Michael Rives ’06 has worked as a professional artist since graduating from Puget Sound with a BA in Studio Art—concentration in painting. To pay the rent, he found work in the art supply retail industry. (Bonus: discounts on art supplies!)
Along the way, he’s learned valuable lessons about himself, his art, and what it means to pursue a fulfilling career in any field.
CES: What was your first job after college? In what ways did that experience meet or not meet your expectations?
Michael: My first job after college was working at an art installation company just outside of Portland, OR. I lasted 3 weeks at the job and it was never explained to me why I was fired. It was initially very disappointing, but over time it became an important lesson about the real world.
The takeaway? It’s up to you to prove yourself and demonstrate why you’re so great.
Go above and beyond the call of duty to prove why you’re so damn talented. Be reliable. Communicate. Take pride in whatever you do—be the best at it. If you don’t love it, find something you do love.
CES: How did you make the decision to pursue your current path? Were there pivotal moments?
Michael: I always knew I was going to have an art-related job. I always was an artist. I just had to be honest with myself to finally realize it and take it seriously.
As far as art supply retail, I knew I had to pay rent somehow and I was lucky enough to be accepted into a field that supports me financially and facilitates my true passion.
Pivotal moments? Getting my first job at True Blue Art Supply in Asheville, NC and getting my job at Artist & Craftsman Supply right before moving back to Seattle—both of which were 80% luck and 20% willpower. A lot of life is like that. The rest was just arriving on time and doing my job.
CES: What do you like/dislike about your role as a manager with Artist & Craftsman?
Michael: I love being able to use all of my experience to create the greatest art store and artist resource that I can. The space is a manifestation of what I want as an artist.
On the dislike side…It’s hard to watch when folks around me don’t appreciate how special something like Artist and Craftsman is. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Though it’s something you would only know after years of working at other art supply stores. Firing people and dealing with shoplifting are related to that.
CES: What about your art? What inspires you, drives you?
Michael: As an artist, I live for absolute freedom of expression regardless of physical reward. It’s one of the only places where that’s okay. It’s an indescribably sublime act.
I dislike how society perceives artists. Particularly in America, the lack of serious consistent art education in regular school causes an endless list of misconceptions about what it means to be an artist and make art in society. Additionally, there are far too many artists who give art away for free and far too many patrons who expect art for free.
CES: How do you balance your work as an artist with your work at Artist & Craftsman?
Michael: This was a very difficult subject up until maybe 5 years ago. I felt like I had no time/energy left over after a long day at work to make art.
I sought help in two ways: 1. I sought out an art mentor to consult on strategies for balancing work and art. 2. I sought out a psychological therapist to help figure out what was blocking my progress. Both were equally essential in answering that question. Always take care of your body and mind first—when your core being is healthy everything just works.
The most valuable bit of advice I received from my art mentor Jamie Bollenbach was this: “Endeavor to do one simple art-related activity every single day and reward yourself with positive reinforcement. Don’t waste time punishing yourself for perceived failure to produce.”
It’s amazing how one single brush stroke turns into 8 hours of good work. I come home every single day and work for at least a couple hours; weekends are entirely devoted to the studio. This took years to cultivate.
CES: What do you wish you had done or known during college that might have been beneficial to your career development?
Michael: Here’s some advice to my freshman self in 2004: Stop. Sit down and with brutal honesty answer the question “What do I want?” Is your goal to eat Neapolitan ice cream all day every day for the rest of your life? Great! How can you make that happen? How can you focus yourself to at least partially achieve that goal? Is what you are currently doing actually facilitating that goal? If not, change your life in such a way as to aim yourself in the appropriate direction.
I wish I had answered that question for myself as early as possible in relation to accomplishing my art goals. I may have followed other paths. But, I wouldn’t know all of that if I hadn’t followed the path I’m currently on.
CES: What advice do you have for students contemplating a career in art?
Michael: Your success is not determined by money. Money is arbitrary and has no relation to art.
CES: How does the Tacoma art environment compare to other places you’ve lived?
Michael: I do not mince words when I say that Tacoma has more opportunities for young artists than anywhere else I’ve ever lived (and I’ve live in a bunch of places). Look up: Spaceworks, Amy McBride, 3 new galleries in Hilltop, Carpenter’s Union Building renovations, McKinley Artist lofts in South Tacoma, Art 4 Culture, Tacoma Listserv, etc. etc. etc.
CES: Is there anything we haven’t asked about that you’d like to share?
Michael: I’d like to publicly apologize to all of my teachers for being a giant pain in the rear. And thank them for putting up with me long enough for me to graduate. ☺ ☺
© 2017 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Photos courtesy of Michael Rives