I Am an Artist. I Am Getting an MBA. I Am Not a Sellout.

by Erica Meade
Many studio art majors at my undergrad institution had negative feelings about the business world. The common thought was that the corporate machine was stocked with money-hungry egomaniacs, representing everything wrong in this world and the inverse of the motivations and goals of an artist. That’s somewhat of an exaggeration, but nonetheless, “commercial” and “corporate” were bad words in the art studio.
In one of my harshest critiques, I was told that some of my work was too commercial and that I should get ready “to go to Madison Avenue” or “design greeting cards.” I was upset, but more than that, I was confused. My goals as an artist were – and are – to express my ideas to a wide audience, make people think about what they see, and perhaps even influence change. So what’s wrong with art that is applicable and accessible to a broad audience? Why does commercial appeal equal the death of true art? And how are those two things mutually exclusive?
Towards the end of my college career, I wondered what my life would be like if I were a traditional professional artist. I imagined that I’d be struggling to get gallery representation, living in a tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn, yearning for my big break as I waited tables or worked retail. The starving artist persona seemed like an ineffective way to get my ideas out in the world and make a difference. So I looked into other outlets for creative expression and found design.

I now make art as a web designer and illustrator for a wide range of clients. Some may think of me as a sellout, or perhaps no longer an artist, but I have simply altered my approach to art making. Yes, I’ve crossed over to the commercial side, and I have switched to a digital medium, but my ideas and my art are accessible to a huge audience through the internet. My interpretation of what it means to be a successful artist has evolved.
Last winter, I discovered a way to further develop my career as a nontraditional artist when I found out about CCA’s MBA in Design Strategy program. I was truly inspired and decided to move cross-country when I was accepted as a member of the multidisciplinary pioneering cohort. After only one semester, I have gained skills that will help me more cogently express my creative ideas within the commercial context and enable me to function as a catalyst for meaningful change. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to strengthen all of these competencies while working with a wonderful, diverse group of people.
Throughout our curriculum, my classmates and I have been asked to express ourselves creatively and effectively in a variety of ways. We are a group of people unified by the creative desire to not just be a cog in the corporate machine, but to reinvent it and reframe it through design strategy. In my mind, we are all artists. And definitely not sellouts.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.