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December 11, 2003

Advice to Artsies

Dear Friedrich --

I vote that we pass a constitutional amendment requiring that Alex Tabarrok's "advice to a liberal arts major" (here) be read out loud -- slowly and clearly -- to all lib-arts and fine-arts undergrads at the beginning of every school year. Hmmm: maybe to all arts classes of any kind and any size, occurring anywhere in the world. Oh heck -- let's just insist that arty kids commit the posting to memory.

I take minor issue with Alex on one point. He suggests this: "Look for work that draws upon your artistic skills. A writer can be an editor, a poet can write great ad-copy, a photographer can photograph weddings (do not sneer it's a privilege to be trusted with recording one of the most important events of a person's life.)" I've seen many people wind up unhappy from trying to do exactly this. Not because it's an impossible goal -- it isn't -- but because achieving it leaves many people in miserable states: half-fulfilled artistically (at best), paid lousily, and (what's most important) out of love with the artform they originally cared about and around which they shaped their lives. The joy too often goes out of an activity when you start trading it for money. And frustrated, not-rich, and brokenhearted does not make for a rewarding life.

So I'd make a slightly different suggestion: develop some sensible and marketable skill or craft for which you're well suited but that has nothing to do with the art you love. That way you'll be able to pay your bills doing something bearable, and you'll also be able to pursue your art passions in an unspoiled way.

Otherwise Alex's advice strikes me as spot-on. How do you react to his posting?



posted by Michael at December 11, 2003


I think your answer is correct if you give up on doing [whatever] professionally. More than that, I think your suggestion is probably the correct answer for the vast majority of people in the popular, but less-economically-viable fields mentioned. How many [philosophers, writers, artists, etc.] can actually make a real living in those fields.

For the extraordinarily talented, driven, or unrealistic, however, I'd say that persistence and ingenuity sometimes pay off. Learn the business, make the connections, then jump off the cliff. Sometimes there will be water at the bottom, and sometimes the landing won't be a belly-flop.

It's not the way to bet, though. Ambulance service and body bag manufacture, that's the way to bet. 8-)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on December 11, 2003 1:33 PM

I would like to share Jim Collin's career advice: your work is to find something that you are passionate about, that you are genetically gifted suited for and that the world is willing to pay for.

I feel that too many liberal art students are in it for their passions; too many computer programmers (of which I am one) are in it because the world is willing to pay for it (which explains the terrible, buggy software out there); too many youngsters dream of entering NBA just because they seem to be genetically superior to their regional peers.

The process of living should allow one to discover what things are in each section, and hopefully, through career and life changes, one will discover that sweet career that satisfies the three criteria. Many Nobel Prize winners express this sentiment: they feel so lucky to have the work which they consider to be their greatest passion.

Above all, liberal art students make a decision that is very egotistical - the world's opinion does not matter for they are the ones to understand my talent! MBA students make a self-annihilating decision - the world values investment bankers, so I am going to work hard for 10, 15 years to make money and quit to do something else that I will truly enjoy doing. Warren Buffett said that kind of reasoning is as absurd as saving sex for the old age!

Picasso is one artist who did it right both artistically and financially.

Posted by: Bob Yu on December 11, 2003 11:02 PM

Compulsive reading!

Posted by: FREE PORN on May 29, 2004 7:22 PM

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