No matter what point you've reached in your education or career so far, you've probably been told that a job search in the arts and humanities is a steep uphill battle. And while there's no denying that only a tiny percentage of those with arts degrees actually wind up achieving celebrity in their areas of expertise, that also doesn't mean it's impossible to find fulfilling artistic work – work that makes direct use of your artistic training, even – in a variety of career fields.
Whether you dream of working as a painter, a photographer, a music composer, a video editor, an actor, or a designer, companies and organizations around the world are looking to use your talents in jobs that'll help you build up your portfolio of work. Read on to find out how to use those artistic skills to pay the bills.
Put your work online
In the creative arts, you'll often hear the advice to "just keep putting your name out there" – but people aren't always clear about what they mean by this, exactly: "Put it out where?" If you've grown suspicious about advice this vague, it's with good reason – cold-calling alone isn't likely to land you a worthwhile job in the arts. But in a different sense, this kind of advice carries an important message: An online portfolio will give you an edge in interviews – and also help you land paying clients if you're interested in freelancing. And you'll be doing yourself a long-term favor if you get that portfolio started right now.
WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr can set you up with a professional-looking blog theme in five minutes, for free. If you're a photographer, check out SmugMug or FolioHD. If you're an actor, an editor or a video artist, YouTube makes it easy to start your own channel. And if you're a musician or audio producer, SoundCloud provides a user-friendly interface for sharing your work. As you start uploading your work onto your site of choice, don't spend too much time on extended descriptions or artist statements – just keep your posts well-organized, and let your work speak for itself.
Though you may not have anywhere in particular to send your portfolio at the moment, getting started now will accomplish a few important things. It'll get you in the habit of uploading your work in an organized and consistent way; it'll give you time to play around with your portfolio's design until it looks just the way you want; it'll provide some extra motivation to keep creating new work regularly; and it'll give you the confidence of knowing you've got a well-tended body of work ready to show off when the right door opens just a crack.
Get a recruiter in your corner
If you're looking for work as an actor, you're probably seeking out your own talent agent – and if you're aiming to break into any aspect of the film industry, you're probably browsing industry-specific job boards like Mandy.com, ProductionHUB and EntertainmentCareers.net. But resources like these only capture a very narrow slice of the well-paying careers that'll allow you to make use of your artistic gifts. That's no reason to give up on your big dreams, of course – but look at it this way: Knowing your rent is paid will free up a lot of creative energy.
In addition to talent agents and cold-calling, you've got two main types of tools at your disposal when it comes to an artistic job search: Recruiting firms and job databases. Both these types of resources have their own advantages and disadvantages – and in fact, you'll most likely want to take advantage of both in your own search.
One major advantage of a recruiting firm (also known as a staffing firm or staffing agency) is that they earn a commission on every employee they're able to place in a position on one of their clients' projects – which means they've got an incentive to keep searching until they find you work or run out of people to call. While many recruiting firms do tend to focus on clerical work, quite a few of them also recruit for more artistic positions. Some even specialize in tracking down artists.
The Arts Consulting Group, for example, helps fill both interim and long-term openings for a variety of arts-and-culture clients. Four Seasons Recruitment matches talent with jobs in the UK fashion industry. The agencies Aquent and Cyr Associates both recruit artistic talent for corporate advertising departments. And even some of the more broad-based staffing firms, like AppleOne and Aerotek, serve many clients in the film, TV and radio industries – especially in their Los Angeles and New York offices.
You can easily find more promising recruiters by running a few Google searches for terms like (for instance) "music industry staffing firm," "set design talent recruitment" or "film editing staffing agency" – substituting your own specialty as necessary. Even if you don't run across a firm that's dedicated specifically to your area of interest, it's still worth your while to get in touch with a few of the biggest ones in your city. They'll almost certainly be able to find you some art-related work – or at the very least, a steady desk job that'll keep your lights and heat on while you build up your portfolio.
Expand your job-search knowledge
Unlike recruiting firms, job databases leave you to do most of the legwork yourself. But that also means you'll be able to search whenever you want, anywhere you have Internet access; and respond instantly to any posting that catches your eye. Sites like these can also be handy tools for surveying the salary range you can expect, and for finding out what kinds of job openings are most common in your own area of interest.
The arts and humanities include such a wide range of subfields that it's all-but impossible to cover every specialized job database in a single article – but here's a sampling of what's out there, just to give you a general idea: CreativeHeads.net provides a large job job board for the video game, animation, VFX and software design industries; Dance.net gathers job postings for dancers and dance instructors; ShowbizJobs.com lists openings not only in film, but also in theater, radio and television; and Krop.com offers openings for all sorts of art and design jobs, especially in the field of interactive media. Some Google searches for terms like (for example) "sound technician job database" or "art director job board" can help you turn up job databases that focus on your own area of expertise – or at least include it as a search category.
Freelance work can also help pay the bills while building up that portfolio – which is why it's worthwhile to create free accounts on Freelancer.com and Elance.com, two of the largest freelancing portals on the web. Both these sites list thousands of postings for creative freelance gigs – some of which can turn into long-term assignments if you consistently turn out top-quality work. Much like eBay, both these sites ask clients to rate each freelancer with whom they work – which means happy clients will lead to more jobs and higher pay for you.
Expand your (social) network
Google searches are great for starting your search – but another effective way of exploring career options involving your craft is to seek out guidance from people who've found ways to make a living from it. Facebook and LinkedIn are both home to a dizzying variety of arts-and-humanities communities – many of them career-oriented and welcoming to new members.
Facebook communities like "The Artist Lounge," "Filmmaking Stuff," and "Art, Surface & Textile Design Group" are all home to thousands of members posting in active threads – as are LinkedIn groups like "Freelance Audio Visual Technicians," "Stage Designers," and "Musicians' Network." Try typing your own area of artistic interest into the search bar at the top of each of these sites, and watch a whole list of suggested group pages drop down.
As long as a group is regularly updated, filled with active members, and friendly to debate and discussion (all of which you can tell with a quick glance over the recent threads), you've got nothing to lose by joining up. Even if a group is marked "closed" or "private," feel free to send a join request anyway – many admins prefer not to let their groups get cluttered with unrelated posts, but will welcome your questions and contributions.
Launching any artistic career takes time, patience, and a commitment to getting the details right – but you've got a lot more options than might seem obvious at first glance. With your polished online portfolio, your toolbox of targeted of job-search resources, and your network of fellow creative pros, you'll soon be well on your way to tracking down a stable job that allows you to exercise your artistic abilities. The sooner you get started, the further ahead of the competition you'll be.
"What Can I Do With My Liberal Arts Degree?" (PDF download) — An article by liberal arts majors now employed at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, exploring a variety of career options for those with degrees in the arts.
GetInMedia.com — Career information – including company profiles, job descriptions, articles, and other resources – for anyone interested in the fields of music, games, film & TV, and live event production.
MusicianWages.com — A comprehensive library of tips, document templates, interviews and other resources for career musicians of all stripes.