Moving beyond the stereotype of the starving artists, there are many ways for these creative types to get by. The artistic cast of characters who entertain and enrich our lives are similar to Jerry and his crew on Seinfeld.
There will always be the Jerrys in the limelight, out there gigging every night at the club and succeeding on the merits of their likability. There are Georges who are below-average underachievers, finding success and failure in equal measure depending on which way their luck goes.
The Elaines are full of style and talent, but they support their way of life through administrative work. And, of course, there will always be Kramers, the natural eccentrics scheming their way through life.
For many of us in the creative world, there’s the reality of a life with no pot of money at the end of the liberal arts or visual arts rainbow. Not even after four semesters of jazz and composition, or finally being able to paint a narrative with depth of field and sense of space will someone award us health insurance or a steady paycheck. Finding your own unique way of hustling is the rule of the land, if anybody wants to survive.
Most of my peers who have made a rich life sustained entirely by their art are also those whose work ethic and talent was acknowledged and affirmed with the various education grants and scholarships they received every year of their college education. The students who had the most support, whether financial or through the esteem of their peers, are also the ones that succeeded the most.
Beyond my own anecdotal experience, some studies positively claim that the unemployment rate for artists is decreasing faster than the national average, and that overall they tend to live happier and more fulfilling lives than people in other professions. The fulfillment of artists is due in large part to the autonomy their work allows (with the exception of performance artists like musicians and actors, who may have less autonomy).
The data is tricky to read in that it categorizes a vast and diverse field -- such as “the arts,” when truthfully circumstances vary from profession to profession. It's not the same world out there for a designer whose work holds more marketable value compared to a conceptual artist’s work whose value is cultural and less tangible in the eyes of society. Additionally, seasonal work, such as acting or dancing for theater companies falls under the “employed” category even though it isn’t exactly a steady job with benefits and a 401k.
I would venture to say that the scholarships and awards that were awarded to my peers at Herron School of Art did go to the very best of the best. The Jerry Seinfelds of the world earn their applause and money through both talent and effort. But still, there’s something to say about the nontraditional artists who also displayed an immense, although less rewarded, amount of talent.
The night owls who were always late, the socially anxious ones who did not participate as much in critiques, the eternal bankrupt ones who would show up to class with less than ideal supplies, and the ones that life just kept happening to them in the form of car troubles, dead relatives and food poisoning.
I am reminded of an episode from season 8 of Seinfeld in which George Costanza reviews several candidates for “The Foundation’s” first scholarship, and he ends up awarding the scholarship to someone who reminds him of himself: a below-average underachiever. Not because I think that underachievers should get more scholarships to support their slacker lifestyle, but because I think there was a part of me that identified with George and his soft spot for the underdog.
I also tend to champion nontraditional students. I was one myself, after all. With my two jobs to help out my parents, while still living with them in the suburbs and commuting downtown to school, there were far too many priorities above my studies that rendered my academic destiny something other than what I planned.
While entertaining these thoughts, I met with Kim Hodges, Director of Development at Herron School of Art to find out exactly what a person needed to do to contribute in a meaningful way (financially) to the present life of the future artist, and I learned that it’s not difficult at all.
Any person can make a one-time gift in their name, which will go directly to a student. This gift is awarded according to the criteria of the donor for as little as $500 a year. For big spenders, an endowment is a one-time donation for which the scholarship exists in perpetuity (what a legacy!) and it is established with a minimum donation of $25,000 (payable over the course of up to five years). When fully funded, the endowment provides approximately $1,125 annually to a deserving student.
Additionally, Herron School of Art has two existing scholarships, a general fund for any student and a heritage one for minority students, to which people can give any amount of money at any time.
And so I leave you with these thoughts and data, and a proposition: In addition to helping the next Jerrys find nightly success, let’s encourage the future Georges, Elaines, Kramers, and even the occasional Newman for the future artists of our city.
Help students realize their vision and make our world a better and more colorful place. And maybe we can even support politicians with policies that give artists the access to health insurance and the steady paychecks other workers enjoy. Above all, I found it’s pretty easy to put your money where your mouth is.