F Newsmagazine asked the SAIC community how the school can best provide students with an environment conducive to artistic exploration, while still helping them graduate with economically viable skill-sets. Here’s what you had to say.
A most gracious “thank you” goes out to everyone who submitted an answer. Be sure to respond to this month’s question!
Skills that I know I was missing directly after completing my undergraduate degree were directly related to money. I believe that the prevailing attitude of artists and teaching artists if one of fiscal superiority: addressing the commercial needs of artists is tantamount to “selling out” and by NOT addressing those needs we can all keep alive the dream that each graduating artist will become the next ArtStar. This simply isn’t going to happen. The very scary truth is that most of us won’t be the next ArtStar and might actually need a back-up plan, if many of us had a plan to begin with. Artist generally describe their occupations as something of a calling, rather than a career, and maybe that’s a problem. There is no career track to be an artist, there is no “one way” or “right way”, which of course means there’s no “wrong way” either. The sheer amount of art students alone prevent this fantasy from becoming real and ensures that institutions like SAIC continue to operate, except they aren’t really operating at all. Institutions like SAIC can best prepare their graduating students for the “real world” by nutting up and realizing that knowing a few real live facts about the real life world has nothing to do with failure, loss of integrity, or “selling out”. The “real world” is fearful enough, we certainly don’t need scaredy cat faculty holding out on important information that will help students be successful artists, entrepreneurs and citizens of the world because of some error riddled, high-falootin ideals about what an artist is or isn’t.
I just recently read Suze Orman’s book, “Women and Money,” and I highly recommend that others read it. Since reading it, I have set up a retirement fund and have a better understanding of my financial future. CDs, or certificates of deposit, accumulate money over LONG periods of time. For example a 25-year old putting in a little money (less than $50) every month will have a savings greater than a woman that begins saving for retirement at 45 even if she puts over $100 away each month. In addition, I have learned the value of my time. Often I have exchanged services as a trade. However, if it takes you six hours to make business cards, you should not get paid with dinner. Your time is precious and you need to set yourself a rate for your clients for time spent on their projects. Rent isn’t going to pay itself!
These are important things to know that aren’t often taught in university — let alone art school. The school should encourage, or at least offer, classes in tax forms, or starting one’s own business, what the requirements are, such as lawyers and fees, etc.
The best reason to be at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is for the resources available here in the way of people connected to real world projects and products. … However, while this is true, it would be nice if ideas which have inspired these people which somehow get back to the real world and inspire great profit-making or merely philosophical shifts in thinking, that if the students who helped plant those seeds were given credit, royalties, and job opportunities. Even a byline is better than nothing. Also, studio space as a graduate student regardless of the department would be the ideal, so that if there is a for-profit idea baking in our own student ovens, we can hatch it and sell it and offer a royalty back to the school who helped us make it. To do this might be to provide a copyright office where we share royalties … a place for the business of art, inviting publishers to go through and shop for our wares to monetize, with an attorney to answer IP questions, boiler-plate IP contracts, etc. … which would be a good idea anyways so students learn about this as a component of the real world- classes on the litigious aspects of delivering projects, where indemnification is required. Then we would be inspired to cogitate, negotiate, iterate, fabricate and celebrate our experience here at school. Teach us how to record, upload, and sell anything, provide a simple site to do so … with royalty checks going into our accounts directly. Teach us how to send a script/book to a publisher, teach us what the contract looks like to do an installation of public art, sound, a record deal, a movie deal, give us the space to do it, own it, sell it and share the proceeds. … Simply, give us credit and profit and a way to give back half of it to help the next round of thinkers and makers.
Great question and one that I’ve been helping my students with and giving workshops on around the country. Here are my responses in a nutshell:
By exposing students to how artists make a living in the real world; i.e., through multiple income streams. (Hint: There are more ways to make a living as an artist than showing in galleries, teaching, becoming an art administrator, or living off of fellowships).
Introducing students to aforementioned multiple income streams.
Teaching students the skills to find and secure the income streams that relate to their practices.
Learning by doing. Throwing students into the water to see if they can swim while they are still in school using real life, real time projects that could actually be realized. That’s not all by a long shot, but I need to get back to grading projects for my class.
—Lynn Basa, Instructor
“Public Art Professional Practices”
I really think that no student should leave this school without being able to build their own website, design their own business card/logo, and use a digital camera and lighting equipment to document artwork. These are the three most common (in my opinion) things that ARTISTS pay other ARTISTS to do for them! If each of us at least knew how to do these three things, we could work a bit commercially once out of school to make ends meet, or possibly even make a good living!
Also, people just need to have more work experience. It should be manditory to take Co-op or have an internship of some kind before graduation. No one will ever hire you if you’ve never had a job before. So go work for free one day a week while you’re in school. It’s good experience.
I teach in the Art Education department, and we graduate researchers, writers and artists, but we mostly graduate teaching artists, including artists who are certified to teach K-12 in Illinois. It is not a compromise, from my perspective, for an artist to teach. For many of us, faculty and students alike, teaching is an important part of our creative practice. I would not consider teaching to be a commercial interest exactly, but it is an economically viable skill set. Teaching art in public schools is a paying job, but we also play an essential role in facilitating cultural production in communities.
You should add teachers to your list of artist careers!
Given the standards and structure that SAIC administers on its students, helps me see how well they work in engrossing us with the versatility needed to ascend onto the possibilities the world of employment has to offer. A place where conflict stains a person, whether the predicament is doing what they are passionate about and not being too successful, or having a job that has got them economically stable, although not related to their forte. It is understood, from this, stems out the innate dissatisfaction, the longing to go wherever their passions blindly lead them, many left undone. However, given enough time, longing transposes into dreaming, dreaming left in an attic becomes a passage in a journal, depicting what you could have been but turned out to be.
I believe the opportunities that SAIC creates for their students to delve into, and master an assembly of skills, wires them as well-rounded people. Once these ample individuals are exposed to the bland world of black and white, it is them, us that help in adding the hues of gray to this world-like canvas; in order to perpetuate the hope we all have ingrown in our minds. In proving ourselves through our work, and not only being content but successful in doing so, the juxtaposition to the socially accepted role of the “starving artist” is left to manifest in society, but more importantly, in the minds of growing artists, so that they too can fight for what is possible.
With an array of skills that can be applied to a wide range of fields in the quickly developing world, we become high in demand. That is, if the artist himself will push the limits, and set the boundaries through their will and effort. It is not just a matter of scarcity in the success of the “starving artist,” but moreover, defining yourself as an individual to the masses. As a result, you are faced with the simple question “How bad do you want it?” If it is anywhere from art, to a presidency, those who “want” it badly enough to go the distance and endure whatever it takes are the elite few who earn to prove themselves.
Something I think SAIC could be more focused on is promoting strong writing skills. No matter the field, most of us are going to have to do a lot of writing; be it artist statements, letters of interest, proposals, RFQs, gallery submissions, letters of intent, published work, resumes. … The list goes on, the point is that writing is something we will all be doing a lot of. The focus at this school, it seems, is on highly conceptual art, and rightly so if the goal is to advance the overarching presence and function of art. However, it seems that basic skills like clear and informative writing have been relegated to the Art History and Creative Writing majors. With jobs dwindling and an uncertain economy, I think presenting oneself in the strongest light possible will continue to be the difference between the professionals and the rest.