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I'm an art grad: now what?!

  • Published in Thoughts
artgraduate Illustration by James Longhorn

Well, you made it: you’re still alive! It took years of hard work, heavy socialising, academic development (hopefully) and personal growth (maybe), and more importantly you didn’t tumble down the steps and make an idiot of yourself at graduation.

But as you rose from your drunken slumber the following morning, you may have noticed a threatening mass of black clouds rolling in from the horizon. You may also have experienced unwelcome sensations of doubt and confusion sweeping through your mind as that intimidating forecast hits home: what the fuck am I going to do now? It hits you like a slap across the face, and your achievements somehow seem reduced to a single sheet of paper in your hand. But don’t panic. Whilst a challenging time, the good news is there are many, many options.

As an arts graduate, you are equipped with far more skills and assets than you may realise. You are resourceful, dynamic, intellectual and equipped with vast social and networking capabilities. And of course you are creative (not just artistically but more generally; a creative worker, a creative thinker). These are all transferable skills that you would think make you very employable. So here's what I've learned in my short time of being an art grad.

It's time to fly the nest

This is the time to find your own voice: keep seeking out as many opportunities as possible to get your work out there. That said, exposure isn’t always the best thing mind you if the work isn’t going anywhere. So don’t rush yourself or more importantly, the work; give it time to develop and mature. It can be tempting to adapt your work and apply for opportunities/exhibitions/commissions etc which whilst not relevant to your interests may bring some form of success. I have found that this is best avoided, as not only will this result in a series of unrelated experiences, you be left with work that you don’t particularly care about.

It is probably healthier (though definitely more difficult and annoyingly slow at times) to keep your work focussed and genuine, perhaps through residencies, bursaries or even scholarships; it’s important to just keep working, and something may come your way. Organising your own shows or events is always going to be more interesting for yourself and others than just interpreting a brief and submitting your response.

Should I do a Master’s?

It might feel like the thing to do, but don’t feel like you have to go straight into a Master’s degree. Most courses are more interested in the time since your BA, not only how you have managed to maintain an active and successful practice, but a vested and self-motivated interest. There is no rush, so enjoy allowing your work to grow beyond the structures of education.

Also while we’re at it, don’t feel like you have to get a studio; this is becoming an increasingly old-fashioned scenario anyway. Every artist that you know might have one, but if you work best in your lounge, the park or someone’s garage, then save yourself the hassle and the cash and stick to it; it’s not going to make you less of an artist!

Keeping in the loop

Something that is very important however (although let’s be honest a nuisance at times) is networking: making connections, no matter how loose or casual. Creating a professional website is always a good idea; an up-to-date and selective (not everything you’ve ever done) portfolio of your work and ideas available at the click of a button. Keeping yourself up-to-date is always advisable too, through blogs, magazines, journals, lectures, social media etc- it may seem like a chore but a sound understanding of your industry and an awareness of contemporary affairs can only be a good thing, not only for your own work and endeavours but more generally.

What about the bills?

If you’re anything like me, catch-up conversations at extended family gatherings (particularly Christmas) can be something of a coup de grace: a ruthless series of all the questions in the world you don’t quite have the answers for just yet. And so those classic soul-destroying responses masked behind a fixed smile and nervous laughter spring back into action once again- “no you’re right I’m not famous yet” and “oh haha, nah I’m still on minimum wage actually”. I’m already preparing some answers for this year’s grilling. But it’s all good- you’re an artist; you’re supposed to suffer!

Sometimes full time employment may nudge your work onto the backseat, but equally there is no shame in struggling through menial jobs and casual contracts if they are keeping your head above water, and you’re using them a means to take you forward on to something better. So if it works keep at it (for now)! It may feel like shit, but it’s not necessarily a step in the wrong direction.

So anyhow there’s a few suggestions anyway from somebody who is struggling along with you. There isn’t really a prescribed way of moving forward; but if you keep your work and ambitions honest and genuine, and not much can go wrong. Good luck!