career options for artists

Career Options for Creative Professionals

Finding a Job

The average American getting out of college today can expect to have five careers during his or her lifetime.

A study of Harvard students, 10 years after graduation, shows that those who had specific goals made salaries three percent more money in their lifetime that of the average Harvard graduate. Those with written goals made ten percent more than the average.

Rarely do artists make a living exclusively from sales of their work, even if they become fairly well known artists. Many artists hold down a number of jobs in their life. The key is to find a job that allows you to keep making your work and that is satisfying or at least challenging.

Many professional artists also moonlight as preparators, craftsmen, curators, professors, and graphic designers to name a few. Some artists may pursue a career path that runs parallel to their art practice and take on such positions as engineers, construction workers, architects, and doctors. Even the GYST artists that contributed to this artist manual are editors, designers, and business entrepreneurs.

Many cities have an arts list-serv, such as Yahoo Groups. In Los Angeles it is Los Angeles Culture Net (LACN), a Yahoo users’ group. Most job announcements and opportunities for artists are listed here. Finding a list-serv in your own city may help you stay informed about what is going on in the arts in your city.

Employment Status Definitions 


If you can find full-time work that you enjoy and still have time and energy to devote to your art practice, then go for it. A full-time job is generally 40 hours a week. Working full-time gives you better job security and a steady income, and sometimes health and retirement benefits. Some full-time jobs are paid by the hour and others are salary-based. The trick is to have enough time and energy to continue making your artwork.


Part-time work is generally paid by the hour. It rarely includes health insurance and retirement benefits, but it is a good way to try jobs out to see if you like them. It gives you more flexibility for making your artwork, and can relieve boredom. Part-time teaching often becomes full-time. Consider a part-time job while you are interning at a company you love or while taking classes.


Working as a consultant or freelancer means more than handing out your business card and expecting a call. You are in business for yourself and need to understand what that entails. Reading the Self Employment and Business sections of this manual will help you get started.

The benefits of being self-employed are choosing your own hours, being able to say no to a client, taking expenses off on your taxes and setting your own rates. You get to choose your own health plan if you can afford it, and you determine where your business goes.

The disadvantages are not knowing how to run a business, paying for your own mistakes, and bearing sole responsibility for job security. There is a lot more paperwork; for example, you need to pay your own social security and benefits.

Temp Agencies

Temp agencies (temporary work) want experienced people for most jobs and will usually test your skill set. Temp agencies vary widely in terms of pay, but joining one may be a great way to get experience and network. Look for a temporary agency in your city, and ask around to see if anyone else you know has experience working for these companies.


Many companies and organizations offer internships, which provide experience and training in exchange for work. A few will also offer an hourly wage. On average, an internship lasts for one to six months. Before you start, get a job description in writing, along with the number of hours per week, the length of the internship, and the skills you will learn. Some internships just use you for busy work, but a good internship can lead to great connections and sometimes full-time employment. A successful internship is one founded with mutual benefits and responsibilities.  You will be offering your services to them and in turn they will share resources, trade skills, and help you forge professional relationships. No matter how prestigious of an establishment, do not intern for any company or organization that is simply interested in using you for free labor.

Informational Interviews 

One of the best ways to find out about a particular industry or company is to do interviews with current employees who work in that industry. Finding a person to interview might be as easy as asking a relative or someone you know who works in the field. If all else fails, you can write to the company and request an informal interview with someone who works there, perhaps a department head. If you send a letter, include your résumé, and any other helpful materials you may have. 

This interview is a way to get information, not necessarily a job. Use the interview to clarify your goals and learn things about the company or positions they offer that may not be advertised. Many jobs are found by word of mouth, so take the opportunity to get the inside scoop. Asking for information is a great way to get support if they like you. They just might recommend that you apply for a position. 

This is also a good way to practice your interview skills, so you know what kinds of questions to ask at a formal interview. Doing research ahead of time is crucial, as you want to be knowledgeable about the industry or career you are discussing. Asking someone to chat with you is taking time out of his or her day, so treat him or her with respect. Dress appropriately, and keep it short. Be sure to send a thank you note to the person you interview.

Your Goals

There are six main goals of informational interviews:       

 Establish rapport with the interviewers. Get to know them personally.          

Get advice on your job search, particularly on improving your approach and your presentation.         

Let them know who you are. Be genuine and interested.

Find out about your job market. Ask about latest developments, publications to read, andprofessional    groups you should investigate.

Get referrals. If you have not received names by an interview’s end, it is appropriate to ask for them.         

Be remembered favorably. Before leaving, tell an interviewer that you would appreciate being kept in        mind if she/he hears of anything that would be a suitable fit for you.

Some Questions You Might Ask 

Prepare a list of questions for your informational interview.  Here are some sample questions:

On a typical day in your position, what do you do?

What training or education is required for this type of work?

What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?

What part of this job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?

How did you get your job?

What opportunities for advancement are there in this field?

What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible about this job?

What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field?

How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?

Is there a demand for people in this occupation?

What special advice would you give a person entering this field?

What types of training do companies offer persons entering this field?

Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?

From your perspective, what are the problems you encounter when working in this field?

If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you     change?

What do you think of my training and experience in terms of entering this field?

 With the information you have about my education, skills, and experience, what other fields or jobs         would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?

What do you think of my résumé? Do you have any suggestions for improving it?

Who should I talk to next? May I use your name when I contact them?

Getting To The Interview 

Before the interview, do the following:

Examine your likes and dislikes in previous work and learning situations—what kinds of projects have         inspired you?           

Determine your careers goals—what jobs do you want? In what industry?

Make an exhaustive list of your strengths, abilities, and past experience that supports those career goals.

Determine your preferred employment status—full-time, part-time, independent contractor.         

Research the companies that you would like to work for.       

Write a thorough, readable résumé, which clearly defines your abilities and experience.     

Write a brief, sincere, informative cover letter that explains why you want to work for this particular         company and how you will benefit it.            

Send your cover letter, résumé, and work samples (if available or necessary) to target consenting         employers.  

Phone Calls

When on the phone with a prospective employer, let the other person do most of the talking. A phone interview should establish your communication skills, not be an opportunity to tell the interviewer your entire career history.

Although it may seem strange at first, remember to smile even while you are conducting a phone interview. This will help you sound positive, likable, and honest.  

When taking a call from a prospective company or a recruiter, do so when you are ready and comfortable. If a call comes at a bad time, say so and reschedule. 

Preparing For The Interview

The employment interview is one of the most important steps in your career/job hunt, because the 30-minutes-to-one-hour spent with the interviewer may determine the entire future course of your life.

Interviewers are continually amazed at the number of candidates who come to job interviews without any apparent preparation and only the vaguest idea of what they are going to say. Other candidates create an impression of indifference by acting too casual. At the other extreme, a few candidates work themselves into such a state of mind that they seem to be in the last stages of nervous fright.

These marks of inexperience can be avoided by knowing what is expected of you and by making a few simple preparations before the interview. Be prepared, but be yourself!  

A job interview is the last opportunity to explain and sell yourself personally to a prospective employer. She/he read your cover letter, reviewed your résumé, and called you in. The employer wants to know more about you than what the papers in front of him or her have already revealed. If you get the job, the employer has to work with you; therefore, the employer is looking for someone who she/he likes and trusts.  

Know the exact place and time of the interview, the interviewer’s full name and correct pronunciation, and the interviewer’s title.             

Do your research. It is helpful to know the age of the company, what products or services it supplies, where its plants, offices, or stores are located, what its growth has been, and what its future growth potential is. There are a number of publications that provide information about prospective employers. Most of them can be found in any college or public library. A brokerage office or your bank may also be able to supply you with pertinent information about companies.

Prepare the questions you will ask during the interview. Remember that an interview is a “two-way street.” The employer will try to determine through questioning if you have the qualifications necessary to do the job. You must determine through questioning, whether the company will give you the opportunity for the growth and development you seek.

Some probing questions you might ask:

Can you provide a detailed description of the position?

What is the reason the position is available?

Is there a new recruit/employment orientation and training program? Do you get paid during the training?

Are advanced training programs available for those who demonstrate outstanding ability?

Are there clear steps for advancement within the company?

What are the company’s growth plans?

What is the next step in the hiring process?

Dos and Donts

You are being interviewed because the employer wants to hire people, not because she/he wants to trip you up or embarrass you. Through the interaction which will take place during the interview the employer will be searching out your strong and weak points, evaluating your qualifications, skills and intellectual qualities, and will probably probe to determine your greatest value.

Creative professionals can enjoy a more diverse dress style than some other professions; however, you must dress appropriately. Even if all of the employees at the prospective company wear jeans and a t-shirt, this doesn’t mean you should for the interview. Let your potential employer know you are taking this interview seriously. There is plenty of time to throw on that t-shirt when you get the job. If everyone else wears suits, you can expect they will look for the same in prospective employees. Remember, it is usually better to overdress a bit than to be under dressed. It might seem a bit forward on your part but some companies do not mind if you ask what the appropriate attire should be for the interview process.

Drive by the interview site if you have not met people at the job or seen the operation. See how people going in and out of the building dress and what the atmosphere is like. Visiting the site will also ensure that you know how to get there.

DO arrive on time or a few minutes early. Late arrival for a job interview is inexcusable and usually guarantees your unemployment.  

Similarly, DO NOT arrive too early, this just inconveniences your potential employer and could set a negative tone before your interview has even begun. 

If the employer presents you with an application to complete, DO fill it out neatly and completely. Have all of your employment history and details on hand in case of this request.

DO NOT rely solely on your application or résumé to sell you. Most employers will want you to speak for yourself and express your personality.           

DO greet the employer by his or her surname if you are sure of the pronunciation. If you are not, ask her/him to repeat his or her name.

DO give the appearance of energy as you walk. Smile! Shake the interviewer’s hand firmly. Be genuinely glad to meet your potential employer.            

DO wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. Sit upright in your chair. Look alert and interested at all times. Be a good listener as well as a good talker.            

 DO NOT smoke even if the interviewer smokes and offers you a cigarette. DO NOT chew gum. 

DO look a prospective employer in the eye.   

DO NOT give into nervous habits such as a shaking knee, fidgety hands, nail biting, or the always annoying urge to say “um” in between words.  A silent pause to collect your thoughts is far more bearable  than having to decipher disjointed gibberish.     

DO follow the interviewer’s leads, but also get him or her to describe the position and the duties to you early on in the interview so that you can relate your background, skills, and accomplishments to the position.

DO NOT interrupt or finish questions for the interviewer.  This is not only rude but sends a signal to a potential employer that you are not a good listener.

DO NOT answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no.” Explain briefly, but in complete sentences. Tell things about yourself that relate to the situation.

DO make sure that your good points get across to the interviewer in a factual, logical, and sincere manner. Stress your achievements; for example, projects completed, processes developed, systems installed, etc. 

DO NOT lie. Answer questions truthfully and frankly, and be as “to the point” as possible.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply say so and let them know you can get back to them regarding an answer if they require it.           

DO NOT make derogatory remarks about your present or former employers or companies.  This sends a signal that you might be difficult to work with in a professional manner.      

DO NOT “over answer” questions. The interviewer may steer the conversation into politics or economics. Since this can lead to a tricky situation, it is best to answer these questions honestly but briefly.  However, it is always important to avoid overly personal inquiries, especially regarding religion,  sexual topics, and political affiliations. It’s perfectly acceptable to respond to an inappropriate question with a response, such as “I do not feel comfortable answering that question.”

DO NOT be defensive, or say any more than is necessary. Once you go on the defensive, it’s hard to return to a substantive interview.            

DO NOT inquire about salary, vacations, bonuses, or retirement benefits during the initial interview UNLESS you are positive the employer is interested in hiring you. If the interviewer asks what salary you want, indicate what you have earned but that you are more interested in opportunity than in a specific salary amount at the present.

DO always conduct yourself as if you are determined to get the job you are discussing, even if you have reservations. Seem interested. Never close the door on an opportunity. It is better to be in a position where you can choose from a number of positions, rather than only one.

DO have questions for the interviewer. Many potential employers give you an opportunity to ask them any questions you may have about the position and the company. Show that you can be engaging and have some thoughtful questions in mind.  

DO follow up the interview with a sincere Thank You note. This can either be via snail mail or email.  This courteous gesture presents your appreciation for their time and the opportunity to attend the interview. It also shows that you are considerate of others, which is a desirable trait of any future employee.

Be Prepared To Answer Questions

Why did you choose this particular vocation?        

Why do you think you might like to work for our company?

Why should we hire you?          

What do you know about our company?         

What qualifications do you have that make you feel that you will be successful in your field?       

What do you think determines a person’s progress in a good company?

Can you get recommendations from previous employers? May we contact your previous employers?           

Can you take instruction or constructive criticism without getting upset?         

What is your major weakness? What are your major strengths?           

What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work?          

Are you willing to relocate?         

How do you spend your spare time? What are your hobbies?

What job within our company do you want to advance toward? 

What jobs have you enjoyed the most? The least? Why?

What special skills and abilities do you have?

What types of people rub you the wrong way?          

How do you define cooperation?

Do you work better alone or as part of a team?

As an employee, have you increased a company’s profits or improved its bottom line?  How?

Negative Factors Evaluated By An Employer

During the course of the interview, the employer will be evaluating your negative, as well as your positive, factors. Listed below are the negative factors that most often lead to the rejection of the candidate:

Poor personal appearance. Poor hygiene.       

Overbearing, overaggressive, conceited, “know-it-all.”

Inability to express thoughts clearly, or using poor diction and grammar.

Lack of career planning, purpose, or goals.

Lack of interest and enthusiasm: passive and indifferent.

Lack of confidence and poise: nervousness.

Overemphasis on money: interested only in the best dollar offer.

Evasiveness and making excuses for unfavorable factors in record.

Lack of tact, maturity, or courtesy.

Condemnation of past employers.

Failure to look potential employer in the eye.

Weak, reluctant handshake.

Lack of appreciation of the value of experience.

Failure to ask questions about the job or company.

Persistent, “What can you do for me?” attitude.

Lack of preparation for the interview.

Things to Keep in Mind (an overview)

There are many fatal mistakes that a candidate can make during an interview. Many Human Resources Managers, Department Managers, Vice Presidents, and Presidents have talked about the pitfalls of candidates that look good on paper, but in person lack the skills needed to secure a job opportunity. Here are just a few tips on interviewing that may help you:

Arrogance, righteousness, and the inability to listen will certainly eliminate your chances of receiving an offer.    

Be concise in your conversation and in answering questions. Many candidates talk themselves out of a job by talking too long and get into trouble by being contrary. Limit each response to 60 seconds or less.

Others are rejected in the interview because they lack enthusiasm and energy. DO NOT put your listener to sleep!         

Show interest, but DO NOT oversell yourself. If you oversell yourself it may come back to you on the job.         

Your job is not only to sell yourself to the interviewer but also to find out if the job is a good fit for you. You do not want to accept something that is going to be counterproductive or not good for your career.          

Prepare for the interview. Be well groomed and neat. Most importantly, know something about the company, its culture, and its competitors. Ask about the needs of the company.       

Have good questions about the job. Ask about the future of the company. Ask the interviewer what kind of person she/he is looking for. Then be quiet and LISTEN!         

DO a self-assessment. Be prepared. Be positive, and do not put down your previous or present employer.     

Be aware of the interest level of the interviewer and be sure to ask for his or her card.         

Thank the interviewer for his or her time. Close by asking, “What will be the next step?”

Arts-Related Jobs

There are many jobs available for fine artists. Working for a gallery, nonprofit arts organization, or museum may require knowledge of art history, art restoration, exhibit design, selling, management skills, budget planning, writing skills, people skills, database management, precise organization, and other specialized knowledge. These skills can be learned through non-art-related jobs and then applied to the needs of an arts organization. Remember that there will always be a learning curve when working for any arts organization—each has a unique arts focus, client base, donor base, and office dynamic.

There are many arts-related jobs, including:

Museum/gallery personnel

Arts administrator

Teacher or professor

Art restoration

Lab or shop technician

Slide librarian/photographer

Office staff

Art librarian


Artist assistant

Writer for hire


Web designer

Graphic/commercial artist

Interior design

Design fabrication

Commercial photographer

Computer/video work

Decorative murals


Cake decorator


Art photographer

Art store employee

Entertainment industry work (fabrication, set design, etc.)

Editor (all media)

Art journal publisher

Landscape design


Through volunteerism, internships, and work-study programs, you can build your résumé and train in an art-related job. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I have computer and software skills?

What about imaging software (Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, scanning, layout programs, etc)?

Do I have graphic arts experience?

Do I have experience working with prints and/or printers?

Do I have any language skills, or marketing experience?

Am I good with people (the public), or am I a “back room” kind of person?

What kind of salary or hourly wage and number of hours per week do I need to cover living and studio         expenses?

Do I need health insurance benefits or a retirement plan? Can I do without it?

Do I need to work for someone else, or do I have the skills and drive to be self-employed?

Do I need flexible working hours in order to do my own work, or can I work a 9-to-5 job?

Am I an indoors person or an outdoors person?

What kind of job would be good for me to learn new skills that will support my art practice?

Look for job listings online, in print publications, list-servs, and at your local university or college. LinkedIn or other sites are good for this. Contact personnel offices at companies that pique your interest. Ask all your friends, your current or former teachers, and other artists, professionals, and people who have a high regard for you if they know of any jobs that might be up your alley. 

If you just can’t stand the idea of working for someone else, or settling for a job that does not fit you, consider starting your own business. The world could use some additional artist-run businesses!


Feel free to share this article with other artists.

You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.