Starving Artist No More: Craft Careers for Art Students

Starving Artist No More: Craft Careers for Art Students

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August 27, 2019

Author: Kelsey Zibell, NCCER Guest Contributor

What is art?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has several definitions for the word ‘art’. Here are two of them:

  • Art – n. occupation requiring knowledge or skill
  • Art – n. the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.

Therefore, someone owning or pursuing an art degree should be capable of creating something visually pleasing with skill and creative imagination.

With these skill sets, an art student could be led down an infinite number of career paths – including some you might not expect.

Imagine someone came up to you and said you have three chances to guess what their career is. The only hint they give you is that they have an art degree. What would your three guesses be? Maybe you think they’re a fine arts painter, actor, dancer, photographer or graphic designer.

Smiling, they tell you that you’re wrong. They are a construction craft professional – a carpenter. Just like your favorite HGTV shows, they go into homes and remodel them. Using their creative eye, they create and execute projects that transform homes.

While many people might not look at construction as an artistic field, the industry requires an inventive mind and skilled hands. Here’s why construction offers careers for art students.

Which Construction Careers Require Creativity?

Have you ever admired a memorial, statue, stained glass window, bridge, skyscraper or even someone’s renovated kitchen? If so, you have admired the art made by craft professionals.

Simply put, every construction career requires creativity.

As craft professionals create the buildings and infrastructure all around us, they are working to ensure that it is both functional and attractive. This requires an artistic eye that is backed by an immense amount of skill. Transforming wood, concrete, glass and metal into a building that looks good and has amenities like working AC and running water is no easy feat.

It takes creativity to look at a job site, blueprint or piece of wood and know how to transform it into something beautiful. Further, it takes talent to take that vision and bring it to life. Graduates with an art degree already have the ability to see the art in every day life. The only thing they need to join the industry is the professional craft skills required to execute their visions.

High Skill, High Reward

In a study by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) in 2014, research showed that art degree graduates found that their training was relevant to their careers regardless if their career was in the arts. According to the report, studying art taught them skills and ways of thinking that were widely applicable.

This proves that an art degree can be applicable to a career in construction. Though not traditionally thought of as an artistic career choice, craft careers require a way of thinking that closely aligns with that of an art student.

That same study found that after graduation, many art alumni pursued careers outside of the arts for financial reasons. This is consistent with the ‘starving art student’ stereotype. Typically, there is an assumption that art students are pursuing a degree that will lead to nothing but financial ruin and hunger, dramatically speaking.

Luckily, the construction industry offers careers for art students that are artistically skilled and high-paying. Careers in architecture have an average salary of $87,500 and painters on average make $41,840 every year. In the crafts, artists are in demand and jobs have high wages.

By applying their artistic talents through a construction craft, students can avoid the ‘starving artist’ situation and have a high-earning career.

Now More Than Ever

As the price of a college education continues to increase and as 46% of U.S. employers face difficulty in hiring because of the skills gap, now is the best time to join the industry.

According to the SNAAP study, 64% of art students graduate with debt. As salaries continue to rise for craft professionals in the construction industry, now is the best time for art graduates to join the industry, earn a high wage and pay off their student loans while in an artistic career.

Even for students with no experience in the crafts, construction careers follow an ‘earn as you learn’ model, meaning trainees are taught the skills they need to succeed through an apprenticeship. With this model, students begin making a livable wage as soon as they start in the industry.

So, art students – what are you waiting for?