Posted by: Liz Massey | January 29, 2008

Questioning artistic “meccas”

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for serious creators who’d like to make their art-making their day job, is, well, getting that day job.

The traditional wisdom goes like this: get a degree in (insert creative field) at a respected school, hop on a plane, and head to the “capital city” for (insert creative field) and join the ranks of other young (insert creative artist title) in “paying your dues” by doing internships, temp jobs and waiting tables in order to have the opportunity to grab for the “brass ring” specific to your field–whether that’s working in a “name” design studio, getting on the staff of a national consumer magazine, or landing a position as a production assistant on the set of a soon-to-be-blockbuster movie.

Such advice makes for great stories, but it discourages as many folks as it inspires. I know this firsthand–after college, intimidated by what I thought I had to do to “make it” as a magazine writer, namely move to New York, I chose to stay put in the decidedly more meager publishing environment of Kansas City. I wasn’t prepared to work in a “Devil Wears Prada” environment, so I determined that I didn’t belong in the magazine world.

Carl at Creative Seeds has posted a great counter-argument to the conventional wisdom. In his post “Small Pond, Smart Fish,” he argues that young/beginning designers should locate to cities that are NOT established design capitals for two very specific reasons:
1. They will get better, longer-term projects in the second-tier cities because the competition for junior design positions is less intense.
2. They will receive better mentoring, because in a less competitive market, skilled professionals are better able to share what they know without fearing piracy.

I have to say I agree with much that Carl has to say. I don’t believe that over-the-top competition is terrific for developing creatively, or for designing a career that marries your creative ambitions with your desire to make an adequate living. I also believe that his post highlights something that is as true for the writing world as it is for design projects–technology has made it possible for junior artists to work on projects far from home, and gain experiences that would have previously been location-dependent.

In my own case, my looping journey through public sector public relations, industrial video production and newsletter publishing eventually led me back to editing magazines. And you know what? I believe I became a better-rounded editor, capable of putting together a more compelling product, than if I had felt I had to work as an editorial assistant on one of the “name” magazines in New York.

Yes, it’s true, for some professions, you really do have to go where the masters (and the money) are. But it’s also important to acknowledge that you can further your creative skills wherever you may be.



  1. […] I believe one doesn’t have to live in a creative mecca to do good work, creative hubs promote cross-pollination of ideas, which is a huge boost to […]

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