What’s the balance between having a day job, living comfortably, and being an artist? If you’re like me, you may find that while you’re pursuing your art practice you are also working to support the many expenses that come in life. No matter when it happens, for most of us there will come a time when we are paying for our rent, food, utilities, car, health insurance, student loans, and the myriad of other expenses that come with being a functioning adult.
The support we receive or don’t receive from our parents is a tough subject to talk about. I have had very good friends who were supporting a large portion of their expenses since high school or before, and I have other friends who have luckily not been required to support themselves even after graduating college.
For me, it’s a bit in the middle. My excuse for not getting a job in high school was that I had extra curricular’s. This was true, I did play soccer until my junior year of high school, and I was quite involved in my art practice at the time. After I graduated high school, I got a job doing a public art project with a program known as ArtWorks in Cincinnati. This was a cool way to get paid doing something related to art, and I do admit I enjoyed working every day on a public art project- and I made around $1,000 that summer doing it!
College was a mixture of jobs and internships, some in restaurants, others in retail, and a few with artists and art organizations. I always worked during the summers, and intermittently during the school year. This provided a good stream of income to support the things I wanted to do. Very luckily for me, my parents helped pay for my rent and some other living expenses, meaning that the money I made from my jobs over the summer or during the semesters could be saved for other spending needs.
So, fast forward to now, and I find myself working in a job that requires a much larger amount of my time and resources to commit to. It’s a job that has a lot of potential for growth, however, this comes with the necessary sacrifices required to forward a career in any field.
This leads to the point of this blog post: what’s the balance between having a day job, living comfortably, and being an artist? I was very excited to find a job related to my field after graduating with my MFA. This job has taken me on many interesting paths, from gaining my credentials in the appraisal field to learning fascinating new concepts about art, antiques, furniture, rugs, and silver. All in all, it has been a very good experience.
I can’t help to ignore at this point, however, that I seem to be at a crossroads. In the past, I usually viewed my job as secondary to my art practice. That is, my goal would be to work as much as was required to pay for just what I needed and then spend the rest of my time on my art practice. Something that I heard or read somewhere about having an art practice that I thought was smart was that when you’re trying to be an artist, it’s a good idea to keep your overhead low. I will admit this is partially what led me to start painting on my computer, as it didn’t require the expensive necessities of a studio, oil paints, canvas, mineral spirits, mediums, and all the other materials required for an oil painting practice. It was with the idea of keeping my overhead low that I felt I could contain my living expenses to a minimum, thus limiting the need to work longer hours and through that having more time to devote to an art practice.
I am, however, coming to a point where there are more necessities and expenses in life. As I said before, car insurance, doctors’ bills, health insurance, and student loan payments are all on the list of expenses that I am now responsible for. Not to mention paying rent, food, and all the other costs of living today. I am seeing that I can no longer necessarily keep my expenses to a rock-bottom minimum in the interest of being an artist. On this flip side of this I am wary of becoming enraptured in a series of expensive payments that limit my ability to make artwork. If one looks at this history of art, they can see countless situations of artists rejecting some material comforts of the world in pursuit of their practice. That might be easier said than done, admittedly.
So, where’s the balance? Do I need to pay for my doctor’s bill? Yes. It would be irresponsible to ignore my health. Do I need to buy a brand-new car or get the latest accessories? No, because that would result in me paying more than I need to, thus making my threshold for paying bills higher, and thus limiting resources that I can devote to my art practice. In the interest of being an artist I would say that I would be willing to limit my expenses on many things at this point in my life. How nice does my apartment have to be, or my clothes, or my furniture? Can I compromise on these things to save more for my art-practice?
As stated before, the idea of not necessarily being materially wealthy as an artist is not a new question. Artists have for hundreds of years have been forgoing the traditional paths and comforts of middle-class society. An affinity towards bohemian lifestyles has been embraced by many generations of artists, from painters in Paris in the 19th century to pop artists working in New York City in the 1960’s.
I think it comes down to what are you willing to sacrifice for your practice, be it art, music, theatre, a business, or any calling you feel you have. I do have to admit that I am gaining more perspective on how expensive affording basic living needs in the United States are today. It would be irresponsible to ignore these realities of adulthood in the name of pursuing my art practice. Yet I think that anyone who feels they have a calling to do something comes to a point where they are willing to go without some material goods in the name of what they believe in. I don’t know the balance between these things, yet. I am, however, learning as I go along.
So, I’ve been thinking of starting a blog on my website for a couple of days now. The first thing that came to mind was my education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so I figured I’d start with that.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, otherwise known as SAIC, is a fully accredited private university associated with the Art Institute of Chicago- the major art museum in Chicago. SAIC is known as one of the top MFA programs in the world, alongside Yale, the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia, etc. I’d probably initially had an interest in the school from attending SAIC’s portfolio development programs in high school. These classes were an arduous three-hour commute from my hometown of Warsaw, Indiana and my parents selflessly made the drive up there every weekend for roughly six weeks. I also went to SAIC’s booth on National Portfolio Day (at this point, I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio) and showed them my work.
My real interest in SAIC, however, probably began the summer after my freshman year of college. I remember going to Chicago to visit and specifically wanting to look into the university. As I was already doing my undergrad, I was interested in their Master’s program. I was probably a bit young to be considering a Master’s already, but I wanted to see the school’s programs anyways.
Fast forward to Fall of 2016, and I’m starting my Master’s degree at SAIC. SAIC was an exceptional school. I distinctly remember the freedom that I had in my practice- the freedom to explore whatever path or artistic discipline that interested me. My first studio in the school was on the 15th floor of the Maclean building, and it was tiny. I didn’t mind this, however, as most of my practice was making digital paintings, (paintings made on a computer with Adobe Photoshop). The only thing I felt I needed was a table and an outlet for my laptop. Luckily, I expressed an interest in making oil paintings a couple of weeks into the semester. Due to the lack of proper ventilation on the 15th floor for oil painting, I was granted another studio on the 12th floor of Maclean. This studio was much larger than the first, which was awesome!
Probably the most distinct pleasure I had from going to school at SAIC was access to the Art Institute of Chicago. As a student there you had a pass to the art museum and could go whenever you please (when it was open). The school and museum host a ton of exceptional events for artists, including some fantastic lectures. The extended amounts of time spent in the Abstract-Expressionist section of the Contemporary Painting wing of the Art Institute brings back good memories. I think the fact that I had access to a world-class museum that was literally across the street from my studio made SAIC worth it.
Also high on the list of exceptional experiences at SAIC were the artists I met through the graduate degree program. Before I went to SAIC, I took two years off from school, in which I mostly worked different jobs in restaurants and other odd things. Something that was missing from my art practice at that time was the inspiration from being connected to a group of artists around you. That’s something you take for granted when you’re in art school, the fantastic community around you. It was truly amazing to be back in an environment where I could discuss art theory, history, and philosophy with other creators. Being in that created a stimulation that I felt was cut short after finishing my undergrad. Being at SAIC was a time of freedom artistically and philosophically. It was great to take the time to explore myself, other artists working with similar ideas to mine, and schools of thought related to art.
All that said, there were some issues with SAIC. Top of the list as I’m sure almost everyone will say is the cost. SAIC estimates it costs to be around $60,000 a year! The amount is huge, and I agonized over the decision of taking on a large amount of student debt before I started the degree program. At the time, I was making the decision I was living with my parents, which had thankfully allowed me to save up a small chunk of money. I was planning on doing something; I just wasn’t sure yet. On the list were going to SAIC, moving (back) to New York City, moving to Denver, or moving to Chicago without going to SAIC. Ultimately it was the encouragement of my mom and my brother that propelled me to go back to school. Was it the right decision? I don’t know. But I do know that school gave me a structure and intellectual stimulation that I might not have had had I just went out on my own to another city.
With more thought, I do feel that SAIC was a good decision. That said I do have a chunk of student debt now. But all in all, I’m glad for the experience of SAIC. It gave me two years to focus on my art practice, which is something I wanted to do at that point in my life. It also gave me a structure around a goal that I wanted to achieve in the long term, so I felt I was heading in the right direction. Very luckily, I was able to start working with Art of Estates, in a field that was related to art within a couple of months of graduating. I realize that some of the fears I had about not being able to find a job might have been overblown (although I do admit it is difficult and not everyone is so lucky to land something quickly). Final note- if you are considering going to SAIC, also look into public university programs. I wish I did this as I would have had more options when I made my decision as to where to attend school. Upon getting two degrees at art schools, I am convinced that I could have gotten one at a state university for half the price and probably would have gotten the same amount of training and stimulation.
So, SAIC- worth it, for me. I’m glad for the experience, studio time, and extensive exposure to the Art Institute of Chicago. What’s your opinion? Feel free to message me your thoughts on going to SAIC or where you are studying art. Thanks!