How to Work in the Arts Without Starving

Oct 05, 2011

The myth of the starving artist is seen as anything from a noble pursuit to a punchline. But if stability matters to you - and who could blame you - you don't have to give up on your creative dreams. There are a few different routes to take to avoid the path of the starving artist.

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By Sarah Wright


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Rewarding and Lucrative Arts Careers

If you have a passion for a creative discipline - be it music, theater, writing, dance or studio arts - career planning can feel like a big push and pull. On the one hand, pursuing a job in your chosen field may seem like financial suicide. There are just enough successful artists, actors, dancers, writers and musicians out there to make it seem plausible to succeed in an artistic career, but for every successful creative professional, there are hundreds of others who have failed to 'make it.' If the idea of struggle doesn't appeal to you, there are some options that can allow you to do what you want creatively and have a stable financial life as well.


The old adage that 'those who cannot do, teach' can be used condescendingly. But in reality, without teachers, most of those who 'do,' couldn't or wouldn't. Being a teacher in a creative discipline is a great way to inspire others while remaining connected to what you love to do.

There are many options available in the teaching field, from community centers to universities. Depending on the level of education you want to get, you can end up working at one of the many prestigious arts colleges in the U.S. If you'd rather just focus on your work rather than earning a formal education, private lesson teaching is an option in most creative fields.

Get a Day Job

Another way to keep yourself both financially stable and creatively fulfilled is to rely on a day job for money. It's possible to find something relatively low-key that can also lead to advancement, while devoting your free time to your creative work. Plenty of people in all kinds of job roles consider their career to be nothing but a day job.

Though enthusiasm for your job is certainly encouraged in most instances, it's alright to see your career as a financial means to an end. If you've got your heart set on making music or art, or on performing, having a day job is a great way to ensure that your needs are met. Some people actually prefer to do things this way, so their passion can remain untainted by the influence of job stress.

Consider Alternative Careers in the Field

There are a lot of jobs that are auxiliary to the main roles we think of in the arts. For example, in music, sound engineering, producing, orchestra administration and instrument sales are all potentially stable career paths that allow you to stay connected to what you love. In fine arts, the museum and gallery industries offer many different types of jobs. For writers, there are less-glamorous ways for you to use your skills to make money, including technical or copywriting. And there are nonprofit outlets for pretty much every artistic endeavor out there. Though these career paths may not exactly be the stuff of elementary school dreams, they're a realistic alternative to the hard-to-attain main creative roles that many people strive to fill.

Lower Your Sights

This option may sound a bit like giving up, but if your goal is to be a world-famous author, an award-winning actress, a member of the New York City Ballet, a musician selling out stadium venues or an artist showing at the Venice Biennale, you're setting an awfully high bar for yourself. While some talented (and lucky) few do manage to achieve this status, it's not realistic to bank your entire future on it. Instead, why not strive to simply make a decent living while doing what you love? Not placing restrictions of prestige on yourself isn't giving up on a dream. It's a realistic commitment to stability.

If you have your heart set on studying art, don't let anyone discourage you. Art majors actually earn more than most people assume.

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