A trip to visit Sam Wingate, MA Visual Communication student brought with it a tour of the architectural rabbit warren that is the Royal College of Art. A complexity of stairs and doorways, upwards, downwards, sideways: studio rooms, technology rooms, seminar rooms. Visiting on a Saturday it wasn’t going to the busiest of days, but there were students in, working, talking, doing. The access to studios at the RCA offer students the flexibility, after timetabled activities, to continue working when it suits them, a key component in todays fluctuating work timetable which spreads across early mornings, evenings and weekends.

The individual space which Sam occupies is in a room which is warm, light and airy. There is a mixture of Visual Communication and Information Experience Design students in this room, with a few Animators thrown in for good measure. I’m not too nosey but each desk is visually interesting and well used. Sam’s desk is next to a large window, outside of which is a beautiful Plane tree with its camouflage bark. It’s a dreamy view of London, with the big institutional powerhouses of the Victoria & Albert and Science Museums just down the road and Imperial College just a short walk away. This is a district of knowledge and people come from far and wide to visit, work and contribute to these pillars of learning.

I have followed Sam’s work over for a number of years and since starting his Masters programme in September I can see it has already changed radically; there is a new vigour evidenced in energetic mark making and a distinct change in subject matter. There is definite sense of venturing into the unknown. Given that some work spaces can succumb to being overtly curated, his is not, piles of work, in folders, work in progress up on the wall. His space and the wider studio feels a place of energy and exploration.

With cross fertilisation from the different courses, the physical space of the RCA signify the value of arts education: being with people, exchanging ideas and being asked / pushed to do new things. Rewind 175 years or so and this was not always the approach of the RCA or i imagine art schools in general. Some reading has revealed that students at the RCA in the 1840’s would have followed a rigorous regime of set hours, remained seated and silent, copying examples of architecture, plant forms and geometric design (1). Obviously pedagogic ideas have moved on.

In a time when the cost of formal learning is increasing year on year Sam said he had been asked if he thought he was getting value for money. Having rented a studio in London for a number of years at £400 a month, his fees, after his bursary has been applied, isn’t much more. So for not much more outlay he gains a space in a collaborative learning environment, critical feedback, teaching which pushes and pulls him in directions that can be difficult to achieve alone, a peer group who want to be there and resources that enable him to experiment. As he says ‘If you were coming here and had never paid for a studio or run a creative practice with all the expense it brings, the fees may feel high’.

Securing a place on an MA course after a period away from education brings many benefits. Undergraduate learning has been applied in the real world, practice has been combined with paid work, portfolio careers attempted or managed. Post Graduate study is a special kind of experience, come in hungry for challenge and change and your appetites will be rewarded, although your tastes will likely have altered by the time you reach graduation. For the combination of questioning self, being questioning and the sheer quantity of work produced will result in a transformation of practice. I look forward to visiting Sam again to see where his work goes next.

1. Octavia Reeve (Ed) The Perfect Place to Grow 175 years of the Royal College of Art, London, (2012) P7