You Don’t Have to be an Artist to Work with Art

Just because you don’t possess any artistic abilities – or just because you haven’t made it as an artist yet – doesn’t mean you can’t have a creative, art-filled career. There are plenty of “art adjacent” careers that offer rewarding opportunities to work within the creative community. Understanding the various opportunities available will make it easier to get yourself on the right career path. In this article, we’ll discuss several art-adjacent careers, what kind of education or experience is required, and how to go about landing the gig.

Art Handler

Art handlers work with museums, galleries and private collectors to move, hang and otherwise situate artworks. Oftentimes, art handlers are responsible for putting together critical aspects of an exhibition, which frequently includes a significant role in the actual creation of the artwork under the artist’s direction. For example, an art handler might set up a sculpture with multiple parts that can’t be transported as a single piece. While it’s helpful to have an art background for this role, it’s not necessary. Simply understanding how to ship, carry, hang, and care for art is often enough. To that end, educational requirements are limited. What’s more important for an art handler is to possess attention to detail, agility and of course, strength. Museums and galleries are constantly on the lookout for more art handlers, who often work on a contract, part-time basis. If you’re thinking about taking an active role in the arts industry, this is a good place to start.

Some art handlers turn their experience with museum gigs into successful businesses. Many cater to private collectors to manage artwork within their homes, galleries and businesses. They often cater to high-end hotels and condo residences, as well.

Art Registrar

A registrar works in an archive or museum and is responsible for taking care of the artwork by developing, administering, and implementing a storage and conservation policy. The preservation and storage of artwork requires extensive diligence – temperature, cataloging, packing and shipping, insurance policies and risk management all fall within the purview of a registrar’s responsibilities. They create records management systems while balancing access to works for the curator as they shift their exhibition schedules. For example, a registrar would oversee a museum’s permanent collection, making sure that the curator has access to anything they might like to use for a particular exhibit. They’d also manage the flow of traveling exhibitions, ensuring that each work is properly received and handled.

Most museums require registrars to hold advanced degrees in art history or conservation, since it requires a complex understanding of the intricacies of artworks and a museum’s code of ethics. Smaller and mid-sized institutions may combine the role of registrar with that of collections manager, while large institutions often have multiple registrars, each overseeing a different curatorial department.

Art Curator

A curator translates an artist’s vision into a digestible concept, through both writing anexhibition planning. Ever walk through a museum exhibition and read about the artist’s intention with respect to specific works? Curators write that, along with catalog essays and other content, and it often comes in very handy for art novices. In addition to planning for exhibitions, curators are responsible for staying abreast of what’s happening in the art world. Trips to local artist studios and international art fairs are common, if not essential, which pretty much makes being a curator one of the best jobs ever.

Unfortunately, curatorial positions are increasingly difficult to obtain. Though curators used to work in galleries, these days they’re mostly operating within the museum world, and there’s only so many positions to go around. Though many do freelance and curate exhibitions independently at multiple institutions, it is definitely a competitive environment.

As such, curators need to be well-trained and highly educated. Museums won’t typically hire someone for a curator role unless they have a master’s degree in an art-related field at minimum, and most require work experience at galleries (either full-time work or at least an internship or two). Employers want someone who is both savvy within the art world while also being attuned to trends among artists. Most curators are also expected to be comfortable in the public eye, as speaking engagements, fundraisers and social gatherings are a critical aspect of the job.

Gallery Director

Similar to a curator, a gallery director is responsible for finding artists and setting up shows in order to sell to their collector’s base. Though a museum curator takes a more intellectual angle within their work, it’s critical that a gallery director have a keen sense of what’s selling in the art market, as much of his or her earnings will be tied to sales. Experience in sales is therefore crucial, but so is an understanding of artistic work. In addition to finding new artists to represent, gallery directors help these artists curate and plan their exhibitions within the gallery. Typically, a gallery director also manages the flow of work at the space, which includes marketing and relationship building with collectors, sales efforts, and perhaps inventory and cataloging in smaller organizations.

Gallery directors typically hold advanced art degrees, since an understanding of contemporary art is paramount to being successful at the job. Many start out as assistants and work their way up to director, while some own their own galleries. Managing a successful gallery can be extremely lucrative, especially if the gallery trades in ultra recognized artists or famous works. Like a curator, gallery directors are expected to be poised, articulate and comfortable in social settings. A sales mentality is necessary to maintain lasting contact with collector clients.

Art Collector

Sure, you may need a heaping pile of cash to get you started, but collecting art can be an exciting and lucrative way to engage with the art world. Many collectors who make a living off their collections do so because they are constantly buying and selling their works, rather than showing them off in their living rooms. The art market moves quickly, and in some instances, a piece can take just a matter of years before it’s appreciated significantly. Plus, you get to enjoy the beauty of your collection before it’s sold.Arthena

Though it does require some cash, it’s now easier than ever to get in the game. Startups like Arthena are using crowdfunding principles to sell art by allowing groups of investors to purchase a stake in an art collection that will be sold five years later. For as little as $5,000, you can start collecting, until you’ve made enough profits to go out on your own. As a collector, it will be useful to have an arts education background and a good sense of where the art market is heading. Hanging out at art fairs, in galleries and with arts professionals will help you get a good idea.

Artist Representative

More and more, artists are seeking representatives independent of their gallery relationships. As the art world continues to evolve thanks to social media, artists are being commissioned for non-traditional gigs, such as fashion collaborations, performance installations (think artist Jen Stark’s fabulous Technicolor set during Miley Cyrus’s MTV VMA’s performance in 2015) or magazine covers. Since artists can now make money outside of just selling their art, they often hire agents to help them land these types of contracts. Agents also help artists land traditional gigs, particularly photographers – with an agent, you’ll have a middleman to help you manage any magazine or editorial projects they can swing your way, while also keeping a look out for commercial work.

While having an arts background is certainly valuable, it’s even more necessary to have marketing experience, since your job is to land contracts for artists. Being an artist agent means you will need to be well connected among a lot of different groups – magazines, collectors, event planners, interior designers, anyone that may want to use an artist in some capacity.

Art Director

Becoming an art director is probably one of the more visually-driven art adjacent careers you will encounter. Typically, an art director starts out as a graphic designer and works their way up into a more senior, creative leadership type of role. Art directors work everywhere: from ad agencies to magazines, private product companies, film and television and more. An art director guides the vision and direction of the company’s visual identity. At magazines, that means you’re taking a keen eye to layouts and photography. With products, you’ll be steering the item’s branding and logo placement while ensuring it remains consistent with the overall advertising strategy. For film and TV, you’d be working on cinematography and photography. Aside from guiding your staff through the visual process, you need to be able to critique people’s work, hit deadlines, and stay within the budget, all while ensuring that the consumer of your visual design can grasp an informational idea of what you’re trying to display.

Art directors tend to have bachelor’s degrees in creative fields – photography and graphic design are a great place to start. In addition, you’ll probably need to have experience within several types of roles before you can assume the role of art director. The best way to land a gig is to put together a killer portfolio, one that shows your best work while highlighting your unique sense of visual style.


About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.

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