Determining a career path that supports one's interests is a
challenging process, and may in fact only begin with the questions
you posed to the list.
Getting a graduate degree to secure a job that pays enough will
likely render unsatisfactory results. Too often, people consider the
paycheck, rather than the potential for growth when choosing their
employment opportunities, and these are the people who will be
bitter, burned-out, and doing a desperation career change ten to
fifteen years after they get into it.
Successful and happy "careerists" are those that:
set goals and
integrate their personality, financial security level, interests and
talents into a harmonious mix to sustain themselves.
Most important in deciding how sustain oneself in the world is to
know yourself, and be true to your vision. This often requires a
level of discomfort and perseverance in the face of criticism from
family and friends.
Attend to the question of self discovery, use graduate school and
career as well as art to continue the process of knowing oneself and
actualize your potential. Do this everyday to the best of your
ability and enjoy the unfolding. It will be far more interesting and
rewarding than finding a job that pays, has good benefits and a
decent retirement plan.
This isn't to say shun those considerations, just attend to the fact
that they are often the wrapper around the gift of life, and not the
gift of living itself. Most likely any career you take will have
disappointments, hard spots, and unscheduled changes, so on those
days when you want to chuck it all, it is a comfort to have a larger
purpose than the paycheck or prestige.
And here's a rude awakening: most professional positions in
institutions aren't going to make you wealthy beyond your wildest
dreams. In fact, some institutions pay their professionals so little
that they are at poverty level. The private book world is a different
matter, but the rule still applies: Get rich quick stories are few
and far between with dealers, independent conservators and curators.
The questions you might ask yourself to discover a direction to head
How interested am I in learning about some aspect of the book world?
Am I willing to study the field - even the parts that I think bore me?
Do I like working with the public?
Do I like working with my hands?
Am I adept and interested in working in bureaucratic situations?
Can I sustain the focus, attention and political drive to write
grants, lead committees, and work without much thanks?
Do I need a sense of completion from my work? If so, how little can I
get by on?
Can I live on low wages, poor representation and a meager retirement
Am I willing to relocate to less-than-desireable locations to take a
Am I willing to move around throughout my career to better my chances?
How much does my book art mean to me, and am I willing to sacrifice
it for a day job?
Can I get satisfaction from doing repetitive, low-skilled labor all
day and still be enthusiastic about my craft/art after eight hours of
Do I have other interests, skills or abilities that might earn me a
living outside the book fields? Do these interests conflict with my
passion for book arts?
What is it about book arts that draws me to it, and will a job in the
library world increase or kill that desire?
Educate yourself - in the arts of the book, life and business. The
best artists are great businesspeople and don't shy away from that
responsibility. They believe in themselves and believe that it is
acceptable and good to be paid for their expression and creativity.
I would suggest that you also ask as many people as you can - email,
phone and in person that are in the various fields. Ask the
old-timers, mid-careerists, and ones starting out how they came to be
where they were, whether they were satisfied, happy and willing to
continue on, and what their greatest challenges and disappointments
are to date.
If you have more than one interest like bookbinding and papermaking,
pursue them both. It'll be more frustrating to learn, you may be
ostracized by your peers, and you will surely learn more about craft,
art, yourself and the way of the world than if you choose one or the
other. We live in a culturally rich and wealthy time where previous
blue-collar activities have been freed from the engine of commerce to
flourish in the real of self-expression and art. Take advantage of
Cruise through the archives of the Book Arts List and read the really
unhappy rants with an eye to seeing what has soured that person's
view of the book arts. If you can locate anyone who's left the field,
pick their brain and find out why they left.
And read as much about self-actualization as you can. One art-related
book that may help you is Ben Shahn's The Shape of Content, a series
of lectures he gave to the Harvard Art Dept. in the late 50's. It is
still relevant today because Shahn instructs the students to think
for themselves; have as many experiences as they can to find out who
they are and what art to make. It's an inspiring book. And read as
many other inspiring books as you can. Some of my faborites are: As
You Think by James Allen, Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, Do
What You Love, the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar.
Inspire yourself by surrounding yourself with people whose work you
admire, people who embody the spirit of growth, discovery and
expression that enriches you, and cut out the deadwood. Protect
yourself from the doubters, naysayers and
fearmongers, they won't help your art, career or self-esteem.
Trust in and enjoy the process, and the work will take care of itself.
The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist
For all your subscription questions, go to the
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