The archetype of the starving artist has endured for a long time, but despite the romanticism that comes attached to it, it’s a lifestyle many art students simply can’t entertain. No matter how creative or idealistic an artist may be, there are still bills to pay — not least of which is the tuition bill for their art education.
Although there are a number of opportunities to earn money on and off campus, many enterprising art students are finding ways to make money through their creativity. Here are some ways that art students can make money doing what they love.
Art collectors are always looking for something unique, and having their favorite artists create special pieces just for them is an attractive way to add to their collections. As a result, students are able to make money by creating artwork on a commission basis. Unlike selling an already existing piece of artwork created by inspiration, commissioned artists must create art based on the specifications provided by a client. This is a collaborative effort that can give students an education in communication skills and the ability to provide good customer service.
In addition, there are also potential opportunities for artists to make money through public commissions. Many communities mandate that one percent of the budgets for new buildings be allocated to funding art, giving art students the chance to earn money working on public projects like murals. Students can look for these opportunities by contacting the art groups in their area. Some private organizations also provide funding for public works of art.
Spotlight: Public Art Fund
The Public Art Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based out of New York City, aims to promote local contemporary art and artists through free exhibitions in easily accessible public spaces. Media they’ve exhibited recently includes sculpture, video, installations and other unorthodox formats.
The Internet has opened up a world of opportunities for students to make money that struggling artists of the past would never have dreamed of. There are a myriad of websites where artists can sell their wares — such as Artsy, FineArtAmerica, and ArtPal — and the site collects a fee for each sale that ranges from one to ten percent of the item’s price. Some artists sell work from their own personal websites, allowing them to keep all of the money they make from each sale. Art students who create their own site can also use it as a vehicle for personal branding and to display a comprehensive portfolio — which not only helps with direct sales, but may also open up other opportunities to get attention and display their work.
Students who sell their art online may sell original canvases of their work, but oftentimes they make prints of the original, which allows them to save time and earn more for every piece of art they produce.
Sometimes students can enter into relationships with private galleries that will sell their work for them in exchange for 40 to 50 percent of the sale. Similarly, nonprofit galleries sell artwork for a lower commission. Nonprofit galleries may be a better choice for art students, and may present more opportunities, as they are interested in displaying the work of new, cutting-edge artists.
Additionally, a co-op gallery allows artists to display their work for a membership fee that goes toward the maintenance of the space. These galleries are run by a group of artists who allow others to showcase their work and build a reputation among art buyers, as well as their peers, in the community.
In some cases art students may be able to sell their work at their own colleges and universities. Some schools host art sales and exhibits to specifically show off the work of their current students or alumni.
Finding local galleries that may be interested in taking your work can be challenging depending on which part of the country you decide to go to. Some cities, such as Washington, District of Columbia and San Francisco, have more potential than others. In our ranking of the 15 Most Inspiring Cities for Young Artists, we found that DC and San Francisco boasted an impressive 3,599 and 3,567 creative industries businesses per 100,000 people, respectively.
Although these opportunities generally do not pay, being displayed in a museum is a great way for artists to develop a following that can lead to other chances to actually make money, like getting commissioned work. However, artists who create installations do receive a fee for their work, as well as reimbursement for the materials they use.
In our 15 Most Inspiring Cities for Young Artists rankings, the city that topped the list, Boston, also led the pack in terms of total number of museums. Today Boston is home to 104 different museums of different sizes, specialties and types of exhibitions
Many artists make money by licensing their work to companies that use their art on a myriad of products, from greeting cards to t-shirts to coffee mugs. Artists are paid royalties on the sales of these products, which can range from four to thirty percent of the product’s price. In order to find these opportunities, students can contact a number of art licensing agencies, such as American Art Images, Coyote Red Licensing Group, Image Source Creative Portfolio Licensing and Mosaic Art Licensing Agency.
Other potential options
Beyond these five options there are other ways art students can potentially make money off their work. These may require a bigger investment of time and resources on the part of the artist, but could be worthwhile ventures for more enterprising students who are able to structure their studies around their other projects.
Residencies give artists the opportunity to get away for a while and focus on their work. In some cases, artists have to pay for their time in residence, while other residencies pay the artists and cover the costs of their supplies. Along with money and time, residencies give students the opportunity to connect with other artists and participate in a community, which oftentimes is sponsored by a college or university.
Many organizations offer grants to artists, which can vary in amount and parameters. In some cases, grants will cover a student’s living expenses as they focus on their artwork. Other grants cover the expenses of a specific project, and applicants are required to send a proposal in order to be considered for funding. Although there are a myriad of opportunities out there, they’re all extremely competitive.
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