As an artist carefully arranges the elements of a current project. They mix colors, sort through textures and shapes, and reveal a mood or theme. An image of the final product is constantly engraved in the artist’s mind. It is something unique and completely their own. Likewise, every art student has dreams for after graduation. There are different tools for each medium- brushes and paint, a wheel and clay, or light and film, and there are paths to accomplish different artistic goals. It is how those things are used that creates reality. But some things cross over media, and two things are necessary no matter what an artist has planned for the future.
“Perseverance. Drive,” Alicia Trantum said. She works for Mackerel Sky, an East Lansing art gallery. She and her coworker Mar Sibley explained that it takes time for an artist to develop their work. “It’s a gradual process,” Trantum said. “They want to get their work where the most people will see it,” Sibley said.
Catching the Eye of the Public
Bailey O’Rourke is trying to do just that. As a studio art senior, she is feeling the pressure to get her work out into the world. She has had a couple pieces of her work in shows already, but it was not an easy task. “If you get in that’s great,” O’Rourke said. “If not, [the galleries] aren’t very nice.” Her work has been in the Kresge Invitational Show, Grand Rapids Arts Festival Exhibition, and most recently the Our Town Art Show and Sale in Birmingham, Mich. She even sent some of her work to an international show in Istanbul but has yet to hear back.[quote1]
Some shows only require a CD or DVD of an artist’s work but others want the actual piece which can be difficult. While her favorite medium is ceramics O’Rourke said that she has been doing more prints because they’re easier to ship. She explained that though the post office is really helpful when she does want to send her more fragile art, in some cases, it’s still better just to drive the piece yourself.
Her latest ceramic projects include a set of bird cages and functional ware. When she is working on one of these big projects, which are for class credit, she does not have time to work on much else. “You spend all your time in the studio and there’s always someone else there,” O’Rourke said. And how does an art student choose a concentration like ceramics with so many to choose from? “Ceramics was the class I liked staying late after everyday. I really just like working in 3D,” she said.
According to Sibley and Trantum, aspiring artists have several options to make a living by making art, but they often depend on their medium. With smaller, less expensive pieces, it is necessary to make many more of them. In contrast, if an artist specializes in large sculptures and sells them for a few thousand dollars, they have to be ready to make ten or more. “They have to decide what they need to sell to make a living,” Sibley said. A lot of people make jewelry when they start out because it is something small and inexpensive to make and it sells quickly, Trantum said. Trantum also pointed to wholesale shows as a great opportunity for students to sell their work. At these shows, people come from around the nation to purchase the art to sell in their own galleries. In order to participate in a shows the artists has to have an inventory. “They have to be prepared to sell to a lot of people,” Sibley said. Mackerel Sky gets most of their artwork from wholesale shows.
Each gallery or art store has a different method of choosing art. “You try to find at least an underlying identity. You find your own sense of aesthetic. And try to have what your community would want to buy.” In the end, though, it is all about staying afloat. “You want to earn money. That’s the main goal,” Sibley said.
Not Just Brushes and Paint
While most art students choose a fine arts degree that will lead them down one specific route, a Bachelor of Arts degree opens the studio art major to other possibilities. Senior Vanessa Welch chose the second. Entering college as a no-preference freshman, the B.A. track in photography seemed like a perfect option. Unlike a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree, the BA degree requires fewer mandatory studio credits, but requires students to choose a cognate outside of the college and take a foreign language. Welch decided to study criminal justice with the intention of becoming a forensic photographer. “I really enjoy photography and seeing the world through the lens of my camera. You can capture reality, but distort it at the same time,” she said.
After graduation this spring, Welch is going to take some time to work on her portfolio and travel to Rome. After being there for study abroad, “I fell in love with the culture and the people. I was there and I knew I had to go back,” she said.
Finding a 9 to 5
Casey Sorrow, a 2001 MSU studio art graduate, took a different artistic path. He runs the Kresge Art Store which supplies students with canvas, paint, and anything else needed to complete a masterpiece. Sorry worked at the store as an undergraduate, and as he was getting ready to graduate, the previous owner decided to leave. Sorrow could not deny the great timing. “It was a good opportunity. And honestly, there aren’t many opportunities out there,” Sorrow said. Because the store gets really busy during the school year, he does not have the time he would like to spend working on big projects. He does, however, work on cartooning and illustrations on a daily basis.
Sorrow also said it takes time to become a successful artist and to “develop more interest in your work. You have to have a thick skin and be ready for rejection and criticism. Stick with it,” Sorrow said.
Other students prefer something with a little more stability, like art education. Sophomore art education major Rachel Harris has a passion for art that is different from traditional art students. “It’s more about helping people accomplish what they want to do,” she said. “I’d rather help someone than do it myself.” Because Harris is in the College of Education, she does not have to have a specific concentration. “We must be able to teach everything,” Harris said.
Her goals after graduation include graduate school and moving to California where she thinks there are more opportunities. Her dream is to teach in an inner city high school because “there’s a lot of potential that gets overlooked.” [quote2]
For most artists, like O’Rourke, however, artwork is something more personal. “I guess I just want to be able to sell my work, maybe not to be self sufficient, but to fill my own need. I can’t see myself not making art,” Harris said.
Just as each one of these artists finish a new piece of art, they add another detail to their lives unmatched by another. Every artist has different goals in sight and different methods of molding the plans into reality. Whether it is sculpting one great master piece or teaching someone the basics to begin a portfolio, there are specific steps to reach those ends as there are reasons behind each stroke of a brush to complete a painting. It is hard work to finish a single project, and it takes even more effort and determination to put a dream into reality.