Updated: Apr 11, 2021
Even though I grew up never wanting to be anything but a singer and actress, I did panic a little when my son declared that he wanted to be an artist. It ended up being a phase on his part, but I got a little taste of what my parents probably went through when I was growing up, because my first words (which I immediately regretted) were, “How will you make money?” Well, I had to do a little backtracking at that point and resolved to be more encouraging, which I was. I signed him up for art classes and bought sketchbooks (Doodle books are awesome for kids!) and other art supplies (Here's a great starter kit.) We went to museums and studied art history together. Then he moved on to wanting to be a chef and we traded in the art supplies for cooking utensils.
Money is a touchy subject for us artsy folks because we’ve all heard the “How are you going to make a living?” question. But be clear. It IS a valid question. And the reason why we are so touchy about it is that we can’t imagine doing anything else with our lives. It is IN us. Not so much a choice, really. So, to us, the fact that it is difficult to make a living in the arts seems more like the world’s problem than ours. Hard truths.
In my son’s case, it seems he was not meant to be an artist. If he was, he would have never veered from that because it would not have been a choice. But I didn’t know that when he said, “Mama, I want to be an artist.” So it was my job to support it as if it were a calling and let time decide if it truly was.
So, what should you do when your precious one says that they want to be a musician/actor/dancer/artist/writer? Well, don’t panic. Be as encouraging as you would if you heard, “I want to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer.” Then let it play out.
Now, if you don’t have an artsy bone in your body, you might wonder, “How can I possibly set this kid up to succeed?” Well, I have some tips for you.
1. The first thing that you need to realize is that being an artist is a LIFELONG pursuit. Successful musicians have been training since early childhood. Great actors’ childhood memories are recalled by referencing what show they were in at the time. The best artists were drawing when their peers were scrawling. You get the point. Nothing will come easy and nothing will come fast. So it’s important that you begin supporting their training as soon as possible. Get the best training for them that you can afford. Then find as many opportunities as you can for them to practice their craft and encourage them to take advantage of those opportunities.
2. Don’t push. Keep it fun. If your child has a true calling, you won’t have to push. They will do that. If you push on top of that, you risk squelching the creative spirit, which needs lots of space and freedom to be at its most productive. On the other hand, if your child does NOT have the calling, and you push, you risk taking the joy out of something that could become a lifelong hobby which your child could enjoy. And you risk putting strain on your relationship.
3. Understand that your child is not going to be looking for a way to “make money”. Not now, anyway. They are caught up in the joy of the art. YOU are going to have to do some research yourself. Emphasize to yourself and to your child that success in the arts is not synonymous with fame. There are LOTS of jobs that involve the arts in a variety of ways. Take the time to find out what they are and present them to your child as you find them. Anna Sabina's Your Creative Career is a good starting point. Right now, your child may only be interested in the pure performance of the art, but when they are older, they may be grateful that they are aware of and can prepare for a job that may use their craft in a less direct manner. Especially if the alternative is being stuck in a job that they hate just to pay the bills.
4. Encourage education. No, a college degree is not necessary for the pure exercise of the arts. But only a small percentage of people in the arts are able to make a living just by practicing their craft. Most make their living in teaching or applied arts. So a college degree is important. Check out Creative Colleges by Elaina Loveland. In order to have more opportunities, I would suggest an advanced degree, at least a masters, in an applied art. It seems to be the trend now that employers favor advanced degrees. Some kids will resist this because they can’t imagine being happy "just" teaching and can't even picture all the other possibilities. That’s okay. They’ll figure it out when they are older. Maybe they need a few years to pursue performance before they go to college. Just keep being encouraging. Maybe they will be one of the few that make a living in pure performance. Give them time to find out.
5. Make sure your child gets some business training. This is something I wish I had known when I was young. As a creative artist, your child is going to have to promote himself, network with other people, negotiate contracts, and manage finances basically as a sole proprietorship. He needs to be prepared for this. Small business classes at your local community college are a great place to start. Also check out books that are about the business of your particular craft. How to Start a Creative Business by Doug Richard explores business practices that can be used by all creatives.
6. Surround your child with mentors. Try to network with other creative artists in your community. This should include performers, artisans, teachers, and those in applied fields. Not only will your child be familiar with the opportunities that are available to artists, but she will also be networking with people who are able to offer opportunities as she gets older. Networking is a powerful skill that your child needs. Practicing networking from an early age is essential. Two really good networking books to check out are How to Be a Power Connector by Judy Robinett and Taking the Work Out of Networking by Karen Wickre.
Remember what a gift your child has. There are people that live their whole lives and never find a passion for any profession. They work strictly for a paycheck and spend every weekday wishing for the weekend. But your child has found a passion. That is a blessing. And with encouragement, they will have more than a job. They will have a career in which they find personal joy and fulfillment. So take a big breath and put your fears aside. With your support, your child won’t be starving, he’ll be thriving.
Some of these are things my parents did and some are things that I wish they had. Though I've taught a lot of children and passed some of this encouragement to their families, my own children didn't choose to go into the arts. What else can I tell the families of my students? You can discuss this on the forum post for this article. The forum is for members, but you can join for free if you're not already one.
CATT Center is a free social media format designed specifically for creative artists to collaborate and share knowledge for the benefit of the arts in all of our communities.