, or Hollywood) dreams.