career transition
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Career Transition Tips: Preparing for a Second Career as an Artist

Knowing that a career in fine art has always been your calling can be an incredible breakthrough while also leading to great uncertainty. Despite having bright artistic talent, not every artist begins their career in fine arts. Perhaps you fall into the category of “deferred artist”: someone passionate about art-making who pursued a different career earlier in life for various reasons, whether being offered a different job or seeking greater material gain. There’s no stigma attached with approaching a second career as an artist following a career transition! The most important is to be prepared to tackle a full-time career as an artist. It can seem daunting, but by creating a solid action plan to make a mindful career transition you’ll be one step closer to becoming a fine artist in your second act in life! Here we sourced informed opinions on what you can expect when making a career transition into fine art.

Launch a Smart Second Act

AARP Deputy Art Director Dian Holton sheds light on the issues that face artists of retirement age ready to shift focus to a second career in fine art. We sat down to learn firsthand what sets apart retirees who are ready to present work to the art world, and those whose transitions fall flat.

“First, the [art] market is competitive so it’s important to set realistic expectations and have a passion for your new career. To be honest, my insights are no different than what I’d give someone just entering the creative workforce. Research the area of interest. Take classes (everyone can benefit from continuous learning) and be open to receiving insights, counsel and criticism. Network. Show up. Be present in the creative spaces where other artists are.”

Beginning with market research, such as identifying artists already in the field making similar work and gaining a firm understanding of contemporary art theory, fine artists should understand that becoming successful relies on more than just art-making. While the fun part of being an artist is working in the studio, pursuing art sales and recognition requires legwork in addition to simply creating new work. Set reasonable goals for yourself aligned with how you see a successful second career evolving in the fine art industry. 

Former Executive Director of the Australian National Association for the Visual Arts Tamara Winikoff reinforces this concept – that success is self-directed, and that this impetus begins within. Knowing what questions will take you into future success as a fine artist are key – second only to knowing your answer. “What do I want out of this? Do I want to be selling work? Do I want to be seen? Where do you position yourself? How do you identify yourself? Are you courageous enough, bold enough, silly enough to say: “I am an artist,” when you fill out your Census form or go through customs at the airport?” By slowly and consciously aligning yourself with your new identity as an artist, you will be psychologically better prepared for the long road ahead.

Career Transition: Where Joy Meets Hard Work

career transition

It’s easy for artists to see the fun that lies ahead at the beginning of their career transition: with all the free time ahead to make new artworks, what’s not to love? The key to not burning out right away is to realize when you have unrealistic expectations. Holton reflects on the aspects of re-entering the workforce, part-time or full-time, as a fine artist. “It’s competitive, hence the importance of building professional relationships. Also depending on many variables, it might not be as lucrative [of a new career] as [someone] think[s]. Many factors play into bringing home a sustainable income. Individuals still have to put in the work and time.” Recognizing that although making art is a fun job, it is still a career pursuit, will create a healthy frame of mind for emerging artists transitioning from a past career “life”. In addition, Holton reflects on the boundless possibilities for new artists seeking ways to get engaged and make a wider impact. “Opportunities [for artists] are everywhere. They should share their talents in a variety of places: elementary schools, senior homes, hospital or non-profits as well as faith-based organizations. Organization and/or institutions mentioned are often looking for new works of art. This could be a good opportunity for the artist to get visibility while having creative freedom. Speaking of additional volunteer opportunities, please check out” Getting a handle on impacting the wider community can both expand your existing contacts and – most importantly – enact real change in the local community.

Don’t lose sight of your ability to continue to make an impact, both personally and professionally, in this new role of fine artist. Find ways to combine it with other passions and/or skill sets you already possess. Have a background in marketing? Offer to partner with a small local artist-run space to get the word out: it will give you a chance to meet active members of the local community and gain insights into the local art market! Know a lot about event planning? Dive in and offer to help a local arts organization and/or nonprofit group supporting artists as a volunteer for a benefit event or gala. Find ways to make yourself indispensable to your local arts community, and you will have the favor returned – probably even more quickly than you think! By gauging who to work with and how to forge a path ahead as an artist, your priorities can set you directly on the path to success. Gaining confidence as an artist is crucial – and there’s no better way to feel integrated into a community than by finding ways to help existing networks reach their best potential.

Finally, don’t forget why you made this transition to the fine arts to begin with. In order to fully and seamlessly welcome a career transition: find out what makes your artwork click, find a way to share these moments with friends and colleagues, and forge ahead toward a serious career in a new field – one that you’ll be happy to rise and shine at every day!

Feel prepared for your next career as an emerging fine artist? Considered how your previous career can inform this next step in your life? Want to share reflections on how you made a thoughtful, creative transition to a rewarding career in fine art? Include your insights here in the comments for your fellow career transition-ready artists!

About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant and editor.

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