Your Views: The Problem with my Art Degree

I recently wrote ‘The Problem with my Art Degree‘ which received a lot of feedback from like-minded students, students that experienced the same thing I did 8 years ago.

It was lovely to hear that people agreed with what I said, but also pretty shitty that things haven’t really changed in the years since I studied. So I wanted to hear more about what is currently going on in our Universities. So here I present ‘Your Views’ a follow-up piece to said post.

In my post I wrote how I wish my work felt more like ‘me’ and not something I was coaxed into by the tutors. I chatted with Gemma, who graduated MMU this year with a Fine Art Degree. Gemma says; ‘I wish I had taken the time to be able to understand my own opinions on my practice better. But I was researching all these interesting and complicated theories and philosophies instead of focusing on allowing my ideas to translate effectively to the viewer. I spent too much time researching perhaps, not practicing my own practice.’

And that is coming from someone who was awarded a First for their work! Which again, links back to what I said about the end result not being everything. Of course it’s important, but it’s not the be all and end all.

I also mentioned how no creative course really teach you about working in the arts after university. And again, the ex-students I spoke to agreed. They said that they got most of their guidance from the careers service at the University, and drop in sessions from artists outside of uni. Gemma says: ‘Yes, they have a great careers service at MMU. The only problem is you have to be proactive to get the most out of it. Make appointments with the advisors, go to the workshops (they had loads for CV writing or help with applications or your portfolio). I think a lot of students were too lazy to bother going to the extra sessions, but I believe the knowledge they had to offer was so valuable.’

We spoke with Ruari who also graduated from MMU this July, he said:

‘A lot of industry professionals as well as MsoA alumni were invited to speak on their experiences in their fields, how to get into their fields and how they got in. It really helped visualise what options we had after our degree, but one speaker brought up that some of their experiences were slightly outdated and might not apply to us.’

However, both students mentioned how none of these meetings were compulsory. They were proactive here and arranged the meetings and seminars themselves, they said many students didn’t attend, whether through laziness or through focusing on their studio work. Which I can understand. It’s drilled into you so much that you have to have great work for your final piece etc, that I can totally get why students wouldn’t take the time to think of their life and career outside of Uni. University life is such a bubble, that it is hard to think about your career after that. And I may sound like a right old lady now, because I have been there and done that, and at the age of 20/21, you may not give a shit about what you want to be when you grow up, and again I totally get that! But those that are going to Uni to get a career in the creative arts, listen up man. It ain’t easy.

We also chatted with Josh, one of our regular guest bloggers as he too graduated this year. Josh took a 3D Design Diploma in Manchester, with an emphasis on art jewellery. He explains how he feels about his course:

‘The main issue with my course as preparation for a career is that with a strong emphasis on contemporary art jewellery, we were learning a discipline that almost nobody can make a living from. I had wanted to make imaginative and unusual jewellery and so the course was in a sense perfect for me, introducing me to a niche world within the creative arts. But the assumption always seemed to be that we would go on from the course and begin to create and sell our own jewellery. However, the more I learned about this, the more apparent it became that even the most successful jewellery artists in the world have to rely on other areas of income. Art jewellery just does not offer a realistic career option – there is little infrastructure of places that will exhibit it, and very few people buying it. The fact that so many prominent art jewellers are teachers, this then generates a paradox: people cannot make a living solely by making art jewellery, so they take positions teaching more people to make jewellery, who then will not make a living.’

This made me giggle! It reminds me of this one photographer at my university who finished his degree in Contemporary Lens Media, immediately went on to study a Masters degree at the same Uni, and then was hired as a lecturer! This is all without any working knowledge of the industry at all!

So let’s think what the student or the universities can do differently to improve people’s career path. Gemma states that ‘I would have liked there to have been clearer guidelines I think. Art is hard to grade, you shouldn’t focus on the numbers, and tutors advised this. They want you to focus on the experiences, and skills you learn.’

Ruari says: ‘With Fine Art you really have to involve yourself in all aspects of the course other than your actual practice to gain relevant art world experience. Using all of the workshops is helpful as well as being involved in organising events and exhibitions whether it be in or out of the art school because these skills are pretty invaluable when you graduate and are applying for technician/gallery assistant positions etc. Fine Art is at a disadvantage when compared to courses like Art History as the majority of positions in museums look for that qualification rather than mine. Again, similarly to a lot of art gallery positions, a degree in curating is preferred. I’d also say that knowledge in a variety of software like Photoshop and InDesign is a big bonus as well as some basic graphic design skills.’

Josh now works in Goldsmiths workshop, which sounds like he is on the right path to use this jewellery making skills gained at Uni – or maybe not:

Josh says: ‘I have recently found a full-time job working in a goldsmiths workshop, where the skills I learned studying jewellery are surprisingly non-transferable. The other goldsmiths roll their eyes when I talk about designing jewellery, who think it is fanciful to make much money from jewellery outside of repairing and trading traditional stuff.’

And now he is considering doing something different to develop his practice and actually get a foot in the door of a creative career. ‘I sometimes wonder if investing my time and money in a course that is more relevant to paid work like 3D modelling would actually have benefitted my creative practice, by opening up real opportunities to form a stable financial basis from within the creative industries, from which I could then pursue my own work while keeping the wolf from the door. In the future I can see myself undertaking yet another course, trying to crack the skills to create and get paid.’

So what can we do? Is this a conversation that needs to continue? Do we need to take this higher? Do we need new courses that focus on life after university? Do we need to make careers visits compulsory? Or should we all just come to this realisation ourselves? That there is no easy way to get into an arts career and the likelihood is, you will have to do a lot of follow-up courses, or do a lot of volunteering, do a lot of things for free, just to get somewhere, anywhere in this ridiculously difficult climate?

Thanks to @josh_mol_design @ruairibarfootart and @gemmasmall_ for their contribution to this post.

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