I am an architecture student finishing my fourth year of school this June but now I’m not sure if I will continue to pursue this path. I want to study fine art but I am scared that I’m not good enough and it costs a lot more. I chose to study architecture because I thought it was more practical to design houses than to paint pictures. Now I’m wondering if I made the right decision. I don’t want to end up doing a job that I don’t find fun!
First of all, take a deep breath and realize how close you are to reaching a goal that you began four years ago. Some people may disagree with me but I’m a firm believer in completing what you’ve started when you’re that close (and have invested a good chunk of time and money). If you were only a year or two into your studies, it might make sense to pull out but you’re almost there!
Maybe I’m a bit more traditional in my career views but here’s what I think: For now, being an architect will allow you the opportunity to earn a great living until you figure out your next move. If your goal is to be a fine artist, you don’t have to jump in with both feet first (remember, many artists aren’t solely artists for a living). Perhaps it makes sense to work full-time out of school and see if you even like architecture (who knows, you might fall in love with it once you’re doing it professionally!) And then, maybe you can set a goal of cutting back your hours to part-time within a specific time frame so that you have more time to dedicate to your art. Your decision doesn’t have to be all or nothing right away unless you’re fully comfortable with that prospect.
Your passion does not have to be the same as your career.
Consider this: Your passion or hobby doesn’t have to be the same as your job. Fine art is something many of us do as a creative outlet but it can take awhile to establish yourself and earn a great living as a fine artist. Tangling your passion with your profession can also be tricky. Once you’re creating art to make a living, the focus of your work may also start to shift. What happens if you have bills to pay and a commission comes along that you’re just not comfortable with? Do you take it or leave it? In that position, would you wish that you’d stuck it out with a steady paycheck a bit longer so that you could turn down certain opportunities that didn’t fit within your artistic vision or goals?
Have you considered doing both architecture and fine art? Here’s the thing: It’s hard to make a great living right out of school as a fine artist. Yes, it’s possible! Yes, some people have all the charm and talent and make it look easy! But often, unless you’re an illustrator that’s willing to do commercial work or perhaps a painter that does commissions and murals, it can take some serious time and commitment to gain momentum (i.e. a distinct style, solo shows, steady clients and representation). Do you have a plan in place to support yourself in the meantime?
I, too, wanted to be a fine artist. I ended up going to school for design because like you, I felt it was more practical than art. Art was a huge passion of mine but I found a happy medium by becoming a designer which provided a much steadier income and then came home from work and set aside a few hours each night to work on my series. I had a solo show at the first agency I worked at and later, my collages were used on a line of snowboard goggles and helmets! Working as a designer actually helped me open up more doors for creating fine art. Architecture may do the same for you in very unexpected ways.
If fine art is for you, make a plan.
Be smart about your decision. Do you even need another degree to be an artist? Do you have a specific style and medium established? Is your work only accessible through a gallery or do you offer a format and style that would do well on a site like Etsy? Do you have social media set up to promote your artwork? Making a clear plan of what you hope to accomplish will make the transition into fine art as a career a lot less stressful. If you’re looking for more advice about a fine art career, I highly recommend reading Taking the Leap by Cay Lang. This book was recommended to me by another artist years ago and is full of practical advice on how to build a successful career, promote your work and put together contracts.
Remember, life doesn’t have to be about either / or. Fine art vs. architecture doesn’t have to be a black and white decision. If you do decide to use your degree to earn a living, you don’t have to continue down that path forever. How will you know if architecture isn’t right for you if you don’t try? You can always change your mind. Follow your gut. It’s always okay to make a change when something in our lives just doesn’t feel right.
Readers: What do you think? Have you been at this crossroads with your career before? How did you decide what to do next?