While things are generally looking on the up and up for our current art market, which has recently sparked upward out of a decline in 2017, competition remains a fierce element of the creative job market. The job market for professional artists isn’t projected to grow at any miraculous rate over the next four years, and only ten percent of all arts graduates end up making a living as a working artist. It’s easy to become discouraged looking at these statistic first-glance, but once you think critically about what entails a creative career in today’s economy, you’ll realize that the reality for a working artist is much more nuanced. It’s true– there are not that many full-time, 9 to 5 careers for artists. But most creatives make their living by freelancing, stringing together smaller gigs, or in other unconventional ways. Clearly, art is drawing more and more demand, and coupled with the growth of online platforms and sales, and this should mean that the amount of work for artists should follow suit. And it will– but our concept of what a working artist looks like will be vastly different from before.
Essentially, the way to take advantage of the booming online art market is to view an artistic career as entrepreneurial– we’re in the age of creative entrepreneurs, and people want to purchase art that is sold well to them. You have countless online platforms, from Etsy to Instagram to personal blogs, to share your message and draw potential art buyers in. It’s an unfamiliar and new way to be an artist, which is why the presence of various mentors will be what determines your career. In this current economy, there are a plethora of talented and eager artists, which makes whether or not you “make it” depend less on your raw talent and more so on the connections you build. A mentor will not only introduce you and make these connections for you, but teach you how to foster these relationships in meaningful ways that build your career.
Creative mentors are hardly anything new– throughout history, young artists have worked as apprentices to the “masters” of their craft. In Renaissance times, young apprentices would gain the skills and knowledge of both the craft and business, while the master would have the ultimate say in what was sold. In the music world, older, more established composers often took younger, emerging composers under their wing. For example, Gustav Mahler adopted the young Arnold Schoenberg as a pupil at the beginning of Schoenberg’s career, and the two developed a relationship of mutual support and collaboration. Nowadays, however, mentorships may not look like the conventional craft-honing ones from the past. Instead, more interdisciplinary advisors from diverse backgrounds can serve as the most valuable mentors for creatives, helping them adapt and succeed in a rapidly changing, interdisciplinary economy.
One of the most important parts of having a mentor, however, is learning how to be a mentee. Adopting a mentored attitude means remaining dedicated to your passion, while adapting to critique and constantly working on yourself. In a mentorship, both you and the mentor are looking to grow in some way– it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Dr. KH Kim explores the impact of a mentorship within her CAT model for innovation and success, and finds that the ability to be mentored is one of the most crucial attitudes of exceptionally successful people. Further, a study in the Harvard Business Review found that business executives who have had a mentor earn more money at a younger age, are better educated, and end up following a business plan compared to their mentorless counterparts.
For creatives today, it will be the combination of mentors from numerous different backgrounds who will help them embrace the changing art world. In today’s economy, creatives will need to adopt a wide variety of skills, from their craft to business skills to emotional intelligence skills, and the most efficient and valuable way to acquire these skills is through being mentored. And, ultimately, a mentorship is a win-win for both the mentor and the mentee, leaving it a priceless experience for everyone involved.