As a profession, “artist” ranks pretty low in terms of financial reward. Most artists schlep their way through menial professions for years before being able to give them up for more rewarding work. Those jobs are not always fun, but sometimes, they influence an artist’s practice.
As such, we’ve gathered a list of ten common art world day jobs, listed a few famous artists who’ve held down the position, and given some pros and cons to taking on each one. Friday we’ll reveal part two of the list with ten more. Your future as a Met security guard awaits!
1. Museum security guard
Artists who made this job famous: Wade Guyton, Robert Ryman, and Fred Wilson
Pro: You get to be around art all day, and you get to go home knowing that many artists have done their time, just like you.
Con: Nobody actually enjoys the long hours of standing and staring off into space for hours for low pay.
Artists who made this job famous: Mark Rothko (primary school), Marilyn Minter (high school), Lisa Yuskavage (continuing education), Sarah Lucas (day care)
Pros: Dealing with all types of people and all types of backgrounds, while navigating your way through bureaucracy will help out when you’re dealing with museums and galleries.
Con: Most full-time teaching positions will end up consuming all of your time; you’ll be lucky if you feel up to working in your studio after the kids get off school.
3. Studio assistant
Artists who made this job famous: Darren Bader (to Urs Fischer), Jeff Koons (to Ed Paschke), Rachel Howard (to Damien Hirst)
Pro: If you’re lucky, you get to work closely with an already famous artist. Eeee! But really, an actual pro: working as a studio assistant gives you a glimpse of how to manage your own career by running a small business.
Cons: Carpal tunnel syndrome. If that doesn’t happen, there’s still no guarantee you’ll become buddies with that aforementioned already famous artist. At least not when some artists like Jeff Koons, often cited for managing dozens of studio assistants at any one time. He can’t give them all a boost in the art world.
4. Art handler
Artists who made this job famous: Shane Caffrey, Paul Outlaw, and Dave Choi
Pro: Sometimes your gallery will give you a show. Plus, as a freelancer, you’ll make connections with countless dealers, artists, and collectors.
Con: Workplace injuries and the problems ensuing from less-than amazing healthcare.
5. Corporate types
Artists who made this job famous: Jeff Koons
Pro: You’ll have money.
Con: With the exception of Koons, most stockbrokers would need to take a hefty paycut to resume their job as an artist.
6. Graphic designer
Artists who made this job famous: George Maciunas, Andy Warhol, and Barbara Kruger
Pro: It’s not a total mind-suck, and it can inform your own work. Kruger’s text-based work is a perfect example of this, hinging on a knowledge of aesthetics, publishing, and advertising.
Con: It’s still a day job, and one with overbearing monster clients who will rarely understand your vision.
7. Construction worker
Artist who made this job famous: Damien Hirst
Pro: You learn how to build stuff.
Con: You might die.
Artist who made this job famous: Tom Sachs
Pro: If you’re making large-scale work, this job will help hone your welding skills.
Con: You might die.
9. Gallery assistant
Artists who made this job famous: Lynda Benglis, Wendy White, and Louise Lawler
Pro: In the rarest of instances, you could be like Louise Lawler who ended up being represented by Metro Pictures, where she worked for a stint in the 1980s. But really, as an administrative assistant, you’ll get first-hand knowledge of the artist-dealer relationship.
Con: Dealers are not known for being kind to their assistants.
10. Male model
Artist who made this job famous: Matthew Barney
Pro: Money and attention.
Con: Everyone will think you’re vain and superficial. You probably are.