Artists are all too used to being asked how they plan on making money, because it seems
to be assumed that going into the arts is an automatic sentence to life as a starving artist. With
today’s technology, however, it is easier than ever to make a living in the field of art and design.
Websites like Society6 and Redbubble allow artists to sell and market their artwork with ease.
The art and design field contains so many diverse careers, yet this stereotype of the starving artist
still permeates every artist’s life.
“I think a lot of it has to do with how the United States values artists. They really don’t.
They take it out of the schools when there’s a budget cut and there’s not a lot of artist grants in
this country compared to other countries,” says Shauna Frischkorn, a photography professor at
Jeri Robinson, another Millersville University art professor, heard these unsupportive
comments throughout her life. When she told her parents that she was going to school for
drawing and design, they were less than thrilled. Like most parents, they didn’t think she’d be
able to get a job in the field.
Line Bruntse, also an art professor at Millersville University, experienced this stereotype
early in her career as well. “I certainly had to struggle at times myself. In my drive to end up in
my dream career I cleaned, worked in an after school club, did artists’ residencies all over
Europe, worked a plethora of adjunct positions to finally have amassed enough experience to get
hired in a tenure track job,” Bruntse remembers.
Brunste is a legal immigrant from Denmark, which brought on extra struggles for the
aspiring artist. “I always faced the challenge of being in limbo always working on getting the
next visa so I could continue to live in this country. Life as a legal immigrant is stressful enough
as it is, always worrying if I would be turned away. I guess that makes my story one of living the
American dream as it used to be defined: Working hard and achieve your dream. Because of that
hard work, now I am a citizen, so I never have to fret over the next visa or green card renewal.”
The belief that it isn’t feasible to make a decent living as an artist is damaging to aspiring
artists. It deters students from wanting to major in art, according to Robinson. They are
intimidated by the cost of education without the guarantee of making that money back in the
future. Robinson urges her art students to take up an entrepreneurship minor and step outside
their comfort zone. She always classified herself as an introvert, until she realized she needed to
market herself in order to make money. Finding a niche is critical to making a living as an artist.
She recommends that every artist finds a hook that nearly no other artist can replicate. For
example, she knows artists who specialize in the art of neon lights or knitting llamas in unusual
situations. Once an artist finds their niche, they can market their specific skills through exhibits,
fairs, and websites.
Robinson found her own niche when she opened
her yarn business called “Flying Fibers.” Her business
provides raw materials for other artists in a sustainable
and biodegradable process. She’s always been intrigued
by color and touch when it came to her art, so she though yarn was the perfect material to create.
Over the course of nine years since her business has opened, Robinson accumulated over 20 rare
British sheep. She harvests their wool, spins it into yarn, dyes it, and then sells the yarn to other
artists at Flying Fibers’ brick and mortar location in Landisville.
When artists are able to market themselves, a whole world of career options open to
them. Shauna Frischkorn, a photography professor at Millersville University, says that it’s all
about each artist finding their own pathway. Art and crafting isn’t as clear cut as other
professions. This pathfinding teaches artists how to problem solve and do the best they can with
what they have.
Shauna Frischkorn, whose photography was recently
featured in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, also
makes her living through teaching. Many of her students also
take the educational path in the art field. Shauna has found that
this is often because of their parents who believe teaching art
is the most secure job in the field, and therefore encourage
their kids to go the safe track, even if the student isn’t
necessarily passionate about teaching.
Robinson suggests that young artists who are just starting up their brand work side jobs
that pay well but aren’t mentally exhausting. For example, Robinson would recommend working
at a place like Starbucks rather than sitting behind a desk at an office all day. That way, the artist
can make a living but still have the mental energy to produce their artwork after a day at work.
“I think that if your only goal as an artist is to make a living from your work, then it is
certainly very challenging,” Bruntse says. “You may have to revision how you see your artistic
practice and come up with something that is geared to public interest, even if it is not the artwork
that you dream of making a living from.” Essentially, artists need to decide if making money or
creating authentic art that pleases them is more important. They could make art that is pleasing to
the public but not necessarily what they are enthusiastic about.
To be a financially successful artist, Robinson believes you have to be a go getter. “If you
know you’re introverted and you never make that leap to the go getter side, you’re gonna have a
really hard time,” says Robinson. It is impossible for an artist to market themself properly
without being confident in their work and skills. Robinson knows past students with unique skill
sets who have contacted companies directly requesting for a job; they almost always get some
position in the company. If not, they at least got their foot in the door somewhere.
“If you are passionate, and you work hard throughout your training and beyond, you too
will find your way to lead a creative life anchored in your skills as an artist/designer. It does
require a flexible way if using your creativity, thinking outside the box, as well as initiative and
an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Bruntse. The notion of the starving artist is outdated and
stereotypical. As long as artists remain adaptable and innovative, there will always be a way for
them to make a living.