The struggles of being an artist in college

There is a bustling art scene around Georgia State, building the university into the ideal location for art students to break into their field. But while pursuing an arts major is fulfilling for the passionate ones, doubling up as a student in the arts industry can prove a strenuous task.

The Signal met with three current Georgia State students and a recent graduate to talk about the struggles of pursuing a degree in some of the most competitive industries in the world.


Kimberly Coulton

Art: Fashion, Stylist, Photographer, Art Director

Photo by Julieann Tran | The Signal

Kimberly Coulton is a junior at Georgia State majoring in Film & Media and Entertainment Management. She works in the world of fashion focusing on styling, photography and some modeling. Once she began gaining more professional attention and connections with clients, she realized it was time to start taking herself more seriously. However, that didn’t come so easily.

Being a fashionista isn’t cheap. Coulton has to maintain a part-time job to fund her passion while trying to stay afloat both professionally and academically. Working as a sales associate, Couton explained how important it was that she stayed self-sufficient to afford her ventures in fashion. Travel costs for work opportunities and clothing for her models are costs that she uses her job at COS (the designer branch of H&M) to cover. However, she tries to view those purchases more as investments to progress in fashion than as financial burdens

There is also the stress of just staying on her toes in the fashion industry, where she says, “you have to expect the unexpected.” It can be exhausting on top of her daily tasks to stay proficient at responsibilities like personal shopping for clients, learning about the intricacies of the industry or preparing looks for photo shoots. The fashion shows, styling and photography can be fun but also taxing.

Time management can also get difficult for Coulton. She plans her day hour by hour, but sometimes her academic responsibilities overtake her scheduling. Even the “fictional” deadlines she gives herself at times can be stressful with the hard deadlines revolving around work and school.

Thinking about balancing coursework with fashion, she said, “I will have time to create [fashion]  in due time – I just have to put in my 10,000 hours first!”

Missing class also comes with the territory. She already anticipates leaving for New York Fashion Week next year. School is her priority, but she knows she has to seize those special opportunities as they come. Conflicting schedules of work and school is trying for Coulton, but she knows the importance of prioritizing and staying caught up in school.

“I try not to look at it as a struggle, but more as a journey,” Coulton said.

Instagram: @k.coulton
Twitter: @kimmyy97


Chrishay ‘Kashii DopeAss’ Irwin

Art: Rapper

Photo by Julian Pineda | The Signal

Growing up in the small town of Milledgeville, Ga, Chrishay Irwin, whose stage name is Kashii DopeAss (Kash for short), came to Atlanta for college after always seeing it as a “music mecca.” It’s no secret how rough Atlanta’s hip-hop scene is, and after releasing her mixtape, The Nomad Journey, Kash knows about the struggles of being an up and coming rapper while in college.

Kash addressed some of the intersectional inequalities she faces in the rap scene. She said, “I have to acknowledge I am an African-American lesbian woman.” In spite of those facts working against her in some ways, Kash sees that there is a unique target audience that she could speak to. She also mentioned the trend in rap music where only one woman can be on top. Addressing the sexism women in music experience, Kash said, “that’s women in general in everyday life.”

Kash feels like there is a playing field she has to conquer in the scope of her sexuality. Although she is proudly gay, she knows she has to take that into account of her brand.

She says, “I feel like I can make songs that’ll be radio hits that everybody can relate to. I’m not just a gay girl.”

She wants to find her own position between the bright, flamboyant female rappers and more aggressive, street female rappers. There is a constant leveling in her music she has to keep that won’t allow her sexuality to overpower the quality of her music. To this effect, she compares her music to the melodic sound of Syd, who is also a successful LGBTQ+ artist.

When asked about balancing work, school and rapping, Kash said that she focuses more on being organized than being balanced. The skill of being adaptive to the challenges that come with a hectic schedule has helped Kash manage it all concurrently.

Kash believes, “you’ll either quit or just be miserable if you don’t learn how to adapt.” By “adapt,” she means rising to the occasion of her complex array of hurdles to hop over as a rapper including gender, sexuality and time constraints.

Kash thinks that staying “woke” in her industry, where these problems can easily tear you down has helped her get a grasp on balancing her music with school.

Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook: @Kashiidopeass
Soundcloud: Kashii Dopeass


Jeremiah Cowan

Art: Photography

Jeremiah Cowhan
Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

Jeremiah Cowan is an Atlanta native and photography major. At just 22 years old, his work has been featured by companies like GAP, Levi Strauss & Co. and Apple. After starting his career in photography his senior year in high school, Cowan has seen a fair number of obstacles as a student and photographer.

Similar to Coulton, Cowan has constantly battled with the balance of class and job opportunities. He recalls chances to do work in Italy and Los Angeles and having to miss four days of class for such rare opportunities. These were great experiences, but Cowan realized that he had to work even harder to keep up with class material for the sake of his grades in cases like these.

The young photographer also courageously opened up about personal issues that have impacted him. Cowan has been diagnosed with depression and has been attending counseling and pouring those feelings into his art. Although his image as a photographer is crystal clear for his audience, he’s experienced emotional obstacles like not having a father in the house, financial strains and a grueling break-up.

“People look at my Instagram photos and see this life… but I have to carry a burden every single day,” Cowan said.

Cowan values his potential to inspire people going through the same issues. He wants people suffering from depression to know that they aren’t alone. Pushing past his depression, Cowan has also faced age discrimination in his professional life.

“There’s been times I’ve been screwed over by huge ass companiesjust because they’re huge ass companies, and I’m lil’ ol’ me.”

He was once paid the same amount for two photos as his older colleague was for only one photo. Learning how to protect himself from situations like this was another aspect of the industry Jeremiah had to learn, mostly through trial and error.

“Edison found 99 ways to not create a light bulb before he found out the right way,” Cowan said.

Instagram: @jeremiahcowan
Twitter: @jeremiahcowan_


Lacy Clemons (Lacy J)

Art: Graphic & Visual Art, Creative Director, Stylist, Textiles

Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

A 2017 Georgia State graduate, Lacy Clemons—also known as Lacy Jhas been through the trenches of being a student and artist, and came out untainted.

After dabbling in a few art classes, Clemons enjoyed the wide variety of pieces and creative input she had in her assignments. She eventually fell in love with the arts.

“My health, my sanity, and my time were the three struggles,” Clemons said, reflecting on past college life. Still, in line with the other artists, she had to maintain a job to support herself through college. Stress, losing sleep, and working made it tough for Clemons. She even mentioned times she stayed at school overnight getting projects done in the studio.

“School didn’t really care about work, and work didn’t really care about school,” Clemons said. The time constraints from work and school kept her from additional opportunities such as internships. She put many hours into her passion for art on top of all her other responsibilities.

Now, as a graduate and professional creative, she describes herself as a “creative opportunist.” Having turned part of her home into her own studio, launching her website and crafting her own network of creatives, Clemons has found a path to success. To students who may be in the position she was not long ago, she advises them to plan and stay focused.

She also stresses the importance of putting work on display, that resumes are not always necessarily on paper. Everything with an artist’s name on it is a reflection of their creative brand, and people are always watching.

Social media, art shows and even the people you know can help get your name out there. For example, Clemons had one experience in which her colleague got to present Clemons’ clothing to rap duo Rae Sremmurd.

Her plan is still unfolding as she considers going to graduate school to learn the business side of the art world as well.

“We have to support each other. We have to hold each other up,” Clemons said, speaking to Atlanta creatives in general.

The common thread of struggles such as financial hardship, time management and academia run through many collegiate artists. Despite these, the strong networking spirit and creatives in Atlanta have maintained the support Clemons encourages and gives rise to artists like these every day.  

Instagram: @lacy.j
Twitter: @atLJlanta