Recently, I too happened to see a certain toddler’s shirt eschewing the pursuit of career creativity in favor of two more “admirable” job titles of astronaut and president. I’m not going to delve very far into that past saying I have had the good fortune of personally knowing an astronaut, and likewise the good fortune of not personally knowing any presidents. My only other comment is that any single toddler’s odds of landing either of those jobs, especially within an ever more populated Earth, are less statistically likely than becoming a career artist. While I am resolutely passionate about the sciences, technology, and any other field not typically considered creative, it’s interesting and bizzarre to me that our culture seems to think it needs to take a dump creative fields and that somehow all of the people who pursue them are bohemian and out of touch. The creative industries are thriving and significant portions of the US economy, with real opportunity. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some facts.
According to statistics provided by the NASAA, the creative economy earned approximately $698 billion in 2012, which accounted for 4.2% of the US GDP. $698 billion! In 2013 real estate, renting, and leasing accounted for the highest GDP sector at only 13%. Sectors like agriculture, construction, and transportation fell below the arts. The point? There is no surefire road to success -whatever that may be. There is no such thing as bomb proof career choice and any career choice at an income threshold we desire requires some kind of investment and an associated risk. There is no guarantee anyone is going to land the lifestyle they imagine having. With 318.9 million people living in the US compared to the 102 million one hundred years ago, or the 226 million in 1980 there is no longer any simple or easy path, if there ever really was in the first place. So to those who say you’re doomed to any number of the cliches you hear if you pursue a career in the arts I say shove it; you don’t know what you’re talking about. It ultimately does far more ill than good to send that message.
Now that I’ve asserted you absolutely can earn a living as an artist, it’s also time for a dose of reality. That $698 billion encompasses quite a few fields, including film, and publishing. That’s good news. That’s news that says if you can imagine a creative career there probably is a path to get there and it’s probably not as ambiguous we’re often led to believe. Now comes the downer: When I hear people talk about being artists, or practicing art it seems that a lot of this talk falls into the category of fine-arts, which is still reported as a very respectable $35 million a year sector. Despite that high number, with just a little math we’ll see that if you were to divide that $35 million into $50k/year salaries, there would be enough for 700 people. I can tell you from personal experience some earn far more than that and tons trying don’t get anywhere near that close. Whether or not someone is a full-time “artist,” what that actually does or does not entail, and how they live are probably not anywhere near what most of us imagine. Still, that doesn’t need to be fuel to keep throwing on the fire of dreams upon which we’re supposed to burn any expectation of becoming a career fine-artist. In my opinion, it means answer a couple of questions with brutal honesty: What is it, exactly you hope to do with the work you create, and what is it you imagine your working life looking like? While I have more thoughts on the topic, it’s those questions I’ll end with for now. Like I said though, separate form those questions it’s high time the myth that creativity is a failing enterprise needs to stop.