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a more pleasant job I can support myself with while I work on my art?
December 11, 2011 12:57 PM   Subscribe

What other jobs can am I qualified for that I could support myself on, but still give me time to pursue art? Or is my frustrating job as good as it gets without more qualifications / experience?

Originally I was going to ask a question about whether my current job is as bad as I think it is. I've since decided that my job is tolerable, but if I can get a better one, I'll try to do that. So now my question is: what better jobs are out there that I could actually be hired for, and still have time and energy to pursue my art?

I graduated from college about a year and a half ago with an art degree. Art is what I want to do but I still have a very long way to go before I could at all support myself with it. I've had my current job for about 9 months; one of my worries is that it will look bad on my resume that I haven't worked there a full year. When things go well at work, it's great for me - I get insurance; my commute is short and easy; and since I'm the sort of person who works really well with a consistent routine, I've been drawing more since I got this job than when I was unemployed.

But when my job isn't going well, it really messes with me. Busy weeks wipe me out so I don't have energy to draw or socialize. It takes over my brain, which I don't like because I have no interest in this field. My job is usually done by someone with a degree in the field my company is in, but they hired me so they didn't have to pay me as much. Plus I wasn't trained properly, and no one has time to devote to training me, so I often only learn new tasks when there's a deadline to do them and everyone is frustrated that I haven't done it yet. Everyone in the department assigns me tasks, but they don't communicate and we don't have meetings, so no one knows when I'm busy, or overwhelmed, or when my workload is light, or when I meet a tight deadline, or anything. My immediate supervisor is a nice guy, but he hates his job and basically only has to deal with me when I mess up, so I only hear from him when he's frustrated that he was interrupted to deal with me. A big deal for me is, I moved here to the Bay Area after college because I enjoy the culture, and am a very progressive, hippie-ish woman, but the culture at my office is instead corporate, male-dominated, filled with conservative people who commute in from the suburbs and tease me about my politics (and more often my perceived politics, it's not like I'm constantly bringing up politics at work!). My dislike of the work I have to do and the environment I do it in is making me more lazy. All this is messing with my self-image, because in work that I like, like my art and my academic studies, I consider myself a very thorough, detail-oriented person.

I've tried to come up with ideas for what I could do that would be better, but I'm stuck. My friends with jobs have complaints similar to mine, so I have trouble getting perspective on whether I would have this issue with any office job and would screw myself over by starting over elsewhere.

Other things I like and am interested in: writing; research; animal welfare; food politics; social justice. I have some background in programming and web design, but not a degree in the former or great portfolio in the latter, so it's more something to distinguish me from other entry-level office workers than a real career path. I don't have a car, so can't work too far away or somewhere not accessible by public transit. I need insurance. As implied by my complaints above, being well-trained and having consistent tasks is huge for me.

I know this is long. I realize that what my question comes down to in a big way is that the best jobs are specialized and require high qualifications, that essentially, I want a good job without having to put in a lot of investment. Really, while I would love a good job, just a decent one would be fine - something like my current job without the stress and poor communication would be just fine. But how do I find that?

What am I qualified to do? What jobs / fields have I overlooked? How can I fell whether a prospective job would have a culture that fits with me? Have I eliminated something I shouldn't? Am I being unrealistic or whiny? I'd especially like to hear from people who found rewarding jobs not long after college, in a crappy economy, with an arts degree, because right now that sounds like a fantasy.
posted by fireflies to Work & Money (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
It sounds like you could be doing the exact same job, but be a ton happier, if your workplace culture was different (better communication and training, mainly). So I don't think you need to be looking for another SORT of job. Rather take a look at other employers who would hire someone doing your current role, and if you can, talk to their employees about the workplace culture. If you find a place that seems a lot better to work at than your current employer, start keeping an eye out for openings there. (And let people there know you would be interested if something comes up).
posted by lollusc at 1:14 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know what type of art you do, but I work in a museum, and quite a few museum preparators or professional art handlers are all artists themselves. It tends to be a job that uses their skill set, doesn't usually require overtime hours (barring the occasional frantic exhibition installation) and is generally something that you don't take home with you. Additionally, the people around you tend to be sympatico. Skills that we look for in a preparator are things like being able to cut mats and hinge works on paper, hang art, paint walls, and move art safely. Basic carpentry skills are a plus, as are things like the ability to enter information into databases and learn to do condition reporting on works of art.
posted by PussKillian at 1:17 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are not being unrealistic or whiny. If you're main focus is to move forward on making art, then a job that requires much of your mental energy will take away from the time you wholeheartedly want for your art development. Consider taking on a job you can leave at your job and then have the mental space to work on your job. Another thing to consider is the direction you want to take your art and work in that field. If you're interested in a particle subject matter in your art or want to refine a skill in the medium you want to create your art in, then pursue a job in those fields. Another way to think of your "tolerable" job is to use it as a source of inspiration, but do set a boundary of how much stress you will allow it to cause in your life.
posted by i_wear_boots at 1:24 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, what stops you from managing expectations at your current place of work? Your boss may hate his job but no reason not to go to him and say you are getting overloaded with requests and you require your boss to help you prioritise and to communicate these priorities to the department. And if 10 people have assigned you work you tell #11 you will get to their task when you've done the other 10 tasks...if they tell you it cant wait get them to negotiate with somebody else. It will probably make you feel better if you take charge of this and start the communication. And people may even like it, your boss probably just wants an easy life so when you say you are overwhelmed with requests you had better have worked out in what order you want to do them (propose a solution) or what you want him to do about it e.g. tell people you will do them as fast as possible and be done. But the message to the rest of the department is different if it comes from boss not you....
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:06 PM on December 11, 2011


Have you tried networking with the local artist community? How about taking a volunteer position? A lot of art jobs are based on who you know, so that might be a thought. It's also possible that there is a government grant for art production that you might qualify for. There's a huge chance that you are also not cut out for office life, which is OK too :-) Good luck!
posted by Calzephyr at 4:15 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


you're=your :)
posted by i_wear_boots at 5:09 PM on December 11, 2011


It's going to be difficult for us to tell you what you're qualified for without knowing what your skills, experience and interests are. So:

- What do you do now in your job? What kind of firm is it and what's your role? What department are you in?
- What is your degree in?
- What kinda of jobs/internships/extracurriculars did you do as an undergrad?
- You do say you have some background in programming and web design - can you elaborate?

Would you be interested in an administrative-type job with a non-profit? SF/Berkeley are lousy with them and while the pay isn't spectacular (you can expect around 25-30k, depending on the organization and your qualifications as a recent grad), you would have a much more amenable organizational culture.
posted by lunasol at 5:12 PM on December 11, 2011


Thanks everyone for the answers so far! I like the suggestion to look at museum work and networking. I do volunteer at an arts organization, and while they don't have any openings, I will certainly email the people there I know best to see if they have any leads! And it's really nice just to hear everyone's perspective on the situation, as you can probably tell from my overly lengthy post, I often feel overwhelmed by this situation.

For the overloaded with requests part - yes, I should work on this. I've started a bit, and been met with a lot of pushback, as I am the most junior person in my department, am seen by some people as lazy (and honestly, I often am! this happens to me when I sort of hate what I'm doing).

here's a huge chance that you are also not cut out for office life, which is OK too :-)
Yeah, I'm starting to think this!


lunasol's questions -

- What do you do now in your job? What kind of firm is it and what's your role? What department are you in?
I don't want to go into much detail with this, I doubt anyone at my office is on MeFi, but it's a pretty specific industry, and I just want to be overly cautious. I know this limits what information you can give me. But I don't want to stay in this industry (it's totally unrelated to art, and I also find it particularly boring and depressing) so I hope that leaving out the industry won't be too limiting. I am in the most junior position in my department, which basically means I do everything that everyone else doesn't want to do, is too tedious for them to do, etc. My department also works with the sales department. So I make reports, maintain databases, make materials for the sales guys to show off, deal with the aftermath when the salesguys promise things we can't deliver, have to maintain contact with customers, and so on. Lots of using MS office, writing business emails, using CRM software, using some specialized software, stuff like that. I also do some general customer service / admin assistant type stuff (and had some temp jobs doing similar). As others have said, I would probably be okay, though not thrilled, to do similar work in a better environment.

- What is your degree in?
It's in fine art. I also took a lot of art history classes and lit classes - so I know how to write an academic paper, that's for sure.

- What kinda of jobs/internships/extracurriculars did you do as an undergrad?
I made some puppets and sets for clubs and my friends' theater productions, though I never worked in the "scene shop," where students had to be more adept with the woodshed equipment and sewing than I am. I had a couple internships at small museums, but they had nothing for me to do, I basically did data entry and busy work, stamping envelopes and sorting mail kind of stuff. I volunteered at a museum teaching kids art, which I hated. My job throughout college was a couple ongoing web design jobs, just maintaining sites and making seasonal / monthly designs. They were not very good, it was not very rigorous work, so I don't really have a portfolio in this. But I am confident in Photoshop and Dreamweaver, have used InDesign a bit for my own artwork and in some volunteering I've done, and I'm competent with Illustrator.

- You do say you have some background in programming and web design - can you elaborate?
In college I took some java classes, the last one I took was data structures. I did well in them and really enjoyed writing code. But I have about the equivalent knowledge of a freshman undergrad CS major. For web design, I talked about this a little bit above, basically I had a couple consistent clients who would do lovely things like pay me by the hour to learn to make custom Wordpress layouts they never used. I can hand-code HTML and CSS. I know a little PHP, not enough to write it from scratch, but enough to read it and manipulate it. I really don't have a portfolio in this, other than my website for my artwork, and a couple similar artists' websites I made for friends in college. I know that there can good money in this, but I feel that the level I'm at right now, I would have to put a lot of work and study into it and into seeking clients, and this is time and energy I want to spend developing my art portfolio and seeking art clients.

That's not to say I'm unwilling to put any effort into learning new skills to land me a job. If someone told me, take 2 semesters more of java or InDesign (or whathaveyou) and we will hire you, I would do that in a hot second. It's more the feeling that to be competitive in CS, I would need a degree in it - especially in the Bay Area, where it seems everyone I meet is a programmer with a prestigious CS degree! I would love to hear I'm mistaken about this :)

Whooo, sorry I got so wordy again y'all.
posted by fireflies at 5:45 PM on December 11, 2011


That's really helpful! Honestly, it sounds like you have really good experience and skills for someone just a year and a half out of school. I know you say that you're not sure if you want to stay in an office setting, but I do think that you could probably at least find another job in a better office setting. Let me know if you are interested in nonprofits and I can give you some more specific advice there.
posted by lunasol at 6:31 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sounds like the job is not for you. Find a new place that is a better cultural fit. It doesn't sound like you could do worse. Hint: if you believe in, or like, or can take pride or interest in the company's product, you will find it much easier.

Also - don't get too hung up on the training thing. The best places to work will expect you to learn as you go - work is not like school, where you get a syllabus in advance. The key is to find a place where people are supportive and realistic about challenges as you get up to speed.
posted by yarly at 6:35 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, please tell me about nonprofits!

Sorry, I know I'm kind of all over the place with this (I threw out a lot of questions there at the end of my OP), thanks for bearing with me.
posted by fireflies at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2011


It takes over my brain, which I don't like because I have no interest in this field. My job is usually done by someone with a degree in the field my company is in, but they hired me so they didn't have to pay me as much. Plus I wasn't trained properly, and no one has time to devote to training me, so I often only learn new tasks when there's a deadline to do them and everyone is frustrated that I haven't done it yet. Everyone in the department assigns me tasks, but they don't communicate and we don't have meetings, so no one knows when I'm busy, or overwhelmed, or when my workload is light, or when I meet a tight deadline, or anything. My immediate supervisor is a nice guy, but he hates his job and basically only has to deal with me when I mess up, so I only hear from him when he's frustrated that he was interrupted to deal with me.

You know how you were required to take classes in college in subjects that weren't your field because they were supposed to teach you context and perspective and approaches to intellectual problem-solving? Same thing with a job -- the advanced specialized skills are not really THAT extensive for most employees, once you get past the vocabulary and some general big-picture context. As for your coworkers, look into techniques for "managing up."
posted by desuetude at 9:59 PM on December 11, 2011


Have you considered working in an administrative or technical-type job at a University/College?

The pay will no doubt be less than the corporate world, but the benefits might be considerably better. The culture will likely be more in line with yours.

You might even be able to continue your arts schooling through reduced-cost or free continuing education courses offered by your employer.
posted by not.so.hip at 9:30 AM on December 12, 2011


It can take a very long time to make it as an artist, and even when you do you may not make enough money to live on. For that reason it seems worth investing some time and effort into finding a day job that you can deal with.

Lots of artists do tangential art work (like graphic design, commercial photography or art, website design, working at museums, working at galleries) and that's one direction you could go in. I know nothing about what you need to do to be employed in web design, but that's one thing to investigate with your nascent skills.

Your second option is a 9-5 in a better environment. You have a lot of administrative skills from this office job, so taking it to a university or non-profit might be the perfect non-stressful day job for you. I'd look for a real 9-5 environment where your co-workers seem more like your type of person. Co-workers really determine a lot of happiness.

I wouldn't bother with learning how to manage up in this environment if it's not the environment you want to be in. Use your energy to find something that's a better fit.
posted by rainydayfilms at 11:48 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh - could you talk to any artists who are much older than you (40+) and are working on their art but maybe not making a living solely from fine art? I think that would be a great source for ideas about dos and don'ts for day jobs while pursuing an art career. Maybe ask them what they wish they had done at your age.
posted by rainydayfilms at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2011


Seeing this a little late, but I agree with others who are suggesting you should take your art skills and start applying them to different contexts, particularly in a freelance role. You say your job is tolerable, so tolerate it, but in the other ~6 waking hours you have think about all the potential people or companies that have money and could possibly need your skills. You already have experience acquiring clients, so that's great. Don't let your relative lack of skills or experience intimidate you from seeking clients. Focus on what you can do well, and apply it to a market (that is, crucially, potential clients who have money) and start pitching them. Also, you don't have to burn yourself out acquiring new skills, but perhaps you could take an occasional course at a community college that will help build on your skills, whether in a design context, branding, or something else that will be complimentary to your art skills.

The way this economy is going, long-term, permanent positions of any kind, but especially highly coveted in-house design or art related jobs are going to be extremely difficult to find, especially relatively right out of college. Not to say you should stop looking for them, but if you can create your own streams of income, and become self-reliant, you may get to a place where your day job could simply be working at a gallery part-time and spending the rest of your time utilizing your art skills in various freelance contexts, which should still leave considerably more time for your "real" art work than working a full-time corporate job that drains you. Just a thought.
posted by the foreground at 2:35 PM on December 14, 2011


thanks everyone, this has been really encouraging! I'm thinking about all of these comments. in the meantime I've been applying to other jobs, including at nonprofits and colleges. we'll see how it goes!
posted by fireflies at 6:41 AM on December 15, 2011


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