5 Famous Artists Who Didn't Quit Their Day Jobs

Many artists that we consider to be the generation-defining forces of art, didn‘t quit their day jobs for a very long time. Some of them even stayed after their work became famous and critically-acclaimed. Behind choices like that, there lie many reasons. But let‘s take the road less traveled and see those day jobs as an act of courage. Courage to feel good enough about one‘s art to not change one‘s entire lifestyle to fit the role. To be more than one thing. To be many things without diminishing any of them. Today let‘s look at five artists who kept their day jobs and created some magnificent works of art.

1. Mark Rothko (Painter/Labor Union Organizer/Teacher)


Most of us know Mark Rothko for his paintings that are very easy to recognize. When he was young, Rothko wanted to become a labor union organizer and actually went to Yale before dropping out. He had many jobs but in 1929 he started working part-time as a teacher at the Center Academy of Brooklyn Jewish Center. Working with children taught him how visual language doesn‘t have to be super complex to express one‘s perception of reality. Rothko kept his job until 1952 and then continued the teaching journey at the Brooklyn College until 1954 when he went on to become a full-time artist.


Violet, Green and Red by Mark Rothko

2. Jeff Koons (Artis/Wall Street Commodities Broker)


When you think about Jeff Koons, the first thing that comes to mind is probably some huge shiny colorful baloon-like sculpture. Well, there‘s more to the story of this famous artist than his gigantic works of art. He was once a successful commodities broker on Wall Street while he was creating. That allowed him to stay independent from the art market and, to put it simply, do his own thing without the pressure.



Balloon dog by Jeff Koons

3. Barbara Kruger (Conceptual artist/Graphic Designer/Professor/Writer)


We know Barbara Kruger for her blunt works of art that are very socially-relevant and provoking. Kruger had a successful career working as a graphic designer for Condé Nast and eventually became a head designer. She also wrote columns for Artforum, wrote reviews for music, films and television. In 1967 she started to teach at U.C. Berkeley. Being a woman of many fields, she stayed in touch with what’s going on in the world and that kept her artwork up-to-date and relevant.



Untitled (I shop therefore I am) by Barbara Kruger

4. Richard Serra (Contemporary Sculptor/Mover)


We know Richard Serra as the artist who created socially-relevant works of art such as Torqued Ellipses that you can see in the picture and that found its place in the Guggenheim Museum. His day job was quite physical. He worked with “Low Rate Movers”, a company that also employed Cuck Close and Philip Glass. Serra once said about his day job: “It was a good job because none of us would work more than two or three days a week, so we had the remaining days to do our own work.”



Torqued Ellipses by Richard Serra

5. Alexander Calder (Sculptor/Mechanical Engineer)


His works of art are very famous now but, born to a family of artists, Alexander Calder was actually discouraged from becoming an artist because his parents knew about the hardships of the art world. In 1915 Calder became a student of the Stevens Institute of Technology to study to become a mechanical engineer. After he graduated, Calder had many jobs as an engineer and while working on a passenger ship, he discovered that art was what he actually wanted to do. He moved to New York, started working as an illustrator and introduced the mobile sculptures that he is famous for.


Mobile by Alexander Calder