How to build a career in the competitive art world


Yasemin Isaacs

In the back room of Cynthia Berger’s advanced painting class, Senior Audrey Janz works on her latest piece. “I’m really into realism and juxtaposition,” she said. “ I think there are a lot of different moods you can convey, with art.”

Yasemin Isaacs, Staff Writer

An artistic career is a dream for many South students. Some struggle with knowing what steps they must take to achieve their goals of being a well rounded artist and entrepreneur. Successful artists in the near South community can provide some insight on how to plan for the future. 

South is known for its many art programs, including dance, theatre, music, and of course visual arts. This includes South’s many diverse murals and ripple project installments. Naturally, this produces a lot of interest for aspiring young artists into what an artistic career might be like.

Greta McLain from GoodSpace Murals helped direct the new mural on the north side of the South building. She has some ideas on how to be successful in a competitive art world. “If it’s something that you decide that you want to do, truly go for it, and know that you’re going to have to really put in the work… It’s all about placing yourself in [a similar way as] people who are already doing what you want.”

McLain is also a South High graduate, but didn’t take a traditional path towards her career. “I didn’t take one art class, not one,” said McLain. “ The only way, I knew, in order to get a scholarship to go to college is, you need to take advanced science and math classes.” So that’s what she did. Greta ended up going to UC Davis, a traditional university outside of Sacramento, and used this roundabout way to start her journey as a community muralist. She studied all over the world and worked side by side with the people she admired most. Some of her strongest inspirations however, came from right back home. 

This mural on the north side of the South building was led by Greta McLain with GoodSpace Murals. It’s centered on themes of social justice and acts of kindness. It is just one example of what can come out of a career in the arts. Photo: Yasemin Isaacs

McLain believes that artists can have sturdy legacies in their families, and pieces from lost relatives can help tell the story of what those family members were like. “The women in my family were quilters,” said McLain. “We have a quilt that my great grandmother made. And I’ve never seen even a photograph of her…I feel like I can get to know her, in some ways, through that piece.” By keeping art a fundamental piece of a family story, McLain thinks that anyone can foster a love of art in young kids, if they incorporate into their daily lives.

Senior Audrey Janz, an advanced painting student at South, also takes inspiration from her family. “I think everyone in my family, when they were young, used to draw,” said Janz. “My mom used to do landscapes, and my grandparents did portraits.” Janz grew up with art all around her and wants to share it with the rest of the world, outside of her community. 

Many artists also choose to go abroad. Whether it is to pursue higher education, apprenticeships, or programs that they may be interested in. According to Greta McLain, who spent time in Argentina, you often need to seek out opportunities yourself, and leave your comfort zone. Sometimes what you are looking for, is not within your immediate community. 

“I really want to go abroad,” says Janz, “It’s a big world, and staying in the U.S. kind of seems small.” Janz enjoys all types of art, and pretty much anything she can hold in her hand. She hopes to take a gap year after high school to clear her head and think about what she wants to do. “I see myself continuing to do the things that I like, and seeing if I can get an apprenticeship”. She is looking towards potential schools in Scotland, London, or New York. 

Although some may leave and never come back, many artists also find their success right in their own communities. Adam Turman is a local illustrator who is based in Minneapolis but is nationally known for his pieces largely focused on Minnesota pride. He credits his success to putting himself out there and promoting his work. “Networking for me, and my career, and my business, that’s what’s really been successful.”

In high school, Turman started a small business, selling designed t-shirts for the Sweetheart Dance. He ended up making quite a bit of money, and realized how he could use his illustration skills to make a name for himself. 

Turman went to Edina High School, and later the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1999 with a degree in graphic design. “Back in ‘99 that’s when interactive design, (web design) was very new. A lot of agencies didn’t really know where to put people,” said Turman. “A lot of my portfolio had a lot of illustrations in it, in order to help me get jobs.” 

According to Cynthia Berger, an art teacher at South, it seems to be a common theme between artists that what you start out searching for is not always what you end up doing. She didn’t always want to be an art teacher. She had originally wanted to be an artist on her own. “I went to Bethel where I was a sculpture major… and then you’re like, what are you gonna do with that?” said Berger. She worked a variety of different jobs that she wasn’t very satisfied with, such as a museum guard at the Walker Art Center, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). 

After doing art for awhile on her own, Berger decided to go back to school to become an art teacher, which is more difficult than some may think. “There aren’t a lot of teaching positions out there in the world, because usually in a school there is one art teacher, and you know, there’s a lot more English teaching positions, or math teaching positions,” said Berger. She has some insight on what aspiring artists should expect. “If you’re going to be an artist, you [have to] know that you’ve got to really hustle a lot. There’s going to be times where you make money, and there will be times where you don’t make any money. You need to figure out how to create balance.”