Friday, May 3, 2013

The Worst Things Good Parents are Teaching Creative Kids

This past week on Twitter, I lamented the fact that I might soon have to place a banner on the Gloryhound Website that read, in big red letters and 72 point font:

"Don't Go to College!"

I think that would be a pretty huge tragedy. Still, with the costs of education rising to out-of-control proportions and ill-prepared students walking into interviews without the stuff they should have gotten in school to show for all the money they spent, I wonder. And I worry.

Having looked at the issue as someone who's been in the art industry both as an illustrator and a designer for the last decade, I think we need to rearrange some of the common misconceptions out there about taking a job in the creative fields. I believe some of that starts with teaching parents what kinds of conversations are okay to have with their kids who want to get into industries that involve visual art, writing and music.

Here are but a few things that I've heard well-meaning parents tell their kids:

  • You need to go to college for art and the opposite: Art school is a waste of money. These are both very narrow viewpoints on art school in general. Speaking as an art school graduate, I can say if you have a child who is skilled at drawing -- and pay attention to the word skilled, here, because your kid can't just draw every once in a while on the margins of his books at school and be expected to get an enjoyable career out of it, then art school is an excellent resource. Please don't be that parent who sends their child off to art school because they needed to go to school for something.
    And that's another horrible misconception - if you're telling your kids that they have to go to school, then it's on you if they don't end up doing anything with their lives, mom and dad. Sorry. The fact of the matter is, art school is not a waste of money for kids who have real potential to become artists. Be careful, because college recruiters are some of the craftiest salespeople out there and will gladly tell any schmuck he has what it takes to be the next great designer. Don't buy it if the child doesn't love it, because it is expensive.

    And that brings me to my final point on this matter: If you've got a gifted kid and they deserve a good school, make sure they can afford it. As it is with any field, school doesn't guarantee a job. It's the work you put in, after you get the degree, that counts. It's the portfolio you've put together. It's the drive you have to go out job-seeking and doing freelance. It's not glamorous for those first few years and creative jobs are often some of the most competitive. But if there's hustle, a job will be found.
  • You will never make money with your art and/or you will make money after you're dead. It can seem to be a scary thing, especially to parents with kids fresh out of school who are still lingering around the house. It's important not to get into this mentality that says there are no good jobs to be found in creative endeavors. I've been working for 10 years and the whole time, the economy was never good.

    Aside from landing 9 to 5 jobs, artists have a unique and excellent opportunity to become freelancers, which is in my opinion, where all the money is, anyway. It just takes more work than landing a job. I encourage every artist who is new to the game, to take a hard look at their portfolios and then take time to fill them with pieces representing the art they'd love to do. It's especially true with art school students, that a portfolio could become cluttered with any old assignment to show off versatility. But versatility can sometimes be a crutch. Showing that you know how to do one thing and do it better than the competition is at the heart of any business, and when you sell yourself, your portfolio should always be reflective of that one thing you can do exceptionally well. Maybe it's illustrations of pin-up girls, and maybe it's laying out postcards. Whatever  it is, seeking work you love and doing it to the best of your ability is how you make real money as an artist.
  • You should do that project for Aunt Sally for free. Yes and no. I find it interesting that many of the people who proclaim artists aren't marketable are the same ones who request artists work for free.

    Look, there are a million websites out there which already cover this problem far better than I could. Here's the bottom line: If you're an artist, and even if you know someone, and yes, even if they're family, you should probably be charging money for your services. In the end, it's always up to them, but it's good practice for the kid to start setting expectations to be paid for their hard work. And more than likely, Aunt Sally will be only happy to pay.
  • If you do art as a job, you will hate it as a hobby. Simply not true. If anything, you should be encouraging your child to look at what they're already doing as a hobby, and as a parent, help to guide them into a path that will use the thing they find themselves doing for hours on end, as a means to earn a living.

    I hear you saying, "But Dawn, where will my kid find work as a concert pianist?" and I truthfully don't know. But I do know that concert pianists make a bunch of money and some might even be doing it right in your home town. Seek people out who can get the child started in that direction, and let them know what to expect and how to go about it as a career. An apprenticeship is ideal, if you can get one.
Perhaps if we start here, there will never be a need for me to put that banner up on my website. And that's good, because I sure hope there never will be.

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