A little while ago (March 2015 to be exact) I was sat in the research room of UCA Canterbury trying to absorb all I had heard so far that day from the Art and Work Symposium; How can Artists make a living? How can we fight for financial equality? Where should we live and should we work in groups? It got me to thinking…
If being an Artist is so darned hard then why on earth did I decide to be one?
Where the kelp did I, and 53,258 students who were accepted on to creative arts courses in the UK in 2011 – the same year I started university – ever get the idea that art is something you can make a living from?
So I decided to start from the beginning. Using felt tips and doodles…
…and then I realised that up until this point, until actual graduation, for most of us it is ALL felt tips and doodles. At least, it is all personal creative skill development. At no point on this journey are we really taught the necessities needed to translate our creative skills in to jobs. Money. Work. Careers.
Every student has grumbles about their university and the group I graduated with were no different; “What on earth do I do now that’s over?”, “How am I supposed to get a job?”, “Why didn’t they teach me x, y or z?”, “How have I spent so much money and ended up with only one framed print?”, “Oh on, I’m going to have to work at MacDonald’s for ever”.
Some argued they should have been taught Photoshop, InDesign and other creative software skills, others argued they should have had more taught time in the darkroom, the screen-printing lab or the woodworking studios. Most raised concerns about the lack of access to basic information on self-employment, business planning, how to price ones-self and their work, time management, application writing, where to access studio space, how to approach a gallery, how to document work professionally, personal website building… and the list goes on.
The issues it seems is not the universities not wanting to teach students the skills to translate their creative output in to financially rewarded, skilled careers but that there is just so much scope for that creative output in the first place. In one class of 20 BA(Fine Art) students it is not uncommon to have a painter, a sculptor, a sound artist, a performance artist, an illustrator, a print maker and a photographer plus others with a combination of one or more of these and a selection of other primary interests. Not forgetting the inclusion of personal journeys, varied backgrounds, political and environmental views, and varying learning abilities.
Despite this huge variation, Arts and Design courses across the country scored an average of 4.05 out of 5 in student satisfaction surveys in 2015 – the tutors must be doing something right.
So, if universities can’t give us all the answers what do we do with these degrees?(They’re worth as much as everyone else’s and 1,524,225 students were registered on first degrees in the UK in 2015). What’s next?
Well, it seems for a lot of Creatives the answer is to ‘keep asking’:
… /(to be continued)
Bess Martin is a Multidisciplinary Artist, Creative Maker and Researcher. This continuing body of research looks at the Arts and the systems that contain it, asking questions about who artists are, where they work, their employment rights and importance in society as a whole.