Knowing what to say to students who are clearly seeking some sort of reassurance that the career path they’ve chosen is going to work out is hard. It will not work out for everyone. Larry Jens Anderson of the Savannah College of Art and Design said in a recent CAA workshop that only 4% of college art students go on to have successful careers in the arts. (I’m not sure of the validity of this statistic and I haven’t found any documentation which supports this claim.)
When I look at my students I balk at this statistic because I feel like they all have so much potential and any one of them could become successful if they actually apply themselves – that’s the key though – they have to apply themselves. Having talent isn’t everything – it’s what you do with the talent that counts.
At the foundations level all of my students have a great deal of potential but realistically, a lot of them aren’t truly willing to put in the work and time necessary to advance and a lot of them will burn out and turn to more promising fields like nursing, business management, or construction. Logically, only 4% of them will have what it takes to make it through art school and continue to pursue a life in the arts.
During the CAA workshop, the statement was made that if you “can” do anything else – do it. I think we all need to ask ourselves this question about whatever it is we’re doing – “can” we do something else?
For me, I am mentally capable of doing other jobs, I’m not an idiot – I can critically think through problems and I’m a “type A” micro-manager so yes, I could succeed doing another task . However, psychologically I can’t do anything but what I’m doing now. I could do another job to pay the bills but I’d still be making art every spare moment I got regardless of whether or not anyone knew about it.
When I began school I was a theater major. On the first day of college my theater professor announced that only 2% of us would actually have a future in theater and only a fraction of 1% of us would have the “chance” to make it in Hollywood – he set the bar high from the beginning, explaining that if we wanted to be part of that 2% we had to work our asses off and fight for it.
I think more art students would strive for more if they felt like they truly had to fight for what they want.
Getting a college degree doesn’t guarantee a successful career. I think that until a certain point all undergraduate art students have the potential to become one of that successful 4% but only time will tell which students will continue to progress. A lot of this has to do with how much we as students are willing to invest in our own education.
It’s easy to fall into the perception that it’s all up to our professors to teach us what we need to know but students must take responsibility for their own role in the education process. I learned at a very early stage that this was true and have committed to putting everything I have into the advancement of my career. I don’t have another plan because I can’t do anything else.
I’ve been applying for jobs and in the back of my mind I’m always battling little demons of doubt and pessimism that I will not succeed and all my hard work will be for nothing – but then (when I remember to breathe) I realize that nothing is going to stop me from fighting for what I want and if I don’t succeed the first time, I’ll just try again and again and again until I do succeed.
I think the secret to success is simply hard work. I’m a big fan of Thomas Edison’s view on this:
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are, first, hard work, second, stick-to-itiveness, third, common sense.”
And of course Edison’s classic:
“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Accordingly a genius is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”
I guess I better get back to work.