Now and Then: The Changing Landscape of Being a Professional Artist

By • 6 years ago with one reply

I’ve often thought that, as a writer, I was born into the wrong era. These suspicions were confirmed the day I sat down to watch the first-ever episode of Mad Men. Not only because I would love to be able to pour myself a stiff drink followed by a good nap at noon on a Tuesday, but because I love the challenge and simplicity of creating a good print or TV ad. I appreciate the old-school agency world of story-boarding and having the luxury of focusing on just one medium instead of 20. Don Draper didn’t have to worry about social media or SEO or ad re-targeting or how to create an online portfolio. He wrote taglines. He carried his portfolio in the hand that wasn’t holding his Lucky Strike. And he pitched ideas like a boss.

But alas, by the time I began my professional career, print was on its way to the bottom of everyone’s list. I may not be a visual artist, but I suspect that a good few of you share my nostalgia. Of course, there are distinct challenges and benefits to the old landscape and the new one we live in today. Today’s technology and digital world have opened the door to new kinds of art and more opportunity than ever before.

More Opportunity

The Internet and the rise of social media have undoubtedly given way to more opportunities than ever, no matter what kind of artist you are. Whether you are seeking grants and awards, job opportunities, freelance gigs or a platform for marketing and selling your art, you no longer need to rely on trade publications and word of mouth to find your next big gig. Not only that, but you can typically apply to a position or reach out for more information instantly via email, without having to drop off or send in your resume. The downside of this? There’s more competition than ever before. The Internet is a great big world, and in order to stand out, a great portfolio alone won’t do it. Which leads us to our next point:



Once upon a time, you had to market yourself in person. This isn’t always an easy feat for artists who consider themselves introverts or aren’t necessarily too keen on cold calling. Today, you can create a stunning online portfolio and market that portfolio with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and countless others. You can create your own website and look for networking events near you with the click of a button.


Gotta Have Mad Skills

Don Draper really only had to be good at two things: Writing and pitching. I, on the other hand, must know how to write for various mediums, get the basics of SEO, master social media, blog regularly and understand the digital landscape in order to make a decent living. I also have to be able to invest in building my brand by finding someone to design and build my website and then being able to market myself, in addition to executing on behalf of my clients. Likewise, visual artists have to embrace the digital world as well, if they want to build a presence and get their name out there. And with so many different technologies available, many artists are trying to master different skills to make themselves more marketable.


A Large Audience

There’s a market for everything these days, whether you’re into installations, murals, custom woodworking, jewelry, graphic design, photography or writing. The Internet is a great way to tap into these markets and connect with your audience like never before.


In the end, I don’t think I would have made it in Don Draper’s world. I find a great deal of comfort in being able to, for the most part, hide behind my laptop and venture out only when a story or my own personal need to talk to another human demands it. I think that today’s landscape makes it easier than ever for makers to be their own bosses, build their own brands and create their very own professional landscape.

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One thought on “Now and Then: The Changing Landscape of Being a Professional Artist”

  1. Very well said, Erika. And I think Don Draper had it a bit easy. We do have to juggle many hats nowadays. Makes one wonder “How would Draper handle social media?”

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