After asking the head of the University Art Department I attended (mostly in the Late 60's and off and on in the 70's and 80's), how many people who had been Art majors were actually in the art field, I was given the following reply: that after 10 years, one out of ten were still active in the Arts and that one-in-10 of THOSE were actually making a living at it.
That works out to 1%. Only one out of every 100 of those finishing the 4 year degree program. Therefore, I had to ask myself, if anyone considering Art as a career knew those statistics in advance, BEFORE spending 4 years in a University Art Department, taking on a mountain of student loan debt, how many would still enroll?
As for myself, I have lived in a shadowy "Art Hell", since leaving school the first time in 1970, an Art Gray Zone where a career never quite materialized but hovered tantalizingly close enough to make it seem worth continuing to pursue. The U.S. Viet Nam intervention pulled the foundation out as it did for a lot of people. Finally returning to school in earnest, to officially finish my Art degree in 1997, did little to remove the "fog of the Art wars".
Yes, I drew for the King Features Syndicate for 12+ years, Illustrated for Compaq Corporation, illustrated for The University of California Master Gardeners, created game layouts for Sega of America, illustrated for numerous newspapers, published poetry, exhibited every now and then, and did lots of other interesting stuff, including a bit of acting and set design.
But a career? Nope, wouldn't call it that. I made most of my income in more mundane pursuits. A more accurate description of my Art career would be to call it a very time consuming and expensive hobby. If, like Henry James, I had been born to a life dedicated to self improvement because a recent ancestor had done well in business and provided a lifetime income with no need to "work", my dabblings might have been more coherent and finished. But the necessity to provide for a roof, clothes and food has proved to be a grave distraction from my desire to "make Art".
Perhaps it IS possible to integrate one's need to provide the needed things with one's life calling. To those who achieve THAT, I render my most heartfelt kudos.
My Art School chum, Mark Tansey, seems to have accomplished that, which I greatly admire. He dedicated his life to his Art and acheived greatness in the eyes of the world.
To the aspiring artists of the world: if you "do not do", you will always wonder what you could have done. Don't grow old and say "I would've, I could've, I should've". Even if you wind up cleaning floors for a living, in the end you can say, "I tried my best".
I've jump started other people's careers, one thing that has always suprised me, considering that my own has been so off and on. Maybe THAT is really what I was meant to do after all ;0)