Starving Artists Hungry for Success

By Mary Rodack
Jambar Contributor

Surviving as an artist in today’s economy can be difficult, at least, that tends to be many people’s perception when regarding the starving artist stereotype.

According to BFAMFAPhD, a collective of artists, designers, technologists, organizers and educators who work in the art, technology and political economy fields, 16 percent of working artists have an art-related bachelor’s degree. The BFAMFAPhD “Artists Report Back” study stated that, out of two million art graduates nationally, only 200,000 make their primary earnings from their work as artists.

Maya Bass, a senior fashion merchandising and graphic design major at Youngstown State University, said she believes the stereotype of the starving artist is true.

“You’re driving a Ford Taurus. It’s a good car. It’s new. No one’s impressed by it. You have to do work that is impressive. You have to hit the donut in the parking lot … you have to pull out all the stops,” Bass said.

The average annual wage for art and design occupations was $45,250 in May 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau also said all art field careers, except for photographers, would have either a 4 percent to 6 percent growth from 2016 to 2026.

Methembe Albertyn, a freshman graphic and interactive design major, hopes to minor in advertising or public relations in the future.

“I did art all of high school and forgot to get good at anything else,” Albertyn said. “I didn’t really want to be like an academic.”

Albertyn said he does not see the starving artist as too accurate. He finds extra work on the side making album covers for SoundCloud rappers.

“It’s a possibility if you don’t work hard, then you can be a starving anything,” Albertyn said.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported fields like animation, visual effects, designs for websites and media platform continue to be in high demand. Most growth follows careers in the technology field, like graphic designers.

Steven Gage, professor of music and conductor in the Dana School of Music at YSU, said the art fields are competitive just like business, mathematics and computer science fields. Gage said he considers himself an idealist and believes students should follow their gut and passion.

He has worked in the music field for about 40 years and continues to love what he does as a professor and conductor in the Dana School of Music.

“I just really feel you got to find something you love. Embrace it. If you invest 100 percent in whatever you’re interested in, the world will make a place for you,” Gage said.

BFAMFAPhD’s study found seven out of the ten most expensive universities in the United States are art schools. For art students at YSU, the expenses are less compared to top universities such as Stanford University.

Stanford University’s tuition is$46,320 while YSU’s tuition for commuter students ranges from $8,087 to $9,259 and from $18,299 to $24,299 for students living on campus.  

David Morgan, professor of music, said in order for students to avoid the starving artist stereotype they must learn to control their finances.

“Live within your means. Don’’t get into debt. Figure out how simply you can live and how much income this requires … As you get better-paying jobs, you will increase your standard of living,” Morgan said.

For YSU art students currently staring down the starving artist entity, Maya Bass, a senior art major, has some words of advice.

“There’s possibility here but you got to chip hard at it,” she said.

Bass’ own fashion brand, Maya UNIVERSE, launched officially in 2014. Its purpose is to uplift and empower others, create quality content and make a statement.

“My favorite thing about doing what I do is being able to curate your atmosphere. It’s just a way of life. It’s what I like about myself,” Bass said.