Be Smart About Art

Ever think about giving up your art career?

written by: Susan Mumford April 5, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 4439 views

Ever think about giving up your art career?

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There’s a little something that very few people have known about me, until now that is; I nearly quit the art world to enter the legal profession. In UK terms, the profession of barrister particularly intrigued me.

In hindsight, having a flirtation with another career was an important exercise. I needed to experience what it would be like to leave the art sector, lock stock and barrel.

Having gone through rough years in my personal life, I was seeking a clean break to start all over again. The only things I still enjoyed in my art career were two-fold: mentoring others to benefit them from my own experiences and overseeing a trade association that I founded.

I was so serious about making this change that, after discussing it in detail with my partner, I confessed the plan to my business coach and a key colleague in the art world. Although they were surprised by the intended move, they understood that I was ready for a sea change from turbulent times and were supportive of whatever I wanted to pursue in life. It was the latter point that proved to be fundamental about the whole experience. I came to understand that no matter what my professional makeup was, my true friends and associates would stand by my side, through thick and thin.

I invested in a legal coaching session to learn the ins and outs of qualifying to become a solicitor or barrister, and to get the inside scoop of what my future career might look like. Having decided to make the move, I proceeded to tell the whole of my family over Christmas. Everyone was in shock, and everyone was supportive of me doing what was right in my life.

Come the new year, I proceeded with a planned experiment to trial an idea that had been developing for 12 months; I started the Be Smart About Art programme. Accordingly, my time and energy was dedicated to facilitating events and 1-2-1 mentoring sessions, to see how people responded to professional development for active professionals in the art world. My personal plan was to keep the legal concept brewing, for I still anticipated exiting the creative sector.

What happened was altogether different. Having gained a deep understanding that I wasn’t pigeonholed into the art world, that I could be whoever was my true self, I stopped feeling trapped. Come the Summer, it dawned on me that I had never been happier in a career, having found a professional home in running an organisation that supported others to develop fulfilling careers doing what they love. I fell in love with art again, had rewarding art projects fall into my lap, and after many months realised that I had all but forgotten about the little legal career.

Sometimes, genuinely exploring a new direction is exactly what’s needed to provide the confidence and certainty to be truly happy in what you’re doing. Granted you run the risk of proceeding along a new path, and that’s okay, too.

You have my support in leading a life that is right for YOU.


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Simon: Thanks for your honest reply to this post.

A piece of advice I give to people building up a new business is to maintain other income for as long as they can possibly manage.

Essentially, you maintain financial viability and fit in the new career around it. This requires sacrificing evenings, weekends, and times that, frankly, you would otherwise spend with friends and family. This subject was talked about in depth during the 'Day Job / Art Career Tango' talk held at Be Smart About Art in December 2013.
Notes from the session can be seen in the Members Gateway - have a look!

For yourself, it really depends on how much you really want to pursue the art career. Artists often comment on how they have no other choice. It's what I call 'possessed' (in a positive sense). If it's something that you'd like but isn't essential in your life, then it will often dissipate. However if it is a must, you'll find a way, no matter what.

As a final point: Your generous words on the art world's gain are appreciated. Seemingly never a dull moment in a quest to support the art world in changing times! Great fun, too :-).

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Fascinating blog, Susan, and well done for giving us this insight...I hesitate to call it a confession!

I guess I'm having similar thoughts and conversations because I've been teaching part-time this year and have another term to do...with an option to do more teaching in September. It's been a tough challenge, but I'm getting to grips with teaching my subject again after 25 years out of the classroom. I'd better not say I'm also 'getting to grips' with the students, but you know what I mean!

I have to say that it's very nice being paid regularly for one's efforts. Do I want to return to the uncertainty of the art business and the financial risk of putting on exhibitions that don't pay their way? Or can I find a way to mix the two worlds? Perhaps I can...we'll see in the next couple of months.

Best wishes...and the legal world's loss is the art world's gain, Susan!