How to turn your passion for art into a career in Bangladesh

It is a difficult question to grapple with if you are a creative person aspiring to make a living out of your passion in arts and culture. Even if you are not directly affected by the issue, much like any other public service arena, the impact will trickle down to your immediate way of living in one way or another in society.

No matter how we go about in finding answers to this question, the reality seems so far removed from what we are used to considering in terms of future job and career prospects.

Every option seems a stretch.

More of a fantastical whim than an actual possibility that can be worked into reality with a little bit of elbow grease, as one might assume about building a career in the mainstream industries.

There are pre-established routes to take. Students and people who want to traverse these paths have arguably reliable models to emulate as they go about aiming to achieve the career they desire. The more conventional careers have been tried and tested more often and are talked about frequently. As a result, there’s more awareness about these industries and people feel that they have more access to the resources required to make themselves qualified for the field.

The elephant in the room

Addressing these issues, a panel discussion was held at EMK Centre on the occasion of their 10th anniversary. Esteemed dancer and founder of a leading dance school Shadhona, Lubna Marium, cartoonist and founder of Cartoon People Imam Rashad Tonmoy and News Presenter Ayesha Mahmud talked about their struggles and challenges as each of them went about pursuing their career.

One aspect remained constant among all of their stories despite each of them belonging to different parts of the art and culture field: It is incredibly difficult to establish a career in the arts and one will have to work hard and persevere only to get the minimal amount of respect and validation and to be taken seriously. 

“Merely saying that I draw cartoons for a living usually makes people laugh. Or they ask, no but what do you do for real?”

Cartoonist Tonmoy talks about society’s expectation of serious-sounding job titles in order to gain importance as a person involved in a real career.

“From a young age, we are taught how important professions in science, engineering, medicine and business are in the world. If we had the same education on the need and significance of art and culture in a society’s development, then we could expect to be treated fairly”.

He traces back the roots of these problems to a lack of awareness and the sheer absence of the importance of art and culture in education.

Lubna Marium told a story about a talented and polished dancer she had met who worked for a well-renowned dance company in the USA, called Spectrum. When asked about how she made a living, she said that she barely made any money working for Spectrum. Her main income was dependent on after hours and weekends when she danced Cabaret at a local bar.

To this Tonmoy added, “Many believe that it is easier to be an artist in the West. To that, I say, even if pay might be better abroad, the expenses are also higher. Moreover, the competition is much stiffer and cutthroat thereby reducing your chances of success even further. However, one thing that may be better in foreign countries is the respect and validation you might achieve for your work.”

What are the alternate options?

It is indeed true that when it comes to earning a living, many talented, hardworking and passionate creatives have relied on other jobs to make money. One common advice is to search for a job that will allow you to earn a decent monetary income to support your lifestyle as well as the requirements for your artistic pursuit eg, studio space, art supplies etc. Most importantly, the job must not drain you of the emotional and mental energy required for you to immerse yourself in your art.

In this case, a trade-off must be made and an aspiring artist may be better off by doing a job that is not engaging and maybe even meaningless if it means they are able to go home at night and paint or wake up early in the morning to rehearse.

It is easy to fall down a rabbit hole of hopelessness when sculpting out a career in the arts. But the youth must be reminded to pay attention to middle grounds and opportunities to become self-sufficient without resorting to throwing themselves into a career far and away from their true desire. Arguably, it might be more difficult to drop out of a successful, established career to finally devote yourself to your true calling than it is to maintain a less than satisfying job for a certain period of time and still being able to actively work or search for work in the field of your choice.

To elaborate on this, someone who dreams of being a writer may take up a job where he or she has to write catalogues for a company or content for their website. If you are an artist without any gallery representation, perhaps you can get a job as a school art teacher or a private art tutor. If films are your dream, a job in advertising may teach you a lot.

What should also be considered is that many of the creative practices and faculties of the brain required for arts and culture may, in fact, be employable and lucrative in corporate culture as well. It is said that often experience in an unrelated field, may lend you a unique perspective which could then further your career in the arts and culture.

Not everybody will have the chance or the privilege to work sustainably in art and culture. It is inevitable that there will be many going down the lines of business, branding, healthcare and teaching only because they have insurmountable bills to pay and families to support. Additionally, the mental angst and pressure of uncertainty in the field can be damaging to many people’s lives.

Finding a way to channel your passion

Even in such cases, I would like to say there is still hope for them to return to the arts at a later point in their career. Over the last year, as I have covered numerous art exhibitions as a reporter, I have come across a painter who gave up her career to be a homemaker, only to be encouraged to exhibit her art by her children twenty years later. I have seen works by people whom I assumed to be full-time artists. Yet, I found out they held down unrelated jobs but made time to dedicate to their art as they grew older.

As Ayesha Mahmud said, “Whoever persists in their career in this line of work, must have an immense amount of courage.” The world of art and culture is not made easy anywhere. However, those that are truly interested in seeing the development and furthering of the arts must take the responsibility of facilitating other artists and be as welcoming as possible to outsiders.

Digital Art 101: Everything you need to know

Lately, many artists are diving into the imaginative world of digital art because of the comprehensive opportunities that it holds. Trying to switch to a digital medium is not an easy task. For an aspiring beginner, becoming a digital artist from scratch may seem a like a daunting endeavor. But with some practice and skill, the pen tablet can turn into your wand in no time.

Learning the basics

Even if you’ve been exploring art as early as childhood, you will need to become familiar with the techniques of painting digitally.

Because it is significantly different from traditional art.

Firstly, you need to get an overview of the different tools and brushes that exist and how to go about using them. From personal experience, I would suggest experimenting freely with all of the brushes until you start to understand how things work. And of course, there are millions of tutorials online that can help you get a head start.

Debunking the age-old myth

I hate to break it to you, but no. Drawing digitally is not “easier” than drawing on paper. No matter how convenient it may seem, it does come with a lot of complications, so don’t go into digital art thinking it’s going to be a walk in the park.

You don’t have to stick with Photoshop

When people hear the words “digital art”, they automatically associate it with Photoshop. Many assume that it is the only program available to draw with. While learning Photoshop can be great for you in the long run as an artist, it is not the most user-friendly software for beginners. You can explore a variety of other programs like Clip Studio Paint, Krita, Autodesk Sketchbook (did I mention this is free?), MyPaint (also free), Corel Painter Essentials, etc. All these new programs have truly made digital art a lot more approachable, so try a bunch of them and see which one works for you the best.

Use photo references

Let’s be real, it is unrealistic to expect that you’ll know how to draw everything and anything in this world, and that’s why photo references exist. Using hand drawn sketches or photographs as a photo reference can really ease up your creative process. Additionally, there are plenty of stock websites that solely exist to help you with this, so go on and scour the Internet for whatever you need. But remember, the idea isn’t to completely recreate these images; it is only there to help you start off so you can add your own intricate details to it and eventually be able to draw without the help of references.

Pro tip: When you’re struggling to find the accurate photo reference of a figure, just make your friend pose accordingly and use that instead!

Using layers

I cannot stress how important it is to understand how layers work when it comes to digital painting. It is a magical feature that will make your creative process ten times easier. Knowing how to use layers according to your own advantage will give you a lot of power as a digital artist. Because then, you’ll be able to edit your art without any restrictions. Even though layers might seem confusing at first, it is really is a no-brainer once you start using it.

Investing in a tablet

One of the cardinal tools for digital art is a graphic tablet. Using a mouse will hinder the quality of your work immensely while also making your fingers numb (I kid you not). The number of options out there can make it seem like an impossible task to choose the right tablet. The truth is that there is no one right tablet, and it all comes down to your own requirements and affordability. Some of the most popular manufacturers right now are Wacom, Huion, XP-Pen, Ugee, etc.

The important part is to spend some time researching. Maybe watch some videos on YouTube, and figure out how much you’re willing to invest in this. Some important things that you want to keep in mind are the size, pressure sensitivity, pen, accuracy and of-course, the price. Not all of us can afford the really fancy, expensive tablets, especially beginners, so you can consider going for a modest one to help you get started.

Tip: Wacom Intuos is one of the most recommended graphic tablets of all time at an affordable price and is great for entry-level artists. It also comes with three 3 free drawing software.

Try again and again and again

Most importantly, DON’T GIVE UP.  One of the biggest eradicators of creativity is our own self-doubt. But as a creative individual, you have to push through it and start believing in your own work. Keep striving to improve every day and don’t be disheartened by comparing your progress to other artists who have had years of experience. Remember that they also started off somewhere, clueless, just like you.

Do art and depression go hand in hand?

What is the image that comes to your mind when you think of an artist? Let me guess- constantly smoking, brooding over a blank canvas, contemplating every stroke of their brush and jumping up at the slightest distractions. It also makes you wonder what sort of demons they are battling on the inside to be so fitful and anxious. And if every artist you know is not in the right state of their mind, then it must tell us something, right?

It does feel like there is a connection

Kurt Cobain, the lead vocalist of Nirvana, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994, has become a prominent icon of art and depression correlation.
Kurt Cobain, the lead vocalist of Nirvana, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994.

We, as a society, romanticize mental illness. We believe that people who battle depression, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia must be so strong. Examples like Kurt Cobain, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Earnest Hemmingway and Virginia Woolf only feeds into these hypotheses. There have also been studies that show a link between creativity and mental illness. For example, one study in England, conducted by the national office of statistics, found that people working in the arts industry were four times more likely to kill themselves. Another study conducted in 2013 said that authors were more prone to severe mental disorders like depression, bipolar syndrome, schizophrenia, substance abuse and many more.

Is that the whole story, though? Do arts and mental illness really go hand in hand?

Well, it might seem so, but all these studies are inconclusive.

Correlation or Coincidence?

Do art and depression go hand in hand?

A lot of external factors can come into play when it comes to a person’s mental health. There can be past traumas, genetic links, or simply a fact of a disruptive lifestyle. None of these factors can make a person more creative than s/he already is. But it seems that only the people struggling with mental issues are thriving as artists. Believing that is not completely on us, because like I said, we tend to romanticize mental issues. But according to numerous psychologists, claiming that only depressed, anxious people are more creative will be an overkill. True, art is a way of dealing with whatever hardships life throws at you. Sometimes, people who are trying to deal with all of their emotions tend to get mentally sick. They express those struggles through words, music and brush strokes.

However, there are a large number of artists who are just as creative, just as famous and they do not have any sort of apparent mental struggles. In fact, the latter might be more in number. Having a mental health issue isn’t a necessity for an artist. Sometimes it just works as a catalyst.

Call a spade a spade

Do art and depression go hand in hand?

Bottom line, the next time you see someone torturing themselves and giving excuses like “it’s for my art”, drag their behind to a shrink. There can be a deeply rooted identity crisis within these people. There is a possibility that they keep themselves miserable just because they do not know who they would be without this part of themselves.

Read more: 5 places in Dhaka to get counselling help.

Whatever the case is, these people are capable of living a healthy life filled with both joy and sadness. They don’t have to be depressed for the sake of art. Tell them that. Help them heal. And someday, they will thank you for it.