7 Tips for MFA-Graduate Job Seekers

07/17/2013 4:00 AM |

About this time of year, recent MFA graduates start to panic: they’re out of school, they don’t have a job, and they can’t afford a studio because they’re expected to spend at least a year working free internships before anyone will pay them. Increasingly, I find myself answering students’ questions about how to land a job, much less start a career, in the arts. Here’s what I tell them:

Your only job is looking for a job. Tell everyone you know you’re looking for a job. You can do this in a mass email, but you should also send out personal emails. A human touch is nice. Don’t be afraid to send out unsolicited job inquiries. I got my first job at a gallery by blindly sending out personal emails to more than 200 galleries. Canvassing the job market works. (Don’t phone to follow up on an email conversation unless you’ve been invited to do so. It’s skeevy.)

Tell people what you’re good at and what kind of job you want. This gets easier as you gain more work experience, but early on it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’re looking for an entry-level position in the arts, and that your skill set includes knowledge of specific software or knowledge of specific materials, knowledge of specific power tools, additional languages, communication skills, aptitude with numbers, whatever.

The best jobs are often the ones that come from the referrals. For that reason, listserves are your best friend. I get more solid referrals from these emails than all of the public listings I use combined.

Public listings services work too. You should be scouring NYFA.org, Rhizome.org, Linkedin.com, Indeed.com, collegeart.org, aam-us.org, Manhattanjobs.com, simplyhired.com, and Craigslist (if you’re looking for an unpaid job).

Use keywords to set up Google alerts for the types of jobs you’d like to be working. Your first job will probably suck. But it’ll still provide valuable experience and contacts. For example, when I first moved to New York, I spent four years working administrative jobs in galleries. I was horrible at it, and was glad to give the job up when I started writing. That experience, though, repeatedly proves useful when writing about galleries. I’ve also worked with scores of people from those days I thought I’d never see again because the art world is small and the talent pool diverse.

Quit worrying about whether your day job will affect your chances of representation and your studio practice. The answers to these questions don’t matter when you can’t pay your rent. What’s more, it often takes a good five years to figure out what you’ll be doing professionally anyway. Get a job, then get
a better job.

One Comment

  • You know, when I graduated with my painting degree, there was a stigma among studio majors called the Van Gogh thing. And the Van Gogh thing maintained that if you did paintings for people of things they liked, you were compromising yourself and you would never get into art heaven. The Van Gogh law specified that it was better to work at a factory/office/restaurant. Problem was after 40-60 hours of that labor, there was little energy left to paint, so you wound up doing nothing. On the other hand, I found out that painting everything from restaurant murals to waiters trays to album/cd covers not only made money, but it taught me more about painting than my snooty painting faculty did. Kinda like Rosenquist doing bill boards or David Smith welding at a Studebaker factory. In effect, working through the craft of dumb-ass painting determined how I wanted to paint. So when all else fails, your ‘job’ just might be right under your nose.