Assess Your Art Career /Interview with Ginny Ruder

By Carolyn Edlund

Ginny Ruder is a career counselor in the New York metro area, who works with clients on balancing art, work and social life with a focus on being successful and happy.  We spoke recently about some ideas she has for artists who are making career decisions.

AS:  You suggest that taking assessment tests can be helpful. What do they reveal?

GR: One assessment type uses the RIASEC code developed by John Holland.  Holland’s theory of congruence asks the test taker to look at their interests and strengths and understand how they fit into a work setting. It can help the artist find a “day job” that may be more rewarding than data entry.  He gives a three letter code to thousands of job titles. This allows you to explore job options that may be more fulfilling and discover a job where you will be most successful.

I like to use Holland’s Self Directed Search with artists. It can be taken on the Internet, but I recommend you review it with a professional.  Many artists have the A– Artistic/Creative trait.  They often have the S- Social trait as well.  These indicate creativity, the ability to come up with new ideas, and the trait to want to help others; making the world a better place to live.  BUT the third letter of the code that Holland gives to artists is E-EnterprisingThe E types are those who make connections in business, they make things happen! In giving this assessment to artists, that E component is often at the bottom of the chart.  To understand that you can be creative, but you need to get out and sell your work is often a stumbling block for many artistic people. I encourage these people to find an agent or business partner who will help them get into the public eye.

The other letters of the code are R– Realistic, those people who like to work with their hands, and not be stuck in a desk job.  I- Investigative, those who are into details, making things fit together, researching information.  C– Conventional, those who make order out of chaos, they are organizers.  Professional artists can be any combination, though the A is typically the first letter of their code.  The Social component is important if you are working with clients directly, i.e. fashion, interior design, teaching.  And the other letters may be more important depending on the medium you use, i.e. new media and graphic design may have that I trait.

For artists still in a college setting, the Self Directed Search, or Strong Interest Inventory may be available to you through your Career Counseling Center on campus.

AS:  How can artists re-evaluate their professional life?

GR: Many artists find themselves working to make the bill payments, or working to create their art and then find that they are trapped. They also need to consider their social life; do they have one and how much time does it take up?  When these three areas are balanced, they may be more productive and happier.  If one area is taking more time than the others, life may not be as satisfying or productive.  I suggest that every few months the artist sit down and look at where they are spending time.  Set new goals of more time in the studio, or more time networking at art venues. Family time may need to be re-calibrated. Many times we put the aspect of life or business on a back burner, but it may need to be cranked up a notch.

Are you too busy at your “day job” and you are not making time to draw?  Are you too busy in the sculpture studio and you don’t know if you’ll have enough money to pay the bills?    Are you afraid that your work will be rejected from a show?  Are you avoiding your partner, because they feel you are never home?    If you find you are really stuck with these concerns, you may need to meet with a professional counselor to help you get un-stuck.  There are free services in many communities.

AS:  Once they come to a realization of their strengths, how do you suggest they go forward and find rewarding work?

GR: Focus on your strengths and have an idea of which areas you want to use.  Talk to people and explore what jobs are out there. Idealist and NYFA are two great sites to visit.   Networking is really important – make connections and stay in touch with those people who interest you most.

Attend events where you will meet other artists and patrons.  Let people in your circle know you are looking for a specific type of work.  Volunteer or work part time where you can develop skills that are marketable.  For example if you want to teach art, help at an after-school program or craft store.  Working as an artist in a not-for-profit setting may be rewarding.  Working in an art-based environment may allow you time to hang a show, travel or take a class, if it doesn’t interfere with the business getting done.

Keep in mind that every company and organization needs new ideas!  Come up with new ways of doing something outside the box, and don’t be afraid to pass them on to someone else.  If your creativity is not being tapped at work, re-think the job you are in, and find an environment that will allow you to be creative.

In the NY metro area, artists seeking career advice, can visit Ginny’s website.   The National Career Development Association lists professional career counselors around the US.  Or contact local colleges, who typically have a Career Development/Counseling Center and one of the counselors may have a private practice.


  1. What a great interview with Ginny and wonderful information and insight for artists. It is so important to break out of comfort zones and get out and promote your work in this new economy.

  2. Thanks, Judith. I agree, Ginny has very useful information for artists of all types who want to get some work/life balance!

  3. I enjoy the accountability/responsibility aspect of Ginny’s comments: If you see things are out of balance then you need to make those changes. Of all people, artists are able to embrace change…make it work y’all!

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