Art School Survival Guide #1: Why am I here?

From my very first days at Art School I worried that I was in the WRONG DEGREE. There was no real  justification for this – I had gone through the rigorous selection process, like everybody else, and it had never even crossed my mind to do anything else. Yet, from day one, I had a funny creeping feeling. I could only put it down to the following reasons:

  1. I wasn’t obsessed with making things. Well, I thought I had been, until I got to Art School. There were people who seemed to turn everything they touched into art, or in the least spent their whole waking hours sribbling away into one of a multitude of sketchbooks.
  2. I didn’t like getting dirty. To quote my lecturer – ‘you don’t like getting dirty, do you?’
  3. I liked to write. While everyone was bemoaning essays I was rejoicing. Art Theory day couldn’t come around fast enough for me.
  4. I tended to listen to relatives, family friends, old ladies at the bus stop when they said ‘but how will you make a living?’ and it worried me no end.
  5. I always got ‘As’ for art in High School. In my very first year at Art School, I got not a high distinction, not a distinction, not a credit, but a ‘P’. P for Pass.

Somehow, I stuck it out, and made it through to graduate. Doing so, I came to realise the following about the concerns that had plagued me:

  1. Creativity doesn’t manifest itself the same way in all people. Some of the people you think are geniuses may turn out to just be mentally unbalanced. But give the sketchbook thing a go – who knows, you might surprise yourself. You’ll at least have something handy to write phone numbers in.
  2. Get dirty, real dirty. You have the rest of all time to be neat, clean and tidy. Those clothes you’re trying to keep clean? I’m sorry but they probably look stupid anyway.
  3. Art and writing go together like…a horse and carriage. You are not a freak. Do more of it.
  4. Um…how is anyone going to make a living from any degree when every Tom, Dick and Harry has one? There are very few degrees out there that actually directly result in employment in a chose field. Plus, there are actually people out there who make money from art. Yes, it’s true.
  5. As a very wise man once said: ‘P’s get degrees’. If you think you can do better, then do it. If you don’t think you can, then go have a beer.

There are so many things I wish I had known, but what I have come to realise more and more is how valuable a visual arts degree it really is. Few university courses could teach you so well how to think for yourself, how to make constructive arguments, how to market yourself and pitch your ideas, to speak before and audience and take criticism. Even for the graduate who doesn’t make another artwork for as long as they live it is well worth the investment.

For those struggling with doubt and nerves, wondering if they have made the right choice, I would say: breathe into a paper bag, have a camomile tea, don’t let the bastards get you down and DON’T GO ANYWHERE.

1 Comment

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  1. oh GOD do I remember going through this … I’m in my fifth year now, and it wasn’t til my fourth year that I stopped feeling like I was doing the wrong thing.

    It’s such a difficult degree in the sense that you’re always under fire, constantly subject to criticism and required to assert yourself and defend your ideas. It’s exhausting, but you’re right – it’s incredibly valuable 🙂

    Like

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