After leaving art school first time around, I really wasn’t clear what I wanted to do with the experience of the four years behind me. Some folk seemed quite well prepared and focused on what to do next, they appeared to have a natural trajectory (or at least it looked that way!). I felt I had used up a lot of my energy in getting through it all, I don’t think I had thought about what would constitute “life after” – however, I was involved in a collective and did maintain my practice by being away on residency for example, but plenty of ideas fell by the wayside when the realities of life crept in and I found myself working full time and halfheartedly attempting to maintain a studio space with little time or energy to be of use.
Going back into full-time education was one way out of that stagnant period and I approached postgraduate study determined to have a better idea about how my practice would progress after being within the bubble of the education framework. Combined with a move to a completely new rural location, this new “life after” was an opportunity to use fresh challenges to adapt and prioritise areas of my practice I felt I could develop.
One factor that has assisted is having the support of a mentor. I suspect that if I had had access to something similar after completing my undergraduate degree, I would maybe not have gone back so soon to full time education or perhaps my practice would have evolved in different ways. Another aspect I am aware of is the peer network you build around you – as much as I am good at relating to, collaborating and working with others, I didn’t do as well as I could have in this aspect – your peers can be a fantastic source of knowledge sharing and opportunity making.
However, through a combination of a little luck, being in the right place at the right time, shared interests and proactively seeking connections, I have formed a good relationship with a mentor. Applying for the a-n bursary came at just the right time. Despite plenty of rejections, as many artists have, the act of applying and writing proposals forces you to think and plan about what you really want to do and evidence it. It can make things clearer and is particularly beneficial when there are a number of options. Using the bursary structure as a formal agreement with a mentor made having one much more “official” and added weight to the process – in that it wasn’t a loose chat every so often, more like planned time set aside to properly discuss what I was working through and areas I wanted to focus on.
This success is partly to do with the way I prefer working – having a plan suits me and means I can work towards objectives and tangible outcomes in the context of my practice. Having a peer group is of course highly valuable when discussing your practice but having a mentor is another level to this exploration – not merely because it is likely they will have had more experience in your area of interest, but they will perhaps have an alternative viewpoint and be able to question things in different ways.
I have spoken previously about the two way aspect of mentoring – to reiterate, it really isn’t a one sided thing and I believe both mentor and mentee are able to gain benefits from working together. I probably hadn’t thought about it prior to this experience, but mentoring is something I would like to get involved with in the future.
The other use of the bursary funding has been worthwhile too – setting aside time and resource to attend events and specific professional development training. I suppose it reflects on how having an artistic practice should be seen as a professional thing – in any other job there would be a training and development plan (to a greater or lesser extent) which would be overseen by a boss. You would have annual reviews and self-evaluation. I am not suggesting I suddenly start spending a huge amount of time on these things and become a bit corporate, but I do think some beneficial aspects can be taken from more traditional business models – actually valuing and creating time and resource for professional development, seeing it not as an add on but something as integral to how your practice evolves. It is also about viewing professional development as quite a wide area – for different people this will mean different things – perhaps an accountancy course is essential for an artist who needs to be able to do her finances but for another a course on learning a new glazing technique for ceramics is more appropriate. It is all relevant and having time for developing these things is essential.
For me having had the opportunity to do both things – go on courses and have the support of a mentor has made me think more specifically about my own professional development and what I want to get out of my practice longer term. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers (and indeed these will shift and change as life does) but certainly have a more focused outlook and more aware of how to proceed. Thank you a-n!