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Graduates and Tailored Studios

Consumed by the practice of painting, thoughts, seemingly unrelated, can not only emerge, but crystallise. So it came as no surprise a couple of days ago when, equipped with a fully loaded paint brush about to attempt the rendering of an apple in only 2 brushstrokes, a question appeared before me – Was going to University worthwhile?

My work for my 2007 University exhibition was created as a direct result of being disillusioned by University.
My work for my 2007 University exhibition was created as a direct result of being disillusioned by University.

It’s a subject not without documented debate – The contrasts of learning through academia against learning through intuition and life experiences. One school of thought suggests that developing artistic practice – something intuitive and which can be used as a tool for which to comment on the failure of academic systems – simply can’t be developed meaningfully within an institution. Another school of thought suggests that a university offers a platform for which to develop practice within a suited environment – and as such encourages collaboration, knowledge exchange, and all the apparatus you need in order to apply your skills to the wider world.

With regards to known experiences of attending university in order to complete a fine art (or similar) degree, a tangible pattern can be traced: The first year provides a basis for which a discipline can be explored, that discipline begins to be developed in the second year, but becomes stilted by the confines of an institutionalised, formal, and objective marking scheme: Seeing the need for creative practice to fall within restrictive boundaries. By the third year, the student is disillusioned: Either producing work that blindly adherers to marking schemes for the sake of a good grade, or producing work in direct conflict to the marking scheme at the sacrifice of a good grade but with integrity. I know of ten accounts of graduates that can identify with this pattern and, whilst ten accounts is by no means comprehensive, it provides a little insight into the shortcomings of attending university.

So, given the urgency a 17 year old feels with regards to attending a University from their respective college, is their faith in academia misguided? Well, yes and no. Let me explain.

Whilst there may be advantages to gaining knowledge through artistic endeavour at university, I believe a problem arises: Not with what is being taught, but the fact that you are left unequipped with any knowledge concerning how to apply what has been taught to a wider context. Nothing is said of how to establish professional contacts, how to get your work seen away from the university environment, how to sustain the interest of contacts and there is little guidance with regard to professional development strategies.

Yet in the interests of balance, and because of the fact that, on reflection, I am satisfied enough with my university experiences, I do not wish to simply sully the good work done by universities. Instead, I will simply accept the fact that they can’t do everything. It is up to the graduate to forge a meaningful career out of the knowledge gained. But the feeling of disillusionment and confusion in the first months away from university can daunt, overwhelm and even allow you to lose faith in your abilities and knowledge entirely.

So, how do we combat this feeling? Well, by providing some kind of interim platform, not constricted by an academic establishment, that provides a basis for which graduates can develop their practice and initiate their emergence onto a wider arts scene. And, as an individual with first-hand experience of the trials of attempting to emerge into the arts scene, I would have found such a platform meaningful and worthwhile.  Somewhere that is connected to the wider community, that and yet retains of degree of familiarity. Somewhere that provides a knowledge exchange, a place to initiate scholarly and empirical enquiry through practice, somewhere that encourages career development through critique, collaboration and sharing knowledge. A hybrid, if you will, of the disciplines of academic study and the business of making a name for yourself.

How would such a platform manifest itself? Well, I’m still connecting the dots on that question. But an artist studio, tailored to graduates with a programme of cooperative events, critiques and workshops, sounds like a suitable starting point. Indeed, leading an artist’s studio is something I’ve always wanted to do. And tailoring it to the needs of the graduate provides a niche that will allow certain upcoming artists, who want a place to apply the knowledge they have gained at university, to thrive.

7 responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more!

    January 31, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    • Thank you 🙂 …Now I’d just like to get this idea off the ground.

      February 6, 2014 at 11:24 pm

  2. Michael, I think this is a great thought piece. I struggled with it initially in considering that you are proposing a halfway house to ease the student artist into the brutal ‘commercial’ world; it is brutal, it is commercial – why create a passage that is a shield? But then, I compared it to the transition that students moving into law or accounting or engineering have to support them. And you have something. The passage into art as a purist career is unsupported because it has become the great unusual. In a bygone era, there were patrons, but where are they now? Find a forum to attract patrons. Without them, the halfway house is perhaps only a delay before reality? Just a view but happy to discuss.

    January 31, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    • Thank you for your view, John. I have to say, I think a halfway house would certainly have helped me focus and start applying the skills I learnt at uni into the wider world. I don’t think it’s unusual for graduates with uncertain career paths and no true career structures to feel lost and disillusioned after finishing uni. So I think providing them with a familiar but progressive platform to develop is certainly beneficial. It’s interesting – I would hope that the graduates actually grow out of the halfway house quickly – becoming confident in their ability and ready to take off into the world.

      February 6, 2014 at 11:29 pm

  3. Michael Day

    So, your university course wasn’t worthwhile, is what you are saying. You can’t generalise to condemn all courses, worldwidem.

    February 6, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    • Hi Michael. Thank you for your comment. I do think my university course was worthwhile, certainly, as it provided me with the skills I need. However, what it didn’t teach was how to apply these skills to the wider world. I’m suggesting that there could be a studio that tailors to the needs of the graduate, Applying the skills they learnt at uni whilst providing a familiar platform from which to instigate artistic practice. I think it can be hard for graduates to maintain a focused body of work initially, when away from an institution like a university, and I would hope to provide a platform that encourages innovation. Indeed, I’d like to even collaborate with a university, to see that we can’t – together – allow graduates to develop in the wider world.

      February 6, 2014 at 11:37 pm

  4. “….an artist studio, tailored to graduates with a programme of cooperative events, critiques and workshops, sounds like a suitable starting point…….” – sounds like the studios of the old masters where apprentices created paint and much else until they produce their own master piece – and open their own studios?

    December 6, 2015 at 11:03 pm

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