My guide to pursuing a career in the arts

Aiya Hunter
ILLUSTRATION: To represent selling art as a “starving artist”, Aiya Hunter illustrates putting a price to the art that you create.

When it comes to monetizing any skill or talent you have, it can seem as if you’re selling a piece of yourself each time you go on stage or put a price on a painting. In a plumbing job there isn’t much room for creativity. The pipes are either fixed and properly operating or they are not. Jobs that are commonly considered “practical” can be pretty black or white. Since art is subjective, it is anything but black and white. 

When monetizing, or profiting, from a job like plumbing, they earn money for fixing or doing something right. In art, what is right?

The monetization of art can often lead artists to feel as if they are not valued when their art is not valued.

Seeing entertainment as a skill can be confusing once you understand that art is what you choose to make of it. I think it is important for young artists to realize as early as they can that they are not just their art and to find their own definition for quality. To not compare other fields of work to the entertainment industry. This is surely not an easy route for me and I’m still working on it daily.

Here’s my extremely basic foundation for how to keep my passion and career from driving me insane:

1. Break old ideas of success or fame and create anew; From the time I started watching TV as a kid I saw fame portrayed as luxurious and dreamy. In reality, fame is not equal to success or even wealth. Now as I go on, I create my personal definition of success. Associating fame or money with success can be detrimental to your creativity, especially in an artistic career path.

Aiya Hunter
ILLUSTRATION: Aiya Hunter views Beyoncé’s subscriber count on YouTube. Although she has millions of subscribers, this is not the only factor of her success.

2. Comparison is not my friend; I do think it is healthy to at least know what some people around you are doing but that can easily become unhealthy and obsessive. I know my own limits and will continue to stand by them. I also know I can’t be anyone better than they can be themselves and vice versa.

3. Be vulnerable; I can just feel the difference in a scene when I’m in my head or uncomfortable compared to allowing myself to be vulnerable. Also, putting all I can into my art makes it easier for me to take criticism or even rejection.

4. Be willing and voluntary; It’s almost impossible to create something that I don’t actually want to. If I’m not willing or voluntarily I’m subconsciously pushing against the work. Therefore ruining it or prolonging the process. I believe that playing difficult characters or creating sensitive pieces of work takes a toll on the creator. I’d advise anyone doing so to be aware of how their body is reacting mentally, physically and emotionally. If I feel like I am actively or passively sabotaging myself I will take a step back and try to understand my emotions then decide what to do next. It is okay to take breaks and care for yourself.

5. Maintain confidence; I would say I’ve been confident in myself for much longer than I was aware. I once thought confidence was only defined as loving yourself and being prideful. What I’ve realized is people view confidence differently but having it is always a great thing especially in art. My version of confidence is letting myself exist without picking apart my every attribute. When I allow myself to just be, whatever I’m creating is instantly better.

Jermaine Williams
ILLUSTRATION: Aiya Hunter poses as she stretches to symbolize maintaining confidence and vulnerability while exploring ones art.

6. Rich isn’t successful; There’s a long list of artists and creators who never made it rich, yet, are now considered legends or at least greatly talented. I’m worth more than a check and so is my art. If I’m only pursuing my passion for the money then my passion is actually money. I want to set a realistic price for myself and if people cannot meet that expectation I value myself and art enough to make another decision to benefit me.

Throughout my life there have been plenty of adults who told me that a career in art is no career at all. They predict I will end up just another starving artist if I don’t have another career as my focus and entertaining as a hobby. With the help of my artistic community and my own hard work I can create a career that I will be content with. Don’t let other people create limitations for you! Create a sort of plan you can abide by or research a path for yourself to create a life you want to live.