Life after art school
February 28, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Hey art school grads, what industry did you end up in?

I've been trying to figure out what my career should be, I'm currently pursing a few options. Getting my masters so that i can teach, or going back to school for a web design program. But to be honest i'm a little nervous that either of these things could lead to dead ends.

So i'm curious as to what kind of careers other people with a similar background ended up in and how did you get there? Are you happy with where you ended up?
posted by Fluff to Work & Money (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Define "art school grad". What did you major in? I ask because there's a lots of branches in art school, from fine to technical, so your question seems a bit broad and vague, you know?

I went to school for Sequential Art (comic books), but work in publishing doing design and production for advertising and newspapers, but that doesn't surprised me. Was doing design, to pay the bills, before I went back to school for SA, which I regarded more as a fine arts degree than a commercial arts i.e. I had zero interest in drawing Superman or X-men comics, but like playing around the medium and its potential.

I'm happy not because of the job I have (though I do enjoy it to "shameful" degree) or the industry I work in (Publishing, with an alternative, indie angle to it), but because of how I've lived my life, warts and all. There are things that I could have done better or different, yes, but fretting about them or whether the direction I'm going in will make me happy seems pointless.

I'm happy because I choose to happy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:50 AM on February 28, 2011

Lead IT and information security engineer at a major financial institution.

Yes, really.

No, I have no idea how I wound up here, either. I think it's because I spent too much time arguing on the internet.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:57 AM on February 28, 2011

Artist, teaching workshops, showing, curating. Lengthy detour in software industry before going back to full time art ~15 years ago.
posted by leslies at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2011

I majored in illustration.

I do print production/layout/design for a medical organization. Specifically, its scientific journal & its bi-monthly newspaper.
posted by Windigo at 9:02 AM on February 28, 2011

I'm not an art major (far from it) but my husband was, in graphic design. When we first got married right after college, he worked a very low-level job for about a year in an unrelated field to pay the bills and insurance and snagged himself a job part-time three evenings a week on top of that working at a regional daily/weekly local newspaper and webpaper as a graphic designer. I think it gave him a solid experience working under tight deadlines and working with clients, as well as solidifying his reputation as a hard worker. Many of his peers that graduated with him did the same thing as he did but didn't work quite as hard at being a dedicated employee as they did at trying to express their unique artistic talents as an artiste, and they haven't fared very well trying to get jobs in their field. After a while of 70 hour work-weeks and doing grunt work ad design and paper layouts, he started doing some freebies and low-cost freelance work for friends and one of those friends showed it to his friend, a co-owner of a smallish ad agency in Boston. He worked as a junior designer there for a few years and has since moved up to also work as their interactive project manager. He very much enjoys his job and is good at it. He always says that 90% of what got him an actual job in the art field was being flexible about what the higher-ups ask you to do (be open to learning and new opportunities) and not having an "artist's complex" that keeps you from doing daily grind stuff that may not seem all that creative or artistic at the time. He started small and worked his way up. It wasn't easy, but I think he's in a good spot right now and he feels like the work he does is pretty fulfilling and interesting.
posted by takoukla at 9:03 AM on February 28, 2011

BFA in Theatre Design and Technology, although I spent two of my college years as a Sculpture/Installation/Site-Based art major before I switched gears. I spent some time working in professional theater but am now a graphic designer and non-profit generalist. I love doing good for the world -- and there is quite of bit of being creative and artsy on a day-to-day basis.

To work full-time at a smaller professional theatre required that I do more than just build sets and sew costumes, so I learned to balance the box office books, keep customers happy, write grant proposals, beg people for money, and generally be able to adapt to whatever needs we had. My graphic design skills from my days in art school were put to good use and I do a lot of work for print -- I still freelance for a lot of theaters despite moving to a different realm of the non profit world.

Of course, that being said, I'm also going back to school for a degree in Geology. I sit behind a desk too much in my current career.
posted by danielle the bee at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2011

I went to an art college and fapped around in the general studies program (life drawing, jewellry, sculpture, East Indian dance) before falling into a summer job drawing backgrounds for animation. I've pretty much stayed in that field for 25 years.

I needed a part-time job during the school year and started working at the school supply shop. If a friend of a friend (who worked at the studio) hadn't seen the signs I used to doodle in my spare time, I don't know what I'd be doing now.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:11 AM on February 28, 2011

I graduated from art school in 2002 with a degree in animation, but did a lot of painting, drawing, and sculpture as well. The first year out of school was the worst. I had a hard time finding work but submitted a film that I had made to a lot of film festivals. At festivals, I won a lot of free film and a bunch of $200 "second prize for student animation" awards. I sold the film and used the prize money to pay rent.

The film festival awards gave me a good resume, and I was able to work as a teaching artist for a bunch of non-profits. Through the non profits, I got involved in making videos and doing graphic design. I now make patient education materials for a large public hospital. It sounds boring, but I love it.

Most of my friends from art school have gone into illustration, film/video work, or graphic/web design. I have one friend who makes props for game shows. Just about everyone I knew at art school graduated broke and confused. They are all happy with and employed now.

Here my advice:

-Make something interesting that you can show off on the internet or in real life

-If there is a non-profit organization that does something that you like, start making excuses to show up at their office. Older people are very impressed by young people who can use technology creatively. They will eventually hire you to do something - especially if they need to use up grant money at the end of their fiscal year.

-Keep in touch with friends from art school. They might know of jobs for you. Once you have a decent job, it is much easier to figure out what you want to do next.

posted by abirae at 9:40 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Via a philosophy degree I ended up doing web design, and now I'm part owner of a technology startup where I'm the CTO.
posted by fatbird at 9:44 AM on February 28, 2011

Thanks for the reply's guys! keep em coming!

I went to school for printmaking, i've done plenty of work for my art practice designing things digitally, and doing screen prints. But so far i haven't been able to rise up out of the muck of retail jobs.

I really appreciate these responses, I'm already feeling better about my situation!!
posted by Fluff at 10:20 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

BA in film school, MFA in "Electronic Arts" (no, really). Now I'm a freelance front-end web developer.

Fellow students that I've kept in touch with wound up as art school professors (x2), a commercial film editor, theater techs (x2), a variety of web-related designers and coders (x3), an internet-famous researcher and pundit*, and a donkey farmer.

* technically MeFi's Own though I haven't seen him around here in a while
posted by ook at 10:23 AM on February 28, 2011

I have five friends with art degrees: 2 art teachers, 1 unemployed, 1 a dishwasher at a bar and 1 working at a coffee shop.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:36 AM on February 28, 2011

Industries/jobs my art school (MFA) friends ended up in:

Teaching - college & private school
Plastics - rapid prototyping
Hollywood - editing, CGI, production...
Clothing Design
Gallery Owner/ Art Dealer
Corporate Web Design
Small Business Owner - toys
Fine Artist
Art Mover
Non working rich kid
University Admin
posted by R. Mutt at 10:41 AM on February 28, 2011

To be clear, my philosophy degree was what I did after a BFA in printmaking, so I do qualify for the terms of the OP.

Fluff, where are you located? Depending on where you are, there seems to be more active communities for artists making at least a scratch living making art.
posted by fatbird at 11:39 AM on February 28, 2011

BFAs in painting and metalsmithing. I'm a landlord; I restore, repair and sell jewelry; and I draw things.
posted by cmoj at 11:46 AM on February 28, 2011

I didn't go to a dedicated art school, but I did go to a school with a pretty defined art program. I majored in animation and illustration (dual emphasis BFA) and now I work in story at a large studio (children's animation).

I'm very happy with where I am right now...I'm making a fairly nice living, and I get to draw all day. My path to getting here totally reinforces that old saying that "it's who you know." I got this job because I interned at the studio first and got to know a higher up during my internship. Getting an art job where I work usually requires an application>test>interview. With the help of this person, I was able to bypass the initial application weed-out. I had applied to many many different jobs (at different studios, as well) before, it is a process.

I do feel lucky that I got the job pretty quickly after I graduated. A lot of my friends are still trying to land an art job, though there are also quite a few that "made it" into studios/the industry. I have no idea what the job outlook is like when it comes to printmaking...but people always say animation is hard to break into, and there ARE jobs here. I'm sure that's the same for your chosen field. It might just take a little more time, a little more luck, a few more connections. Yay for art majors!
posted by sprezzy at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2011


I live in Toronto, and yeah there are some people around that make a living on art and there are some pretty good residencies and grants around. But for the moment i'm most concerned with getting into some sort of solid day job. It's kind of scary when your 25 and you've never actually worked a real job, you know?
posted by Fluff at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2011

Unemployed/ temporary industrial worker. A committed artist should never consider themselves unemployed, because the downtime from regular employment should be considered opportunity to dedicate time to pursue their art interests, but I've always had a hard time making that leap. My initial career interest was illustration or what we called in the early 80's 'commercial art', but I ended up in a university fine arts program that didn't teach me much in basic skills. I came out regretting my choice, and not very resilient. Now I'm envious of the animators whose blogs I visit. So many of them know how to really draw, have such a strong grasp of the basic skills. Sometimes I think of trying to find some support/ concept work in animation, just to have a chance to work in a fun creative environment. I believe those jobs exist here in Toronto, but I'm probably too old for them now, and I feel weak on many of the fundamentals.
posted by TimTypeZed at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

graphic design degree, now a graphic designer. i graduated in '01—the last recession and everyone but one person in my class ended up freelancing. except for about a year or so in-house, i have been successfully freelancing since then.

incidentally, i have a friend who graduated with a graphics degree as well several years ago. he does a mix of design, production design (which he actually prefers), and a lot of printmaking for clients.
posted by violetk at 2:23 PM on February 28, 2011

Bachelor of Fine Arts, working as a bookkeeper for a legal accounting firm. I never had any intention of making a living as an artist though and really enjoy my job. Before this I managed a restaurant and taught english overseas.

Mind you, a guy who went to the same high school for gifted art students as me won an Oscar last night.
posted by Wantok at 2:43 PM on February 28, 2011

I am in similar place, sort of. I don't want to be discouraging but I don't want to sugar coat my experiance either.

I graduated in 2007 (hello, recession!) with a BFA in photo from a private, 4 year fine art school. In the 4 years (yikes.) since I graduated, I've bounced around in a handful of photo-related jobs (portrait retouching, photo lab, photo novelty crap) that I have found to be pretty underwhelming, unsatisfying with not good pay, which is where I am now.

I still make my own work and am always on the lookout for places to show/sell it but I have become less committed to the idea of making money on or from my photographs. I've never made them for other people to look at, though it is nice when they do and even better if they're interested in purchasing them. Ideally, I'd love to get some gallery representation and perhaps publish a book.

However, I am looking into doing an apprenticeship in a skilled trade. I want job training, something I didn't get when I was in school. What I want, more than anything, is to be financially stable, own a home and carve out a niche for myself in the world. Currently, with what I do, I can't do any of those things. While I think/know it is possible to do so with one's own work, I'd rather work a job that can pay my bills, afford the lifestyle I want and let me have time to do my own stuff.

Would I change my experience? No, no I wouldn't. Art school helped me figure out a whole lot of stuff and I wouldn't be the same person without it. It was invaluable. I figured out that I really, really care about photography as medium and as an art and that my life is better when I am looking around and thinking about pictures.

I'm going to be watching this discussion pretty closely, though. It's encouraging to see that other people make a living with their work.
posted by godshomemovies at 2:48 PM on February 28, 2011

I got a BFA in graphic design from Florida State University back in '06. Florida State is not a school known for their arts programs, and the design classes I took were lacking, to put it politely. By the time I graduated I was so frustrated and sick of 'art' that I didn't want to do anything even remotely related to the field I'd studied. I ended up working construction for a friend's dad for a couple of months, then got a job as an oceanographic technician which I worked for most of the next year (I got that job because I'm a certified scuba diver, know how to drive boats, and am pretty handy with tools).

After a while I got sick of all the traveling I was doing, and sick of diving in murky swamps, so I started scanning the ads for art jobs in the town I was living in. I went on interviews for a couple of jobs, none of which I got. At one of these interviews, a position in the production studio of a relatively large advertising agency, I really hit it off with the head of production. Though I didn't get that particular job, I kept in touch with her while continuing to work the oceanography gig. After a few months, a freelance gig popped up at the agency, and the production head emailed me to let me know. I interviewed and got it. I went at that job like a frikkin' lunatic, and the creative director noticed my hard work, so he offered me a position. I worked like a mad man trying to get up to speed at that place; it was my first advertising job, and I was WAY behind on both the technological and procedural curve of the industry. After a year and a half of keeping my nose very firmly against the grindstone, I was more or less up to speed on what was expected of me, so I quit and moved to a larger market (San Francisco).

Strangely, when I got to San Francisco I fell into a similar sort of situation. I had moved here without first trying to find a job (dumb), so I had to hit the ground running. As luck would have it, a buddy of mine was the main builder on a high-profile boat building project (link), and he offered me a job building with him while he was on the project. I spent my first 8 months or so in San Francisco building a boat and doing the odd freelance job when I could. Ultimately, my buddy left that project and one of the freelance projects I was on picked me up full time. I'm still at that particular job - production art/design - and I enjoy it very much.

The thing I take away from all that is this - if you are willing to do what you can while you keep your ear to the ground for something better, you'll be OK. If you work like hell once that better thing comes along, you'll be OK. And if you have some idea of what it is you'd ultimately like to do, you'l be better at the outset. After all, you can't chart a course if you have no destination, right?

Anyway, sorry that's so long. Good luck.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:02 PM on February 28, 2011

Freinds who graduated from art school:

Graphic Designer and Developer
Set Design for TV shows
Financially Successful Painter
High-end Kitchenware designer
Indie Rocker
Web Designer
Etsy Store Owner
Tech Start Up Entrpreneur
University Admin
posted by Jagz-Mario at 3:28 PM on February 28, 2011

BA in studio art from a fine public university. was first an english teacher (also majored in english lit at said institution), an art gallery director, a graphic designer, then a graphic artist -> lead artist -> art director.

i had to work hard and go through intense periods of self doubt (I'LL NEVER BE A REAL ARTIST!etc) but i'm very happy where i ended up. just work hard, improve your skills, and keep going.
posted by raw sugar at 5:38 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did a bachelor of fine arts, now i'm a librarian. I find the work engaging but it doesn't suck the life out of me, so I can still come home and work, and it pays well enough that I can get by on part time hours (in regional Australia). Having access to so many resources has been excellent for my practice after leaving art school, and has also put me in touch with my local artistic community (which is something i really missed after finishing my degree).
I got into libraries via a circ position straight after uni, and then moved out of the city to run a small branch in the country. I'm doing a masters in information studies part time as an external student, but to be honest, I don't actually need it to do my job (which may be a quirk of geography, as I would never be able to run a branch in the city without a library degree). I've had a lot of different jobs over the years, and this is the first one I can say I've consistently enjoyed, which is really important - working in retail was such a drain that it was so hard to come home and do my own work afterwards.
posted by sleep_walker at 7:44 PM on February 28, 2011

These are great thanks so much you guys!
posted by Fluff at 11:04 PM on February 28, 2011

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