Arts & Culture / Mosaic / January 23, 2013

Flourishing in the fine arts

Visual artMost college-age students are a little bit angsty about finding a job. After spending something along the lines of four years taking classes and interning, generally enjoying the freedom to pursue their interests and intellectual passions as their job, they are thrown into the real world, asked to apply those skills.

It is a fairly daunting situation regardless of age, but especially when one is 22 and usually still adjusting to independence. However, few other students feel this anxiety as much as those in the fine arts.

“I did it because I was drawn — maybe even called — to do it,” Associate Professor of English Chad Simpson said. “Sometimes, I think that’s the only reason a person should pursue something like this: because they have to. If you have to do it, then you find a way, even if that means that you’re not going to make much money or find an audience for your work right away, or ever.”

Despite stereotypes suggesting fine arts students face significantly greater difficulty in securing a steady income, majoring in the arts does not make stability impossible. Associate Professor of Dance Jen Smith has taught at Knox for 15 years and runs a small modern dance company.

“I realized I’d made it when the same thing I was doing as a hobby, I was doing professionally,” she said. “We only need to learn how to blend those ideas more.”

“You’re not necessarily going to be successful because you’ve been trained in dance. Schools and companies want people who are thinking dancers, and a liberal arts college creates those kinds of people,” Smith said. “There are no guarantees in life. Even if I’d majored in business, I might have had to work at Starbucks. The people who make it are the ones who really work at it. And making it means different things to different people.”

Furthermore, the grounding in a diverse, balanced, liberal arts background affords students of the fine arts more opportunities for real world placement than they might otherwise have. Junior Colin Coutts, a 22-year-old student who is a double major in art history and studio art and a transfer from the Maryland Institute College of Art, is currently completing his bachelor’s while applying for placement with an art community in Munich, a professional possibility facilitated through his studies with Knox’s German department.

“There’s always an anxiety about sustaining your work. But I think that’s every artist, and if an artist claims they’re not like that, they’re lying. … As far as worrying about the basic necessities, I haven’t heard much concern that right when you leave college it’s gonna be straight to food stamps,” Coutts said.

Ultimately, professional anxiety is a common problem, one not exclusively experienced by those in the arts. For Simpson, teaching has provided an opportunity to make ends meet while doing what he loves.

“I get to exist in an environment in which art is valued,” he said. “I write because I have something I want to say, or some emotion I want to explore, and because if I don’t, I’m going to treat myself and the people I love worse than I otherwise might.”

Emily Madden

Tags:  art chad simpson colin coutts dance jen smith literature painting performance writing

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