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I love art, but should I follow my dreams? Or aim for financial security?

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There’s all kinds of career advice out there, and it all seems to say something different. “You should have a backup plan for when it doesn’t work out.” “Don’t have a backup plan; it’ll make you more desperate for success.”

My opinion: There is no right answer that fits everyone. Some people can study with death metal blasting from their headphones; some like complete silence. Some people love meeting new faces, and some prefer a little alone time. Doesn’t it make sense that your approach to your career should be the same way?

I think it’s incredibly important to know yourself — what energizes you, and what drains your physical and mental reserves. Do that, and you’ll be able to seek out situations where you’re energized to make the art that’s important to you.

Full-time? Part-time? Art as a hobby?

For some people, a career as a professional artist is the only thing they want — the only thing they’ll settle for. Others might want to aim for art as a part-time gig only, whether because they have other commitments or because it’s just not that much of a priority. Still others might be satisfied working on their art as a hobby, separate from a full-time job.

If you want to work on your art after work, you’ll at least have the benefit of a paycheck. One thing, though: the normal 9-to-5 shift is eight hours at work, with commute time tacked on. If you add in time for meals, chores, relationships, etc., you might find that all you want to do at the end of the day is potato on the couch and watch Netflix.

If you do plan to take another job outside of your personal artwork, I’d consider whether you’re the kind of person who wants a job in the art industry, or something unrelated. Some people are happy working in the same professional space from dusk till dawn; others might find that the last thing they want to do after coming home from a day of drawing is more drawing. Hell, you might even find that you don’t want a full-time career in art at all — having it as a hobby lets you choose your own projects and deadlines, with no one to tell you how and when to do anything.

Maybe doing physical work at a grocery store will leave your brain energized for painting. But what if you dislike your workplace enough that it actively drains you? You can sacrifice in the short term and just power through for a while… but I’d argue that multiple years is a long time to “just cope”. In fact, if you’re someone who needs to create, but has no energy or will at the end of the day to do it, the mismatch can be downright soul-destroying. Even if you can’t achieve the perfect environment right away, it really helps to at least know what to work towards.

More questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do I like to work closely together with others?
  • Do I like to work with creative people and steer them in a shared direction? (Maybe you want to be an art director, not actually in the trenches yourself!)
  • Or do I prefer to work and take on projects that are solo? (A studio job may not be for you.)
  • Do I need to make my own original work?
  • Or am I happy taking commissions, or working with other people’s characters and worlds? (Maybe a studio job IS right for you.)
  • Am I good at managing my own time, or do I prefer to have someone else set the schedule?
  • Am I okay with working long hours, or do I want to clock out at the end of the day and do something else?
  • Does working from home and setting my own hours sound attractive? (Big warning on this one: if you work for yourself, you’ll need to be your own marketing, HR, accounting, etc., and “setting your own hours” often means working really long hours.)
  • Will I have enough money, or family willing to support me if I need to focus on my creative work for a while?

Asking yourself questions like these can help you figure out not only the general sort of environment you need to find yourself, but even what area of art to focus on.

So give it some thought, especially if you’re at the very start of your studies and have the time. If at all possible, talk to people who are already working artists, and see what they have to say about their jobs. The more informed you are about what you’re getting yourself into, the better!

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