April 13, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University of South Dakota
John Banasiak: Our best case scenario for graduates with an Art Degree are careers as professional Artists. With the pandemic there could be problems with gallery attendance and as a result there would be problems with sales of Art. There are mechanisms that enable online sales and online exhibitions of work, but they are not as powerful as real life exhibitions and interactions with Artists and the viewing public. Of course with Photography there are many off shoots of useful careers like photojournalism, medical photography, studio/fashion/commercial photography, etc.
Murray State University
Department of Art and DesignWebsite
Michelle Burdine: If I looked at the history of economic downturns to guide me for this answer, I would have to say yes. However, our current situation is different, giving some reason to hope that our economy will bounce back more quickly than in the past. Despite the myth of the isolated genius artist, toiling alone in his studio, the arts are, at their core, about engagement. A vast majority of careers in the arts rely on public interaction, many of which are not possible, or not best experienced, via video. My hope, then, is that we continue to mask-up and stay distant until we reach herd immunity. With the vaccine, this could be as early as late summer 2021. If this happens, the impact will significantly lessen for graduates in the arts, as communities will be eager to get back into a social routine which includes the arts. It's actually easy for me to imagine a creative boom to balance the stifling isolation of life during this pandemic. My optimism, however, hinges on reaching herd immunity before we are overrun by new variants, in which case we could slide back to square one. A potential upside is that business may be looking to hire new employees at wages that would be manageable for recent graduates, but not for their more-experienced competition.
Michelle Burdine: My recommendation to gain an advantage in the arts would be any courses that teach specialty software applications from the Microsoft to the Adobe Suite and far beyond. Like it or not, there is just as much administrative work in the arts as in any field. It would give a graduate an edge to understand art making as well as to be able to be confident with specialty software applications. This extends to understanding ways to use social media to the advantage of the hiring organization. I would also recommend courses in grant writing, and perhaps anything dealing with non-profit organizations.
Michelle Burdine: Our society maintains the idea of the great life of the "starving artist" -a misconception which is a disservice for both artists and the general public. First it implies that artists don't mind living in poverty and so don't need to be paid fairly, or at all, for their work. Second, it perpetuates the myth that there are no jobs if you are an artist. Luckily, artists are good at ignoring social norms and blazing our own paths. My recommendation is to apply this quality to your job search. Of course, it is true that it is almost impossible to get paid directly out of college to sit in your studio and make art. And yes, it is true that very few artists at this level have collectors knocking down their doors to buy the work you made for your BFA show. Good thing there are so many other avenues to making a living in the arts! For example, look into non-profit organization, community art centers, live-work spaces, museums, galleries, and the even the commercial-arts industry.
You will also increase your earning potential if you say "yes" to unlikely jobs and are willing to relocate. For example, there is an apprentice system established for painting backgrounds and sets for theater and tv/movie productions, if you are willing to move to NY or Massachusetts. Another example-I have a friend with a BFA who has now has a high-level position working for a large bicycle company. He started out as a recent graduate working in a bike shop because he loves cycling. He moved up to managing a store within that company before getting recruited by this bike company. His BFA in photography was instrumental to his success, as creative thinking combined with manual skills is always in demand. Upon graduation, taking a job selling bikes was not the likely path for The Artist. However, he said "yes" to something that he liked even though it was not directly related to the arts. Success, then, can be a matter of applying your transferable skills to an adjacent sector. Despite the fact that you won't see an "artist wanted" ad, art itself, art thinking, and/or art related skills are needed in every type of business. I believe the key for graduates of the arts is a deep understanding of, and confidence in, the vast number of skills you have acquired while obtaining your degree, and the ability to transfer those skills to any sector interesting to you.
Department of Art and Art HistoryWebsite
Pamela Venz: My crystal ball is not that clear on the enduring impact of the coronavirus. I believe there will be an impact on many aspects of our lives, including new graduates, but it is difficult to predict what that impact will be. As far as undergraduates completing degrees in photography, I'm not sure the lingering impacts change their outlook that much. Photography is so integrated into our daily lives that those who know the language of photography should be able to find ways to use that knowledge after graduation.
Any business with a social media aspect relies on photographic language to improve and increase their businesses. Many graduates will be able to indulge their entrepreneur spirit to start their own photography businesses, which can include many variations such as fine art photography, family portraits, event photography, corporate portraits, pet portraits, wedding photography, food photography and more. As I mentioned before, photography is so integrated into our daily lives that a graduate with a knowledge of camera mechanics, lighting and the language of photography can make a life with that knowledge.
Pamela Venz: I am a professor at a liberal arts institution and focus primarily on fine art applications of photography. But, for jobs in photography one needs courses in photography, for those interested in starting their own businesses a couple of business courses would be helpful. It depends upon the type of job a graduate is looking for. One who is interested in pursuing fine art photography will be utilizing different skills than one interested in starting a wedding photography business.
Pamela Venz: Observation: all artists have highly developed skills of observation, attention to detail and applying their skills of observation to whatever task is at hand.
Creative Problem Solving: it's title clearly connects this skill with artist of all disciplines. Successful creative problem solving involves the ability to be flexible, to be open to many different interpretations of everything, to seek resolutions from seemingly unrelated sources and apply those resolutions in innovative ways.
Communication: One cannot succeed if one cannot communicate. Communication skills include not only verbal communication but written communication and for photographers and other artists visual communication as well. The ability to articulate one's ideas to a varied audience is crucial for success in any field.
Individual initiative: No one's path after graduation will be easy regardless of the field of the degree attained. The desire to achieve and the discipline to work towards that achievement cannot be understated.
Teamwork: We all must be able to work alone and to have the discipline to work alone towards a goal. But we are social beings and the ability to work as a member of a team is also crucial for success regardless of the field. Teamwork requires one to compromise, to communicate one's ideas in a diplomatic manner, to accept roles one may not want to do and to delegate roles to a group that reflect each individual's strengths and weaknesses.
Columbia College Chicago
Verser Engelhard: There can be no question that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the photography market currently, but I do not see lasting trends as a result of the pandemic specifically. No one can be certain of the timing, but I feel like vaccines and therapies will allow the world to start to return to normal sometime in 2021. That said, the pandemic has solidified many of the trends the photography market was experiencing pre-pandemic. Trends like downward pressure on photography budgets, smaller crews, more shots per day, less travel, etc. On the bright side, pent up demand for all types of photography created by the pandemic should make for a strong job market going forward.
Verser Engelhard: Artificial Intelligence and how that is driving innovations in-camera software. The biggest advances being made in cameras are not hardware but software. The investments in research and development at companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google are propelling photography forward in ways that will fundamentally change how photographs are made. Imagine wanting to take a picture of the moon. You point your camera at the moon, and your camera immediately knows what you are trying to photograph. Your camera will assess everything about your chances of success, things like your specific point of view, time of day, lighting, weather conditions, everything. Your camera will then search the internet for everything it needs to create the "perfect" photograph for you, one that could only be made under ideal conditions. Scenarios like this are just the beginning. AI will make the seemingly impossible possible.
Verser Engelhard: Most definitely an increase. We live in a world that is consuming more and more online every day, and photography makes much of that possible. As demand for content increases, so too will the industries that it relies on. Although technology has seemingly made it possible for anyone to become a photographer (or has made everyone believe they are a photographer), expertise will always have value and be in demand. The photography market is no exception.
George Fox University
Department of Art and DesignWebsite
Adam Long: This question has multiple answers. Photography is extremely broad in its applications. I think most people that want to hire a full-time staff photographer are looking for a someone with photo and video capabilities. If someone can evidence a skillset in still and moving images, they can offer the company/person a variety of desirable options.
Adam Long: Resolution continues to increase into greater and greater detail. The impact on the field is linked because photographers need to be on the forefront of acquiring the technology that the industry demands. Many people rent gear, and I could see that trend increasing as rapid technological advances continue. Software also continues to make crazy shifts with abilities to automate and analyze through facial recognition and image analysis for automatic masking and layering of content.
Adam Long: I believe our graduates are resilient and will adapt to any given situation. Some photo markets are cold right now, and It's hard to see us going back to "business as usual", but it wouldn't surprise me to see explosions in markets that require many people in close proximity...like weddings, fashion, events. Busy times with social gathering will come again.
Johnson County Community College
Susan McSpadden: I think the job market for photographers is tough right now, in the same way it is for many other professions. Companies are either holding steady with their current workforce or making cuts to stay afloat until the pandemic is under control and the economy starts to consistently improve. We've had quite a few members of our organization, the University Photographers' of America Association, lose their jobs, take a pay cut, or be furloughed for an extended period. It's challenging for seasoned photographers with a solid resume to find work. For recent graduates in the field, who don't have experience on their side, it has to be exponentially more difficult. The good news is that companies, organizations and publications have an easier time hiring a freelancer than a full time employee, so if you're self-motivated, with your own gear, there are good freelance opportunities out there.
Susan McSpadden: Graduates in the field of photography would benefit significantly from some business knowledge. Take some business classes, if you can, even if it's a weekend continuing education session. There are freelance opportunities out there, if you are self-motivated and seek them out. Knowing about self-employment tax and how to budget your earnings as a freelancer would help until you are able to land a full-time position with a company or institution. Just like with any profession, being a go-getter, a self-starter, a hard worker, a go-the-extra-miler will help.
Susan McSpadden: I don't think there are specific places in the U.S. that are better for photography professions. Photography is needed everywhere, so I think just finding places that aren't already saturated with photographers is the key.