Your Art Career - Employment in Creative Arts

Your Art Career – Part Two

art career blog title image, drawing, sketch pad,
Your Art Career Part 2


In the second part of my new series, your art career, we focus on the skills you have as a creative and how they can be utilised to find employment opportunities in areas of the creative industry that you might never have previously considered.


Once again, I’ve been chasing the data to make sure that you have the latest labour market information for the creative sector, and whilst the data I have looked at over the past few weeks is from across the UK, the art world is relatively consistent in its skills need around the world.

A Photoshop specialist in the UK could also be a Photoshop specialist in the USA, and the pandemic has taught us that there are very few digital borders and the skills required within the creative sector are relatively consistent wherever they are used. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you use Photoshop, you will have a folder on your PC called either, final_in_progress or AAA_final_final or at least something similar. You get the drift, the skills are the same regardless of location.

Before we get down to look through the latest data, its maybe a good idea to take a look at the state of the art world right now. Whilst the world is in the midst of a pandemic, there are some early and very tentative green shoots of recovery in random places, but we also need to be cognisant that the art world is one incredibly tough gig right now and there are broad sections within the creative sector that will be struggling much more than others.

boat on sea painting by Mark Taylor
Adrift and Finally Free by Mark Taylor


The State of the Art World in 2021…

The art world over the past twelve months has become a very different place for many artists and arts organisations, many of whom have found their doors shuttered and footfall into galleries and museums at an all-time low, in some markets, it’s somewhere between almost and categorically non-existent.

The challenges of a global pandemic have never been more obvious than when once busy galleries find themselves in a position where they have no idea how much longer they will be able to keep the lights on. There’s a real people challenge too, so many people have been financially displaced by the closing of the art worlds doors and at least for now, it continues to have an impact, often on entire communities.

Buying behaviour has also changed and whilst the lockdowns around the world have accelerated an acceptance around buying artwork online, and long before most of us thought that an online shift of this size might happen, there’s a lot more competition and there are many artists who cannot surface their work in front of their regular physical show-going and gallery audiences.

Buyers are still around as I mentioned in my previous article, which you can find here, but there is little doubt that anyone involved in selling art is having to work harder than ever for the sale.

Will the art world ever get back to where it was a little more than a year ago? That’s certainly a difficult question to answer and it’s a little too early to say exactly what might happen next, but I do think that the shift towards online sales will stay and will grow even more, regardless. If we look back to the slumps the art world experienced in 1991 and again in 2009, we might be able to find some answers for the more physical aspect of some elements of the art world though.

In 1991, the art world shrank by around 62% through the collapse of Japans asset price bubble, which then took some thirteen years to recover to the same levels seen in 1990. The banking crisis of 2009 saw auction price sales fall by 36% before rising again just a year later to almost double, but they then continued to rise until 2014 when finally, they began to plateau at more than six times the level seen in 1990. In short, the pandemic isn’t the art worlds first tumultuous rodeo.

That might present plenty of hope that the art world could recover relatively quickly post-pandemic, but we do have to be mindful that the particular section of the art market those numbers reflect, is the part of the art market that is primarily supported by the wealthy collectors of multi-million dollar works.

Even the high-end art market who were perhaps better prepared than most for the shift towards online have been reporting drops in sales, the wealthiest collectors have been hampered by travel restrictions as much as anyone else, and the secondary art markets also haven’t been faring particularly well.

But let’s be real here, the high-end multi-billion dollar art market has never been a market that is huge in number, it’s the market that frequently makes the press and makes the most noise, but, it’s a part of the art market that’s not exactly where the majority of working artists work.

The multi-billion dollar market will find its feet again, although I think it will need to look very different to the one we not long ago left behind, but the one I’m more concerned about is the market that feeds directly into local economies, or more specifically, the one where the majority of working artists like you and me, work.

robin on a dry stone wall art by Mark taylor
Robin on a Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor


The buyers who buy art from the vast swathes of artists on platforms such as Etsy, are not the same buyers who would usually be going out to buy an original Matisse. There’s more competition amongst artists on those kinds of platforms as more people look towards careers they can access from home, and I’ll go out on not too much of a limb here, maybe we also have to consider that the markets for the majority of working artists might be more likely to have been financially impacted as a result of the pandemic. In short, while you can still earn a living from being an artist today, it’s much tougher than it was to make the sale.

The outlook for what I would call the art world for most people, is a difficult one to call but if I had to call it, there will always be a fundamental and deep need for the art that the majority of working artists produce, and it’s still entirely possible to make a living as an artist and that need won’t go away. But, I’m going to add a caveat right about here, you will almost certainly have to work even harder than you did before and knowing your market has never been quite so important.

A lack of sales could be through any number of reasons, not simply because no one wants to buy what you create, nor could it be because of the reduced social mobility and the dramatic economic uncertainty we’re seeing, I know a number of independent artists who have had one of their best ever years for sales, and others who have had one of their worst.

To counter some of these issues, it might pay to revisit the skills you need in your toolbox and make sure that you look at all of the factors that could be affecting sales. It could be a marketing problem, it could be the amount of competition, it could even be that your descriptions and metadata need an overhaul to reach the search queries of new buyers, and sure it could be due to people having less money right now, but unless you are looking at your own market data, the real problem will remain elusive and you’ll waste time chasing the unicorn that is the art buyer who is hidden within the proverbial haystack of art buyers. Remember that the only advice an artist really needs is to go out and work out who their market is, every other question will answer itself once that’s done.

As for galleries, post-pandemic, there’s a risk that the small and medium galleries who were already struggling pre-pandemic and who were already being well and truly over shadowed by the mega-galleries, might not pull through to the end of the pandemic and no one can categorically say when that might be. Personally, and not to be alarmist, we could be living with either the pandemic, another pandemic, or the effects of the pandemic for a number of years.

There may very well be some hope for those brick and mortar galleries who have embraced the hybrid ‘click and mortar’ way of doing business, mixing physical spaces with more online access and content. I have a feeling that it will be that kind of model that will ultimately win the day for small to medium physical galleries.

It’s not at all doom and gloom. Those buyers who are out there and who are still buying from the majority of working artists seem keener than ever to support local and small businesses. Big businesses are doing all they can to replicate the feel of a small business, but they can never do it quite as well or authentically as a small business can.

There’s another train of thought that I have subscribed to for a number of years which is, even if buyers can’t afford to buy your work right now, having aspirational collectors in waiting is never a bad thing and those kind of folks should always feature prominently in any longer term plan.

dry stone wall and church art by Mark Taylor
Fall Wall by Mark Taylor


Preparing for the future…

For those who have been displaced by what has been going on in the art world, or for those who have been considering moving their artistic skills in another direction, or moving into the creative arena for the first time, there are still, even today, opportunities within the creative sector, you just have to know where to look.

As I said in my previous article, the creative sector is much broader than the job roles of artist or graphic designer. It’s also never a bad idea to consider upgrading your existing skillset by looking towards some of the creative disciplines that remain, and indeed have increased in demand over the past year, and this kind of information is really useful if you are self-employed and find yourself in a position where you might need to diversify your portfolio and inevitably bolster up your creative skills to match.

Artist seeking employment…

As we discussed in my last article, many artists have no option other than to support their art through taking on a side or second-job to keep the wolves from the door while they build up their art practice into a fully self-sustainable art business. 

Increasingly, the pandemic has meant that for some artists who already had a previously viable business, many have had to drastically change course and look for paid employment opportunities to sustain their art practice as shows and physical gallery spaces continue to be largely closed.

Most creatives and certainly all of the creatives I have spoken to over the past twelve months who have had to look towards finding a second job to carry them through, wouldn’t necessarily want a job outside of the creative sector if they had a choice. The problem most visual artists will face is that there are very few job adverts these days that specifically ask for an artist as a job title.

Yet companies and organisations have a need for people who are skilled artists, even today in the midst of a global pandemic. You’re probably wondering how I know this, and the answer is that we need to look not just at the jobs that appear in the local newspaper or on the local jobs notice board, we need to look more broadly across the job postings from a much wider area where the skills of an artist are categorically mentioned in the job advert, even if the job title is nowhere close to artist.

For anyone of a certain age who might remember their school or college days and the mandatory thirty minutes with a career advisor who wasn’t really a career advisor at all, it was usually a teacher or lecturer who had drawn the short straw, the process of finding any kind of paid employment usually meant trawling through job adverts and looking for something that you could do with the qualifications you did or didn’t get and then applying for the job and hoping for the best.  

Today, companies don’t really recruit their staff like that at all, yet most people still look for jobs through the lens of a job title, and that’s the most limiting thing you can do. Here’s what you need to do instead.

Ignore the job title, and instead, look at the skills the company or organisation is asking for.

When I looked at the data I also looked at some of the job postings that were associated with the jobs appearing in the datasets and it started to confirm that skills and experience both have greater currency placed on them by employers. All but one of the job postings I could find online didn’t specifically ask for the post-holder to hold a formal qualification.

Most mentioned that you should have previous experience, and have a good knowledge of the subject area but there was no prescriptive requirement for a particular formal qualification to be held. Further conversations with specialists in the field of careers and recruitment seemed to bear this out too, skills and experience are becoming much more relevant than the formal piece of paper that comes with a qualification. That’s not to say though that qualifications aren’t still good to have, they are another source of evidence, but when applying for a role, don’t be put off by not having one if the organisation isn’t asking.

Going further still, micro-credentials such as digital badges that verify skills such as being able to communicate, (although most skills that can be evidenced can be digitally credentialled)  are much more relevant than a traditional resume or CV. That’s because they’re often a time-bound snapshot of what you understand today rather than an historical reference to what you might have learned yesterday or a decade ago, and besides, have you ever come across or written a completely honest resume?

The key takeaway here is that we really do have to begin to change the conversation to skills and experience rather than focus only on a job title. I know from experience when talking to both friends and the new artists I get to work with, that many of them have been put off applying for a role in the creative sector because the job title is something that they assume that they can’t do, yet they definitely have the skills to perform the task and then some and employers are switching on to that, it’s expensive to recruit, it’s much better to get the right person with the right skills the first time.

sunset over a dry stone wall
Glow Over A Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor


Artists have a unique skill set…

As an artist, and particularly as an independent professional artist who operates their art practice as a business, you will already be used to not just having the responsibility of ultimately being the CEO of your small business, you will more than likely be the entire workforce, performing every task from cleaning the studio to managing contracts and accounts, and that’s aside from the epic design, creative and social media skills you will most likely have. Yet most of us never recognise what we really do and we rarely think about the real skills that we have and use every day.

So what does the data say?

It might surprise some to find out that skills within the creative sector haven’t seen a decrease in labour market demand over the past year and right the way through the pandemic. The following table looks at the volume of unique job postings during 2020, compared to 2019. Whilst this is predicted to dip slightly up to 2023, there are still more job postings than in 2019. (Source: economic modelling)

Figure One:

job trends data creative arts
Job Trends Figure One


The roles in the table were identified against having three hard skills, Creative Arts, Graphic Arts, and Artwork. When I then explored the actual job postings, those were the skills identified as being needed for the following positions: Technical Manager, Regional Business Manager, Graphics Coordinator, and Graphic Designer. All had been posted by creative agencies, but the top posted occupations included roles such as, product and clothing designers, creative directors, marketing professionals, and teaching assistants.

The top posted job titles were for roles such as, graphic designer, teaching assistant, music teachers, art faculty, creative designers, and digital designers.

Breaking this down further, I looked at the frequency of the skills needed for a range of these roles, the top skills that were required identified, creative arts, artwork, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and also skills such as brand management, and photo manipulation.

 Could this have been an anomaly? I did wonder if those were really the most in demand skills for most creative roles so I ran the numbers again, this time comparing unique job postings with a more focussed and directed skillset. Having skills in digital art, graphic design, and 3D art, changed the number of job postings significantly. In fact, across all regions of the UK, between December 2019 and December 2020, there were 16,498 unique job postings.

The sample postings I then looked at were asking for 3D artists, lecturers, graphic designers, and digital media specialists. Again, these are skills that most professional digital artists will already have, or at least could relatively quickly gain if they already have some experience. In figure two, the employment outlook looked even better during 2020 than it did back in 2019.  

Figure Two:

creative arts job trends figure two
Creative Arts Figure Two


Once again, graphic designers figured prominently, but I also found much more opportunity across a wider range of job postings. Marketing associate professionals, product, business development managers and clothing related designers, all featured as they did in the previous example found in figure one, but were this time joined by other occupations such as web designers, arts officers, research and development managers, sales administrators, and programmers and software development professionals.

The top posted job titles included, 3D designers, marketing executives, marketing managers, creative designers, marketing assistants, and user interface designers. The top hard skills required amongst those employment opportunities were, graphic design, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, user experience, digital marketing, and branding.

Alongside the hard skills, employers were also looking for softer skills, which included, communications, detail oriented, innovation, social media, sales, enthusiasm, planning, presentations, and research. In short, all of the skills that once again, most artists will be using every single day.

Third data set…

For this data set, I looked at only the job postings that identified a skillset that would be more aligned to the skills that many local and independent artists might already have. The skills I identified to run the data against were: Creative arts, art portfolio, portrait painting, landscape painting, watercolour painting, digital marketing, and social media. In essence, the exact skills that a watercolour artist who uses social media might very well have.

What surprised me was just how many more unique job postings were identified through the data sets. 113,661 unique job postings, with a higher median salary than the previous examples, similar posting trends that were stronger in 2020 than they were in 2019 and set to only decline a little until 2023 but again, still above 2019, or more specifically, pre-pandemic. See figure three below:

watercolour artist job trends data
Watercolor Artist Job Trend Data Figure Three


It also changed the outcomes in terms of job title, the top postings were for heads of marketing, marketing assistants in the arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, e-commerce managers, creative directors and potters and it changed the game entirely in terms of the top common skills being asked for, which were: social media, communications, planning, enthusiasm, and the top hard skills being asked for included,  digital marketing, email marketing, customer relationship management, and an understanding of search engine optimisation. Again, skills that are used every day by most artists.

Overall, whilst there was a slightly wider range of hard skills used to gather this data, there were significantly more opportunities and the ongoing outlook, whilst it will decline a little until 2023, remains better than it did back in 2019. See figure four below.

Job Trends data
Job Trends Data Figure 4
 

Specific Occupations…

Again, looking across the UK, and there is nothing that I can find to suggest that the labour markets would be massively different in other regions with a similar labour need, we can drill down a little deeper and begin to look at the sustainability and demand of specific occupations. Another point to note here is that occupation data is different to industry data, so someone with Microsoft Office skills could be employed in the automotive or art industries, as could a graphic designer. Yes, this goes back to steering the conversation away from job titles and squarely on to skills.

In figure five, below, the role of graphic designer which has featured prominently throughout my juggling of the numbers, is a skill that is in demand, will continue to see some growth all the way through to 2027 and beyond. If you are thinking if upskilling, maybe learn Adobe Illustrator.

Figure five – Graphic Designers

Job trends for graphic designers
Job Trends for Graphic Designers Figure Five


If we take the same data set and look at the specific role of an artist, the figures begin to look a little sad in comparison. Bear in mind that there might very well be some different local nuances that might make these figures look a little better in other regions, of course, they could also be much worse.

It’s also worth remembering that the chart below is looking at paid employment as in working for an employer, and doesn’t take into account those artists who are self-employed, and that’s the same for any occupation but worth noting because the figures mean very little without that kind of context.

Figure Six – Artist

job trends for artists
Job Trends for Artist - Figure Six


Figure Seven – Archivists and Curators

job trends data for curators
Job trends data for Archivists and Curators - Figure Seven


The occupation of archivist and curator is predicted to grow, although by a relatively small amount.

 

Compatible Occupations…

I think we can all agree that artists generally have a very unique skill set even if we don’t always recognise exactly what skills we use every day, it puts artists in a good position to look a little more broadly across the job market when looking for employment when they also look at compatible occupations.

Compatible occupations are arrived from a different data set, this time using the American O*NET data. This data collects descriptions of the daily tasks performed in any given role and from this, we can which other roles have similar daily tasks. If we look at Graphic Designer which has the standard Occupation Code (SOC 3421) which is how occupations are identified in the data set I have been using, the daily tasks provided by O*NET define the daily tasks of a graphic designer as:

Graphic designers use illustrative, sound, visual and multimedia techniques to convey a message for information, entertainment, advertising, promotion or publicity purposes, and create special visual effects and animations for computer games, film, interactive and other media.

So what do the compatible occupations look like, well, probably not on the face of it, remotely like the role of a graphic designer. However, if you break the skills down further, you can begin to see why some occupations are very similar whilst appearing to be a million miles apart.

The compatible occupations for a graphic designer are, advertising accounts managers and creative directors, art officers, music composers and arrangers, camera operators – television, video and motion picture, artists which was inevitably going to be on this list, followed by, florists, marketing directors, pre-press technicians, and database administrators, which on the face of it, I agree, does seem a stretch, but the numbers do not lie!

The top competencies needed are: design, fine arts, communications and media, computers and electronics, sales and marketing, English Language, Customer and personal service, administration and management, clerical, production and processing, sociology and anthropology, education and training, mathematics, psychology, personnel and human resources, history and archaeology, law and government, and so the list goes on.

What’s also interesting is that we can also begin to see where graphic designers are employed most often when we begin to break the data down further with the top industries being, specialised design services, advertising agencies, computer programming activities, other printing, and other business support services.

painting of a church through a car window
Sunday Drive by Mark Taylor


The market for skills isn’t that gloomy…

I think the biggest takeaway from todays article should be that whilst times are unquestionably tough right now for those working in the creative sector, there remains, and in some cases, we are even seeing an increased demand for the skills that creatives have.

The other takeaway is that if art sales are slower than usual, you still have options. As I said earlier, it might not be the market, it might be something that is squarely within your gift to put right, but aside from this, there is clearly a demand for the skills that you have and diversifying your skillset, your portfolio, the work that you create, the markets that you operate in, are all viable options to move things along. What you absolutely can’t do is stand still.

If you are looking for paid employment in the sector, it’s definitely there in the UK and I would be shocked to the core if similar territories with the same or similar creative needs would be any different. They might even be better placed, after all, we are still going through the entire Brexit thing which is, now let me find some appropriately polite words here, character building or something.

If there is enough interest in this series moving forward, I would be more than happy to continue running the numbers and looking at the sector more widely. I think there’s some mileage in looking more closely at things like daily tasks, and the data should be useful if you have any strategic view of where you need to focus your own professional development to ensure that you can continue to find creative opportunities whether you work for an employer or you are self-employed. Over the past couple of weeks, I have literally only scratched the surface of what might be useful to know in terms of how artists need to evolve their skills over the coming years.

If you are looking at upskilling now isn’t a bad time to learn how to use Photoshop and Illustrator and to get to grips with things like 3D modelling, those are skills that won’t be going away anytime soon, and while I was crunching the data, I noticed that the risk of future automation is more significant in some industries, so it’s probably important to begin future proofing a little against the robots.

We haven’t as yet touched upon the even more specialist roles that artists are well prepared to undertake, things like the creation of e-learning resources which should now meet certain standards around accessibility through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – WCAG 2.2 if you want to get ahead of the curve and spend a few minutes Googling.

Without a doubt, the art world has changed, is continuously changing and is definitively going to evolve into something even more unrecognisable maybe as soon as within a decade, and while I’m nervous on one hand, I’m also a little bit, maybe even a little cynically, excited about the future for the art world on the other!

So that’s all for this week. I’m sadly still being slightly slower than usual due to the aching back, I have another CT scan booked along with some physical therapy this week but I have been extra busy behind the scenes working on a brand new series of artworks dedicated to everyone who is climbing their own mountain, and I’ve been adding to my Chase Collection which not only supports a great cause but showcases my local area too.

As always, if you have any tips to share, feel free to leave a comment and if there are any specific skills that you have as an artist and are wondering which industries those skills might have a fit with, or you are interested in finding out what skills might need to be developed to work in a specific sector of the arts, leave a comment and I will do my very best to find out for you.

Look after each other, stay safe, stay healthy and always, stay creative!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   and you can purchase my new works, special and limited editions directly. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

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