Try to think of a person pursuing a creative career. What picture do you see? Most of us will conjure up the familiar image of a painter in a studio, intensely focused on his art, with broken-backed art books and wrinkled tubes of paint scattered across the floor. Others may imagine animators, game designers and fashion gurus throwing ideas around buzzy, loft-style office spaces. But few of us would make the connection to science, paperwork—or superheroes.
Confused? Let’s explode some of the myths you probably believe about creative careers.
They Don’t Pay Well
The myth of the starving artist has some merit. Only about 1 in 1,000 artists finds work that they can make a living off of, while half of all self-published fiction writers earn less than $500 per year. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find many lucrative jobs in the fields of art and design.
Multimedia artists, who provide special effects for film, television, computer graphics and mobile technology, earn a mean salary of $69,419. Fashion designers earn slightly more—$73,690 on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And if you work your way up to a position like an advertising art director, your salary could reach a lucrative $168,040 per year.
They’re Disappearing Off the Face of the earth
Far from declining, creativity-oriented jobs make up over 30 percent of the economy, and that figure is increasing. Routine jobs (assembly plants, accounting services) by contrast make up just 25 percent of the economy, down from 60 percent a century ago.
Research from Nesta suggests that creative careers are booming because these jobs are the most resistant to automation. While 60 percent of jobs in the U.S. workforce are at medium-to-high risk of automation, only 14 percent of workers in highly creative fields are likely to have their jobs taken over by machines.
This is not surprising. Computers can most successfully emulate humans when a work task is routine, that is, the problem is quantified and the work process is sufficiently simple to enable autonomous control. Robots struggle when tasks are highly interpretive, collaborative and original—a good description of most creative occupations.
You Have to be “Right-Brained” to Achieve Success
In the education system and beyond, there’s a misconception that people naturally gravitate towards the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or the arts (literature, music, art and drama) with little crossover between the two. The idea is that we all have a dominant side of the brain and this shapes our career choices. People who are right-brained excel in creative careers, while those ruled by the left prefer analytical processes and mathematics.
The problem is, research has never supported this myth.
In the real world, employers are crying out for a multi-disciplinary mix of art and science. Animators are no longer fine artists working on paper, but computer geeks armed with a background in computer science, as well as an affinity for drawing. Fashion designers need a firm grasp on algebra and geometry to cut patterns and scale them up or down to size.
Even the most aspirational creative careers require more than the ability to create beautiful words or images. Visual effects is a good example. The computer-generated trickery that brought you Dobby, the Hulk and Optimus Prime would not be nearly as successful if the artists did not have a deep understanding of anatomy to make their CGI characters move authentically. And if they had not studied physics, you wouldn’t get that wonderful sense of movement as the light hits their character’s skin.
Creative careers are less about being (a great artist, a good writer) and more about doing (the processes, routines and endless drafts required to deliver the finished product). In that respect, there’s as much soul-sucking drudgery in the creative professions as there is in other jobs.
On any given day, a creative professional could be going to meetings, taking business calls, attending conferences, consulting with peers and filling out invoices. Far from waiting for inspiration to strike, creatives may be burning the midnight oil in a rush to meet other people’s deadlines.
This is, perhaps, the major myth about the creative professions—the notion that a creative genius clicks their fingers (or picks up a paintbrush, a mouse or a pen) and a masterpiece happens. This assumption ignores the rote steps, the incubation periods and the other menial and mundane work that constitutes the creative process.
This ends up being good news for anyone contemplating a creative career. If you are willing to work hard and hone your skills, no matter how uninspired you imagine yourself to be, you stand as much of a chance to succeed as those hounded by the creative muse. In the words of legendary photorealist Chuck Close, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”