Have an interesting or unusual question about the art business? Send your questions to AskTheCurator@gmail.com and I'll choose a question to answer here.
This month's question, isn't really a question so much as a response to a complaint I hear often as I'm mentoring artists. It takes years, sometimes a lifetime, to finally "make it" as an artist and earn a living off your work. Until then, get a day job. Stocking shelves at a Target really sucks when all you want to do is sit in your studio and paint.
My response to this complaint isn't "suck it up buttercup" or "you've got to pay your dues" which is what I heard constantly in my early career. Instead I'll respond with something much more valuable:
MAKE THE MOST OF IT!
If you're stocking shelves at Target while waiting to get your big break as a painter, don't waste your time complaining about how much your talent is wasted on stocking shelves. Learn about inventory management. Learn about product display (which BTW Target has mastered because I go in for toothpaste and leave with never less than $100 worth of stuff I didn't know I needed). Learn about retail taxes etc. If you want to make a living as an artist you're basically starting a small business. You'll need to know how to deal with inventory, taxes, etc enough to do it yourself or well enough to hire a professional without being taken advantage of.
And while you're at it, make connections!
Chances are you are not the only aspiring artist with a day job stocking shelves. Build relationships with these other artists, as they get closer to their dreams they may be able to lend a hand and get you on the right path. Don't neglect the executives at your company either. The Target Manager may be looking for a painting to hang over the mantle in her new home. The Marketing Manager may be looking for an up and coming artist to design an add.
Finally, take chances and be prepared to fail spectacularly! I'll give you an example.
When I was managing the Kohl Children's Museum, the Exhibits Department was designing a new "Shoes" exhibit. They needed an artist to create the artwork for the walls of the exhibit and for the marketing materials. I ask the head of the department if I could submit a portfolio for consideration and got an enthusiastic "Yes!" in response. I had a week to put it together. I spent all my free time drawing my shoes and having my roommates pose as children tying their shoes. I felt I had a really solid shot at getting this! After all, I was willing to do it for practically nothing just for the experience and prestige. But then my portfolio was rejected and my dreams of being an illustrator were crushed. However, the worst thing about it was everyone at the museum knew I was trying to get the illustration job, and now they all knew my art was garbage and I'd been rejected. They knew the museum would rather pay an expensive artist than use my work for free. My ego and confidence were in shreds and I was dreading having to face everyone at the museum. What was surprising for me at the time that I've now come to understand is actually the norm, the people I worked with were incredibly kind and supportive. Artists are rejected all the time. It's not that their work is garbage, it's that they're not the right fit. I took a chance and I failed. However I learned a lot from the experience and eventually went on to illustrate children's books among many other things.
So whatever you are doing, make the most of it, learn from your mistakes and don't be afraid to take chances.