What Happens To an Artist after College?

What Happens To An Artist After College?
Do they crack and do they stop creating?
Photo by: Volkan Olmez

What Happens To an Artist After College

This post is based on my struggle and others I have known of accepting the calling to be an artist in the real world after college. This doesn’t apply to the whole field but only to what I have seen happens to the people who call themselves artists.   

What happens to an artist after college? Cue in the standard replies from society,

They become broke
Live in their parent’s basement
Become unemployed

Hysterical. These are answers of people who had to give up on their dreams and want you to do the same.

So what really happens to an artist after college?

First let me define by what I mean when I say an artist. An artist is anyone who creates.

The calling to be an artist is not an easy calling to take up. In fact some of us ignore the calling for as long as possible. Society has programmed us to believe it’s inane and fruitless to become an artist. We are programmed to appreciate artists who are well known but anyone else should be labeled as a bum. It is the world we live in and so it can be daunting for anyone wanting to consider becoming an artist.

Many students leave their college campuses believing they are artists. Upon graduating I considered myself a writer but I was nowhere close to being such a thing. The real world will test you though and some people will fail and realize they were never an artist to begin with.

It is true there is no money in art…at least in the beginning. There is no such thing as an overnight success story there is only overnight recognition. The general public never sees the hours and sweat that goes into creating. All they see is the finished project that when available it’s as if it came out of thin air.

When you think of The Rolling Stones (featured in this playlist) you think of a band that’s been around for over fifty years, who has grossed more than 2 billion dollars since 1989. Even if you couldn’t name one of their songs you would certainly recognize their logo.

What Happens To An Artist After College
Known worldwide the Rolling Stones have created a logo that is as recognizable as the McDonald’s Arches

Yet what you don’t hear about are the years leading up to their stardom. How they all crashed in cheap apartments so they wouldn’t have to work and how they lived like monks practicing all through the night.

“Anybody that strayed from the nest to get laid, or try to get laid was a traitor”

Keith Richards recalls in his memoir Life. That right there kids is what we call harnessing our sexual energy which we’ll discuss in later posts.

An artist after college may realize it could take years to become a success but still they may not truly understand this concept. Some may go back to do more schooling hoping an expensive piece of paper will justify themselves of being an artist. Some may find well paying jobs and others may take a job that isn’t any good but it pays the bills so they can follow their art.

As the months go on and the years pile up the artist becomes busy trying to make enough money to survive probably trying to pay off their student loans. Their time starts to dwindle because they are working for someone else. There isn’t enough time to create anymore they’ll say. They start to become disillusioned with the world as it flies by them.

It isn’t fair they will say. Why isn’t it there a perfect society where you could follow your dreams and not have to worry about bills, feeding yourself, and paying rent?

They start to dream about this utopia where it’s possible to be free from other distractions to pursue their true passion. It doesn’t exist though and probably never will. Dreams are for the dreamers and dreamers are asleep. An artist must be awake.

Some will become comfortable in the jobs they find. Perhaps they even earn enough to forget their urge to be an artist and mark it up as a silly childhood dream. Others will continue to call themselves an artist but they are too blind to see they aren’t heading in the right direction. An artist must always be creating.

When the time comes to create though they stare at their blank canvas for a few moments before walking away sighing saying something along the lines of “the inspiration just wasn’t there today.” Yet it won’t be there tomorrow, the next day, or the next with how they are working.

Soon the doubts start to take root in the artist’s heart and the artist will start to question if they truly are what they say they are. They’ll look to their peers who have their high paying jobs or who are starting to have families of their own. They’ll wonder if they were wrong in the end, if they should’ve gone done the safer path. Perhaps everyone who told them to get a real job or to give up their childish dreams was on to something they’ll think.

For some it will eventually become too much and they’ll crack. The artist stops creating, thus the artist is dead.

But let us ask another question. Were they really an artist to begin with?

Perhaps you are reaching your breaking point? Maybe you’re asking yourself if you really are cut out for this. Maybe you’ve just started on your journey and you’re wondering if it will all be worth it. After college I came to this crossroad and had to ask myself if this was all worth it?

Here’s the thing. An artist creates not because they want to but because they have to. It cannot be avoided unless they are willing to live a life that feels meaningless to them.

Why do you create? Is it because you want to or have to?

At the darkest hour of the night while the world toils away in sleep ask yourself: Must I create?

You must go deep inside of yourself to find the answer. But if you do find the answer and it’s a simple and strong, “Yes,” then you must build your life around this necessity. I say necessity because that’s what your art is now, a necessity just like food, shelter, and oxygen. You cannot live without it.

My first four years out of college I was that disillusioned artist. There were times I would create for months and then I’d stop. I’d become distracted by women, vices, and laziness. I’d wake up with a hangover and ask myself what the hell I was even doing. My job was meaningless to me and I was meaningless because I wasn’t creating. I’d become depressed while telling myself I’d get to it one of these days. I was driven to near destruction until I figured something out.

I am a happier person when I am creating. When I am not, I find myself in a rut, a funk, the low down dirty rotten blues. All of a sudden the answers to where my dark moods and that pit in the bottom of my stomach were coming from were given to me. It was so simple but never easy for me to see. If I am not creating I may as well be dead.

If you find yourself feeling the same way then now is the time to act. Build your life around creating and learning how others create. Be serious about it. It is your calling and you must not go into it half heartedly. Once you decide to become an artist, a creator, your life even in the smallest and most mundane moments must be a sign of this urge to create and to be a testament to it.

If you create will the money follow?

Perhaps not but if you are an artist you will be happier for creating in the end. History is full of examples of people who were considered “failed” artists because they didn’t achieve fame or money in their life. Yet their art lived past them to the day where the rest of society caught up and appreciated the work of the so called failure.

Just look at Franz Kafka who is considered one of the most influential authors of the 20th Century. If you look at his Wikipedia page his occupation is listed as Novelist, short story writer, and insurance officer…Kafka never made money off of his calling. His money came from his brotberuf, “day job”, although I really enjoy the literal translation “bread job.” On his death bed he asked his friend Max Brod that all his works be burned unread. Lucky for us Brod went against his wishes and started to publish his work causing Kafka to be recognized as he is today.

It is a tragic story but it is a story of an artist. Someone who created till the day they died even if the world wasn’t noticing.



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