by Netanel Saso

Artists nowadays undoubtedly have to wear many hats. If you’re a practicing artist, you need to balance your craft with marketing, promoting, and eventually selling your work. You’re your own PR agent, manager, and boss. There are also numerous jobs you can get as an artist– a freelancer, a museum worker, a curator. The field of art is a unifying factor of many different professions, which is wonderful for artists looking for work. It can also be a little overwhelming at times– how do you know which interests and skills you have fit with all of these different jobs?

I currently work as a VAR Fellow. In this position, there are many tasks that I must complete along the year, such as video production and blogging, as well as meeting with many artists across New York City. Though I have only just started my VAR journey, I have started noticing the many differences in tasks, and the work ethic that is then required, that differ between working at an art studio, working at a museum, and working for a creative startup company.

College Illuminates the Importance of Time Management Skills and Self-Motivation

I currently attend Cooper Union, which is a private art university in New York City. At college, I balance my four main studio courses with an art history course and a humanities course. When you are at your first year of college, especially away from home, it can be difficult to manage and organize everything that you need to do, especially living in a brand new place with new people for the first time in your life. One thing I discovered in the beginning of my college experience is the importance of connection and reaching out to a support system. In order to stay focused on your present and move forward in your journey, it is important to not lose touch with your past. Through your second, third and fourth year at college, it will be a lot easier to balance your time and stay organized, as you will begin to notice what takes you the longest to work on through your first year.  

At college, nobody is telling you to wake up, go to class, do your work, or even to get a job. This is the time where you must become resilient and find ways to motivate yourself to do everything alone. College is the only time in your life where you experience self-motivated work within the comfort of an institutional structure. This is the time to take advantage of learning how to balance a job and school with your self care, budget, and the activities that you enjoy doing. When you are in school, you have deadlines you have to meet, but you need to plan what you will do with the time you have in order to make these deadlines. Though it can be challenging to balance so many papers and projects at the same time, you still have the flexibility to receive extensions from professors. At college you begin to notice that you spend a lot of time alone, especially at an arts university where you are not typically working collaboratively. In this case, I realized the importance of working with other people around, even if we are working on different projects.

At Cooper Union, the work that I make is very self driven after our freshman year. We each get a studio and have to produce work as though we would when leaving school. However, there are many other universities that will give you a structured schedule to follow. Attending a school like Cooper Union, where self-motivated work is drilled into your skill-set, may prepare you better for working at a startup company, such as VAR, where I must create my own schedule to meet deadlines. However, if you attended a more structured university or find yourself preferring routine and a set schedule, you may find it better to work at a gallery or museum.

At a Small Art Studio, Passion and Creativity Drives Your Schedule

When I was in high school, I worked as a teacher and studio assistant at Studio Arts Dallas. This is a school that specializes in teaching visual art to preschoolers through to adults. During my time at the studio, I had a schedule with classes I would teach, classes I would assist, as well as camps or birthday parties I would help out with. Though this was a job that I was entering that was already set in place for many years, I was given freedom to bring my teaching methods with me, as every teacher has their own way of teaching. Not only did I get to assist with classes, but I got to help develop lesson plans, learn from students, talk to parents, take prospective students on studio tours, and even take students on field trips.

At Studio Arts Dallas, I really enjoyed being able to come in and have a schedule and a lesson plan and structure to each class. Though I had a set structure for the day-to-day, things were kept fresh and exciting as the teachers and assistants altered projects due to the fluctuating needs of the students from year to year. One skills i learned at the studio is the importance of being able to distance yourself from a position that is so immersive in nature. As students look up to you, and you become passionate about what you’re teaching, sometimes the demands and emotions that come with the job can be overwhelming. Further, this is a job that requires you to be on your feet all day long and makes you communicate the entire time. If you are someone who prefers to work alone, chances are most of these studios offer private lessons, where you will get more time to teach a student alone rather than an entire class. Though there were many points of having to navigate many tasks, they were always very similar, and if you crave constant change, a startup company might be a better opportunity for you.

Volunteering at a Museum Requires Dedication to Structure

I also spent some time working in the Education Department at the Rubin Museum in New York. Working for a larger, more established museum, compared to the studio in Dallas, required more formal structure and offered less flexibility in schedule and lesson plans. Since the program is much larger and undertakes numerous projects that they offer to the community, there is more structure within the departments. The Rubin Museum of Art offer various programs for the public, such as a Family Sunday program where they teach a project every Sunday of the month. These projects follow a certain theme every Sunday for a month, and then switch over for the following months. The themes for their workshops in the education department typically cleverly coincide with an exhibit or theme within the museum. This allows product and lesson plan development to be more educational and research based rather than the typical themes that you would see at an art studio such as a “draw + paint portraiture” class. This, however, also required stricter scheduling and planning in regard to lesson plans. Working for a museum such as the Rubin is especially good for practicing artists, as there does not have to be an extreme level of commitment– usually volunteering once or twice a month is appreciated. It’s a great way to continue to be involved in your community while also maintaining a balance with your true passions. Though the education department is a great place to work, if you are not interested in consistency, then it might not be the best place for you. The museum provides you with a schedule, and has many opportunities to grow within the museum and potentially be hired full time, but you have to decide if it is the right museum for you before growing with it. A museum space is a great place to work if you are interested in learning more about the people in your community, as well as working towards a path of not only getting to teach, but getting to do administrative work as well.

Making Deadlines and Time Management are Key Skills in a Startup Company

At VAR, I have so far learned that managing your time is the key to getting work done. The biggest challenge I have encountered in working for VAR is meeting my deadlines, and figuring out what time management style works best for me. When you work for a museum or studio, you clock in and clock out, but at a startup, you manage your own time, allowing you to track what projects eat up your time the most. Tracking your own time can serve as a useful tool to make each week more and more efficient, thus ensuring growth in a short amount of time. Because I go to a university that has deadlines but makes you plan what you do with the time leading up to those deadlines, it is easier to keep track of what I have to do at VAR. The best thing about a startup company is knowing that the projects will always change, and that the people you meet and learn from will always change as well. A startup company also involves teamwork, and working collaboratively is a really important skill to have in order to be successful in every part of your life. Now if you are thinking of teaching for a future career, you are still going to have to work collaboratively with other teachers, bosses, and students. This is great however, as if you have a lot you have to take on, there will always be people there to help you out when you are struggling or falling behind. I believe that working at a startup company is the most exciting out of all of the jobs I have held because it comes with a rush, and it also feels really rewarding when you release content that is really important to you. If you do not enjoy the work you are doing, then chances are, those that receive your content will not enjoy it either.

Though all of these positions are different, they all present exciting opportunities for artists to explore their passion, especially because they can bring in  income after graduation in order to fund your own artwork. For my fellow artists, I strongly suggest looking into various opportunities within your local gallery, museum, or any other creative employment opportunity. Though you may not necessarily need any of these jobs, if you figure out early on which ones are a good fit for your skills and personality, it will make the journey much easier once you’re off in the real world. Most of these jobs have a start and end date, and if you absolutely loved one, you can continue to grow within the company or institution, and if you found another passion through one, then there is nobody there to tell you that you can’t take it on right after. Using each job, and the successes and challenges you faced with each, as a learning tool to discover more about yourself is the most valuable thing you can bring from these experiences.


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