In today’s world, career advice for anyone interested in the arts is usually less than optimistic – simply glancing at any front page of the New York Times will likely offer such conclusions.
MUSE interviewed three representatives in the three broad fields of visual arts, film and creative writing to lay down the basics of preparing for an art career in and after college.
Visual art is subjective to the thousands. But to Renny Pritikin, director and curator of the Nelson Gallery and Fine Art Collection, located in the art building, it’s much more than a matter of taste.
“It’s a practice, a lifetime’s worth of looking,” Pritikin said. “It’s also like any other profession; you immerse yourself completely in it. I read every art magazine, go to every exhibition in the Bay Area, I have a network of colleagues that I talk to, I do studio visits [and] I travel. It becomes part of the air you breathe in thinking about it.”
To Pritikin, preparing for a career in the fine arts follows a somewhat similar process – a refined experience through graduate school and beyond. Pritikin said that while a master in fine arts is not necessarily required for a successful visual arts career, such a degree puts students at a significant advantage over those solely with a Bachelor’s degree.
“Use your undergraduate years to get your chops – to learn how to use a computer or a paintbrush or any other tool,” Pritikin said. “Then go to grad school and expose yourself to other artists, really fine tune [yourself] and make connections.”
Pritikin stressed the importance of a business edge to complement an art degree, since many artists fail to effectively sell themselves after graduating.
“The reality is that for the one in a thousand that really makes it big, the rewards are really big,” Pritikin said. “You have to accept that you’re not going to be rich, unless you’re really lucky. The flip side is that you will have a much more interesting life than most people who become accountants.”
As for life after graduate school, Pritikin said networking and exposing one’s own work to other artists is a necessary and essential process.
“In my own case, I’ve been a curator for 30 years and I have traveled everywhere, I’ve met most or many of the most interesting people of my generation,” Pritikin said. “I don’t regret a minute of it. What do you want out of life? Do you want the bucks, or do you want to have fun?”
Film studies and production
Senior film studies and English double major Joy Li is the peer advisor for the film studies department. As a student experienced with seasoned film studies majors and students simply interested in the field, Li offered her insight on a UC Davis student’s place in the film world.
“If [you’re] going into grad school, half [of them] will want you to have experience already, half won’t,” Li said. “If [you’re] looking for a job at an already established video company, they’ll need a stronger portfolio.”
Li said that because the film studies department takes a historical and analytical approach to the field. Actual production is generally left for the student’s own time.
“Our program is stronger in cinematic movements as opposed to performance,” Li said. “They’d have to do more of their own portfolio work. For those who are interested in pure production, there’s technocultural studies.”
Location is also an essential factor when considering a future career, Li said. Larger and more established cities like Los Angeles and New York offer relatively more opportunities than cities like San Francisco.
Other possible career paths range anywhere from work with news stations and promotions to archival work with old footage.
“I think just looking at [it] now, when I’m about to graduate, I think it would help to have internships in film and TV,” Li said. “That would help me find a job.”
Like the path of visual art, graduate school is often tied to a successful career in creative writing. David Masiel, a lecturer in the University Writing Program, a contributor for Washington Post and New York Times Magazine and author of two novels, said the importance of a graduate education is a useful path for students interested in creative writing.
“It’s a good way to give yourself a couple of years of support and feedback, as well as course study that can be useful,” Masiel said.
While graduate school is a common path for most students interested in creative writing, significant debate surrounds the degree to which a masters program can positively or negatively affect a writer.
“Some critics have complained that the explosion of creative writing programs has influenced American letters in a negative way by creating cookie cutter methods to fiction,” Masiel said. “I don’t necessarily think that means it’s a bad thing to do for an individual. [Masters programs] give a student the opportunity to work with professionals, as long as they can keep their head and keep what’s original about them.”
As with any other artistic craft, new forms of writing, reading and distribution challenge the older methods. Devices such as Amazon’s Kindle grow increasingly prevalent in the written world, creating what Masiel says could be a more “democratic” medium for writers as publishers become increasingly obsolete.
“It’s a question of whether or not you embrace it,” Masiel said. “You have to be your own marketer, if you’re talking about succeeding in that totally free enterprise market.”
JUSTIN T. HO can be reached at email@example.com.