Building A Sustainable Art Career

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Choosing an art career or even a creative career in any field can be very intimidating and a journey full of struggles. Based on a recent report by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, 56% of art students who graduated left the field altogether because they were having a tough time earning an income (2014).

Conventional wisdom tells us that taking up an art career can lead to unemployment, financial struggle and a lot of unpaid student loans. That being said, the image of the starving artist along with the whole background of financial difficulty is looking more and more like a myth, at least in the modern day workplace.


[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The image of the starving artist along with the whole background of financial difficulty is looking more and more like a myth, at least in the modern day workplace.[/perfectpullquote]

There is a struggle in being an artist in the same way that there is a struggle in any chosen career. But for the art majors, or those choosing to switch to art-related fields later in life, there is an added layer of difficulty because there are no paved career steps for them. However, that should be no reason to stop following your dream of having an art career. The key is maintaining passion for your art and moving forward with that belief. You are bound to come across an opportunity that will help you succeed.

Here are some tips and suggestions to fast-track your creative career whether you are a fresh graduate, making a career switch, or even planning a retirement hobby.

Why Build An Art Career At All?

Our society might sometimes discourage creative careers as unsustainable and there might be many risks involved; however, more and more people are choosing to follow their dreams and opting for unconventional and individualistic career options. The main reason for this is that when you choose to be an artist, you make a career out of something you love doing. This also means that you will always be passionate about your job and never lose motivation. Even if you fail in this path, you will force yourself to get back up and try again. There might be many more obstacles that you would come across but after all, no pain, no gain.

Art Career
James Chisholm

James Chisholm, an artist based in Salem, Massachusetts,  talks about his art career and how he decided to make the switch from business to art in an interview featured in our biannual magazine, ArtisSpectrum.

When asked about his experience, he told us, “Although I went on to attend Boston’s Northeastern University as a Business Administration major/concentrator with the possibility of a partnership in a family business after graduation, I eventually found myself being pulled back to the artistic side. After befriending a fellow Northeastern University student, who had decided to transfer to an art school rather than continue his civil engineering studies, I started to reconsider my own career direction and started again to paint artistically.”

Garden Street by James Chisholm
James Chisholm, Garden Street, 2015 Source: Art Mine

James Chisholm is now a successful artist known for his breathtaking landscapes that capture the natural terrain of New England beautifully. Not only is he an exceptional artist, but also an inspiring teacher and instructor and has been teaching art for the last 40 years at several institutions and museums, including Harvard Extension School and North Shore Community College. Chisholm’s success and experience prove that a career in the field of art can actually be very fruitful if you work hard and remain resilient.

Pursuing something that you love doing is not the only advantage of an art career. The fact that you are constantly creating something greatly helps in maintaining your mental health as well, even if you might not be extremely successful on the commercial front. This is the key to living a happy and content life! In the creative industry, you have the independence to aim for any position or any status as long as you have the skills and the capability.

You are not bound by any corporate hierarchy systems. Your status in your career and how much time you take to reach that status solely depends on how hard you work and how good you are as an artist. The best part about a career in a creative field is that you come across like-minded people who help you grow tremendously.

James Chisholm also encourages more people to take up a creative career. “It is not the easiest way to make a living, but it is possible with the old standbys of hard work, dedication, and most importantly, a love for the art making process. The world obviously needs people willing to take up the challenge that art careers pose.” All in all, a creative career makes you a healthier and happier person!

Related Articles: 6 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Art8 Benefits Of Gallery Representation and Your Guide To Artist Representation Types

The Importance Of Networking For Your Art Career

The first step in building an art career is putting yourself out there, learning how to market yourself as an artist, and keeping tabs on what’s going on in your professional circles. Basically, networking is the key, as it is in any other profession.

Art career
Artist Corine Garese networking with guests at Agora Gallery

Networking is often considered a necessary evil. Even though many artists are not comfortable doing it, it’s absolutely paramount that you rigorously sell yourself. In fact, networking is everything when it comes to a creative career. You need to know how to promote yourself and, more importantly, how to sell the work you do.

Build relationships with like-minded people or people who appreciate your work. Help out others, whether as a volunteer at art events or teaching a class; attend your local art association gatherings, and become a familiar face in your local art scene. Don’t be shy to bring your Artist’s Business Cards and talk about yourself as an artist and your art. Stay in touch with important people you meet.

It’s essential to be very pro-active about this, even if it means physically showing up at a gallery with your portfolio. Not that this is what you should do specifically, but going to art events and gatherings and actively talking to people and telling them about yourself is the most important thing.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Stay in touch with us! Our Newsletter is packed with inspiring stories, art tips, and Agora Gallery’s latest exhibition announcements.[/perfectpullquote]

Find A Job That Boosts Your Art Career

“Find out what you like doing best, and get someone to pay you for it.” – Katherine Whitehorn

The struggle to reach where you want to be could be very challenging and economically straining, especially for fresh graduates. If you are someone making a career switch, you might have some capital saved up from your last job. However, that also means that you need to spend judiciously. Sometimes, the best thing to keep you floating economically is to get a job that suits your creativity and even helps you grow as an artist.

On this subject, Chisholm remarked that the fact that “art production can fit in a number of career choices” is often ignored. You’ll be glad to know that 80% of art students say that they are working a job that is related to their field of study in college (from the same report by SNAAP mentioned earlier) and 82% of older art graduates say the same.

And even if you’re not a graduate of an arts course, a portfolio can usually earn you consideration for positions in the arts field. “One of the most important areas to focus on in order to develop a successful art career is creating artwork or working in related fields, such as graphic design, photography, video and film media or something that can be endorsed and supported wholeheartedly by concerned parents,” noted Chisholm.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]80% of art students say that they are working a job that is related to their field of study in college[/perfectpullquote]

The key ingredient to finding a good day job that will support your art career is to find one that doesn’t drain you of your creative juices but will instead help you bring more focus to your art. An art-related day job is also a good way to meet more people in the business and to learn from more experienced artists. The ideal job will offer exposure to your craft and inspire you in many different ways.

james chisholm with students - build art career
James Chisholm with students at North Shore Community College

Building Your Resume And Actively Participating

Waiting to be ‘discovered’ is not the way to go at all. You need to have a colorful resume and an even better professional portfolio. Being an artist does not mean just painting or sculpting or creating. Being an artist means constantly being involved in art. Once you understand this and start following it, you are bound to get noticed.

The best way to build your resume is to seek affiliation with established art galleries. The art world is a competitive place and having the support of a gallery can be very beneficial. You are bound to get many more opportunities and higher visibility in the art market than an independent artist of the same caliber if you are endorsed by a gallery. Most artists that have had gallery representation will agree with the fact that you start getting offers for exhibitions immediately after you sign up.

James Chisholm, following his exhibition at Agora, was asked to submit his artworks for the North Shore Community College “artist of the year” category. He was also invited to attend and speak at several professional gatherings at celebrated institutions like Harvard University and the Boston chapter of the Algonquin Club.

Now preparing for another exhibition at Agora next month, he told us, “Although the Agora Gallery web site demonstrates the strength and professionalism of the art works being shown and the appearance and layout of its interior spaces; my first visit confirmed my initial impression of the seriousness of purpose the Agora Gallery has in presenting new artists to the New York art scene.”

Another way to add substantial accomplishments to your resume is to actively participate by keeping yourself updated on what’s new in the art circles, Joining Art Competitions, taking courses, responding to open calls and even volunteering your time for art-related events. Having one or two pieces selected in an art competition is a great way for you to gain exposure and visibility to potential galleries.

Blogging and being active on social media is another avenue to take if your art career could use some exposure. Take the time to learn the best ways to market your art on different social media platforms. The online world is all about quality content which is why the art community is in a really great position to dominate it.

Useful Article: Finding Art Collectors Through Social Media


In conclusion, it doesn’t matter when you begin. An art career is all about the journey and making most of the opportunities that come your way. Like Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than you are capable of living.” Put yourself out there, meet new people and, most of all, keep creating!


[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Want to give your art more time, and leave the marketing and promotional hassles to someone else? Book an online career development consultation meeting today.[/perfectpullquote]

Join the discussion: If you are an artist, please do tell us about some of the challenges and obstacles you faced in your career path and how you dealt with them.


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19 responses to “Building A Sustainable Art Career”

  1. Masscv avatar

    Muse and skill can make you master

  2. Artista Visual Nonato Cruz avatar

    Eu acho que ultimo caminho da arte é a multitecnicas, o artista tem que ser polivalente , ecletico ; é preciso ser esperimentalista , o artista não deve pensar apenas em dinheiro ; inovar é a solução .

  3. Theophilus Nwodo avatar

    Indeed I was greatly inspired by this write ups. Though I do hear stories of people breaking new ground through social media, I had doubted possibility of my art selling through the internet. But with you I now understood the necessity.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Theophilus, we’re very pleased you found the article inspirational. Good luck!

  4. Stephen Oni avatar

    Sincerely I greatly enjoyed the acticle, its inded an eye opener for me because have learnt a lot here. I have also practicing as full time painter, just according to one of the mentioned point, I had to involved in other related art medium as backup, creative exploration is the best as it widens ones horizon.

  5. Tricia Bethel avatar

    Fantastic article. I am a self taught artist who is very passionate about what I do. Although it’s not an easy road I have trained my mind, heart and body to consistently do that which I was born to do- create. From networking to washing the last brush, I value every single step. Of course I have a day job, it changes but I am happy that one career is here to stay and that is art. I think if you are passionate there is no way you will not be rewarded. Not that I am even seeking reward, I enjoy the climb.

  6. boby m prabha avatar

    hi…..sir…..this is really inspired me…..and i start little about me, i am boby mprabha, i am a BFA PAINTING graduate from college of fine arts trivandrum ,india. i pass out from the college 2000, after that i had been working in animation industry for the last 10 years, and during my continuous work i totally fed up with animation and i resigned my job…because of my passion is always in art… last two years i am staying in my art…but now the problem is …its very difficult to stay in painting, i dont have earn anything from painting… because its my starting stage, and i am married and have two children, so thats why now i am doing some children’s illustrations for some publishers for last one year….why i had started late in illustration because , i thought when i am doing illustrations it will affect my painting stye… but now i am struggling too much…thats the only reason i am doing illustration,but this is also i am enjoying very much, but my aim is became a good artist. but now i am thinking just re join any art related firm.. first earn some money side wise for food and shelter…and after that i can fulfill my art carrier ….otherwise i cant stay more…. and now i am getting some calls from art related company such as pre-production,and add agency….animation…but i never like back to the animation industry as a animator… but my big desire is to live like an artist…… so please share some your valuable suggestions for me to decide good life…..

    boby m prabha

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Hello Boby!
      Thank you for sharing your story. If you are enjoying doing illustrations, try and find work in the same field. As we mentioned in the article, the creative job you take up must boost your creativity. Once you are financially stable, you can move on to pursuing your dream. It is never too late!
      Hope this helps. Good Luck!

      1. boby m prabha avatar

        thanks very much

  7. Dr K Y Das avatar

    Wow super

  8. Nathaniel Hodonu avatar

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me, I am an up coming painter,sculptor and want a gallery to represent my works..
    I am a Nigerian.. Can you represent me..
    Best Regards.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Thank You, Nathaniel!
      The details regarding representation are on our website.

  9. Victor Hugo Sanchez Jarquin avatar

    Muy interesante el artículo, me gustaría participar más activamente. Soy escultor.
    Muy atentamente

  10. Xan avatar

    Very inspiringinspiring article. I am a self taught artist and market myself. Unfortunately these days it has become too difficult to sell art. I hope to sell regularly. Does your gallery charge for representation?

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Hello Xan!
      Thank You!
      Yes, Agora is a representational gallery. You can view more details regarding representation on our website.

  11. Ronald Ng'oma avatar

    wishing to learn more and have my paintings being sold through your gallery.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Hi Ronald, that you for visiting! Someone from submissions will contact you directly with more information about Agora’s Representation.

  12. nnorom samuel avatar

    I’m inspired by this article, and I wish to stay connected with you guys. Though, I have won two national art competitions and have participated in several exhibitions and call opening, I still feel discourage Base on the issue of marketing my work to the whole world. Please, can you link me up with some of this art collectors and art social media, thanks alot.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Nnorom Samuel, we’re delighted that you were inspired by the article, thank you! On linking you up with art collectors and social media – we’re not going to be able to introduce you to any particular collector unless you’re represented by the gallery. All of the articles in our blog are designed to inspire you and help you accomplish things on your own.
      We will be happy to answer any general questions that you might have or even write an article about how artists would go about doing it on their own.