What's it like being an artist's assistant?
August 1, 2018 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing to be an assistant to an NYC-based artist. If you're familiar with artist assistant positions, can you share your thoughts with me? I don't necessarily want to be talked into or out of this job; I'm more looking for anecdotes and advice that will help me keep a cool head and make informed decisions during the interview process. Background and more specific questions inside!

Background: I finished a bachelor's degree in visual/contemporary art in June. This position was recommended to me and I to it by trusted advisors who are established artists in NYC. I love making, experiencing, and thinking about art very much, but I would also be happy to work in a production capacity in an artistic field. I applied to this job on the strength of my technical skills/thinking, so it shouldn't be in total conflict with my personal creative energy--and if it is, I'm OK with it as long as I find the work fulfilling. Even if I don't become a full-time artist myself, I believe that if we're a good fit this job has a lot of potential for artistic and professional growth. I would call the artist successful. I like what I've seen of their work, and align with them politically and philosophically. I would receive benefits (some degree of health insurance) and would get to travel with the artist.

I found the answers to this question helpful, and am hoping for more perspectives 10 years later. The questions I can think of:

- I'll be touring the studio soon, where I'll get to see the art in person, meet the team, and learn more about their process. What questions should I ask? What should I look out for/pay attention to?

- What's a reasonable salary for an artist assistant? Follow-up question: is this also a reasonable salary for NYC? I've seen NYC artist assistant postings offer $13 to $15 an hour. My salary range is higher than this, as I have certain technical skills, but any additional context would be helpful. (I'm in my late 20s and I have some student loans but otherwise relatively few expenses. I will have access to family support if necessary. I would plan on having roommates and living frugally, but would not like to suffer overmuch.)

- Anything else I should be considering? (If you do feel strongly for or against this job, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts!)

Thank you so much! I'm trying to be a little vague for my own comfort, so if you'd like more details please MeMail me and I would be both happy to share more and grateful for your conversation!
posted by brieche to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
(a) Have you lived in NYC, or comparable expensive big city (SF, London), before? Experience is the best teacher on budgeting. $15/hr., for example, yields a full-time annual salary of $31,200 (I understand you expect more than that, but it's a number to use for an example). I would find it strenuous living in NYC on that salary for any real length of time without significant outside support. But individual tolerances vary drastically. The reason I phrase it this way is that I think you will have difficulty budging the artist from what they consider in their mind a reasonable salary, so, while of course you should always negotiate, you should really establish in your mind, in advance, what you realistically need to live on, and don't allow yourself to be swayed into accepting less because it's Art. Starving for your own art is one thing; starving to make someone else's possible is quite another.

(b) If you are going to be paid on an hourly basis, make sure you have an explicit provision for how travel time is billed and how travel expenses are reimbursed. Also, do not permit vagueness in negotiations about benefits. At that low a salary range, every detail matters.
posted by praemunire at 9:09 AM on August 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I bought some artwork directly from the artist but first through the artist assistant. This person talked to me at length about each piece I looked at (period, style, medium, message) and did all price negotiating. After the sale I met the artist. It freed the artist to focus on art and not the practicalities of running the office and not feel tied to the world of money. This was not in the US so ymmv.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:18 AM on August 1, 2018

Thank you, praemunire, this is really good advice!!

a) I have not lived in an expensive city before except as a student.

b) I won't comment any more after this, but if anyone is open to it I would be grateful to hear personal opinions on hard numbers for baseline liveable salaries in NYC.
posted by brieche at 9:27 AM on August 1, 2018

Unless you have a very cheap housing situation, it will be rough getting by that pay. You are young, but it’s important to think about saving, paying down your loan, and god forbid taking the occasional vacation. Taxes are very high here so will take a much bigger bite from your check than you may be expecting.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:04 AM on August 1, 2018

Some things to look for while touring the studio:

1. What kinds of materials does the artist work in? Occasionally working in plastics, resins, fiberglass etc are fine if you are not doing it every day. If the materials are toxic, how is the ventilation in the studio? Is safety gear provided? You will need access to masks, eye protection, gloves, and tyvek if the studio work requires use of certain paints, casting materials, etc. Look to see if the people working there take safety seriously and wear appropriate gear and aren't doing dumb things like welding with no eye protection or spraying toxic solvents in an open studio in front of people who don't have masks on, etc.

I have worked in studios where the ventilation was poor, and the costs of safety gear were an issue and so weren't provided regularly. You absolutely cannot ignore that aspect of production work and will not be able to afford this stuff on your own. Your health is all you have!

2. What is the environmental temperature of the studio? Will you be required to work in an extremely hot studio in the summer and very cold in the winter? If so, you will suffer. A Lot.

3. What is the production cycle? If the artist is producing huge volumes of work have they hired enough people to cover it? Or are you worried that there will not be enough work to keep you on when things slow down? It's worth asking if the position is full time and if you can expect it to remain that way.

4. Does the artist rely on unpaid or underpaid interns for grunt jobs? If so, don't work there.

5. As a skilled fabricator you should be starting at the very least $20-25 an hour but should be making more depending on skill set. You should be offered time and half for overtime.

Feel free to mail me directly with any specific questions!
posted by catrae at 12:25 PM on August 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Update: I got the job and moved to NYC this weekend. :-) Thanks, everyone!
posted by brieche at 6:17 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older Where should we stay in eastern Sicily?   |   why no rotavirus vaccine for adults? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.