The arts are a more secure career than the sciences — here’s the proof.
Since releasing my book Real Artists Don’t Starve, I’ve heard from a number of people who don’t believe it’s possible to make a living off your creativity, whether in writing, fine art, or another medium.
But is that really true?
For most of my life, I was told a story about what it means to be an artist, a title reserved for that elite group of people who were talented but unlikely to succeed.
The advice was always the same:
- Don’t quit your day job.
- Do this while you’re young.
- Always have something to fall back on.
When I was growing up, I was told that creativity, though a nice outlet, was never something you should go “all in” on. Because, odds are, you’ll starve. You may have been told the same.
It turns out, though, that’s just not true.
Real artists don’t starve
For years, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) has been surveying graduates of arts programs to see how successful they are in the real world.
Approximately 120,000 degrees in the arts are awarded every year, and the question is, what happens to these people? Not what you think.
You might imagine, as I did, the stereotypical starving artist: the stubborn loner struggling to make ends meet and forsaking every adult concern for the sake of their work.
This is what we have been taught to expect when imagining people in full-time, creative careers. We imagine poverty-stricken souls spending their days slaving away at the work, toiling in agony to create their next masterpiece.
We picture Michelangelo on his back, nose to ceiling, paint dripping in his eyes, earning little for his genius.
The SNAAP study, however, revealed something quite different. The majority of trained artists are actually thriving. Here were some fascinating statistics:
- 70% of these graduates have found jobs within the arts,
- 75% have been or are self-employed,
- 99% consider creativity to be an important competency in their profession, and
They report income levels that support families, sustain careers, and enable charitable giving. In other words, they are not starving.
Contrast that with a 2014 US Census Bureau where nearly 75 percent of science, tech, engineering, and mathematics graduates are not employed in their field of study, and we are forced to consider a new reality for modern creatives.
Many artists are, in fact, not suffering for their craft. They’re proudly producing work that matters and pays the bills. So, we are brought to a sobering conclusion about creative work:
You can make art and make a living.
You don’t have to suffer to create
Over the past couple years, while writing Real Artists Don’t Starve, I interviewed hundreds of working creatives and came across a surprising fact.
When we look at the lives of successful artists, writers, and entrepreneurs, we see a unique mindset:
They don’t believe they have to suffer to succeed.
These people, those I call Thriving Artists, think about themselves and their work differently than those who don’t succeed. Discarding the ways of the Starving Artist, they follow a new set of rules, what I call The Rules of the New Renaissance.
Here they are, all 12 of them:
The starving artist believes you must be born an artist.
The thriving artist believes you become an artist.
The starving artist waits for inspiration.
The thriving artist steals from his influences.
The starving artist believes he has enough talent.
The thriving artist apprentices under a master.
The starving artist is stubborn about everything.
The thriving artist is flexible on details but stubborn on vision.
The starving artist waits to be noticed.
The thriving artist finds patrons.
The starving artist believes he can be creative anywhere.
The thriving artists goes where creative work is already happening.
The starving artist needs no one.
The thriving artist builds a network.
The starving artist always works alone.
The thriving artist collaborates with others.
The starving artist does his work in private.
The thriving artist shares his work, practicing in public.
The starving artist is a risk-taker.
The thriving artist takes the right risks.
The starving artist works for free.
The thriving artist always works for something.
The starving artist sells his work to the earliest bidder.
The thriving artist owns his work until it’s time to sell out.
The starving artist does one thing.
The thriving artist does many things.
The starving artist despises the need for money.
The thriving artist makes money to make more art.
Find a way to live off your art
These are the things nobody told me — as a kid drawing cartoons, a teenager playing the guitar, and a twenty-something dreaming of writing books.
In my book, I share story after story of Thriving Artists who didn’t suffer for their work but instead found a way to live off it.
And if we follow in their footsteps, adopting the rules by which they live their lives, we can do the same.
To learn more about how you can stop starving and join the New Renaissance, check out Real Artists Don’t Starve.
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