January always feels like a rather difficult month to instigate and artistic action. The excesses of Christmas last longer than they should; the cold winter air quells any motivation and then there’s the small matter of completing a tax return…
Luckily then, I have been able to take part in a group exhibition without hardly having to lift a finger, all thanks to no less an institution that the University of Chester – the university I graduated at in 2007.
Nice to See You to See You Nice is a group exhibition featuring work from staff, students and alumni from the University of Chester, and is housed at CASC – a fantastic contemporary space in the heart of Chester set up by the University.
My work – Seven Keys – is nestled between over 70 other artists, makers and designers each connected to Chester University. It’s great how the exhibition acts as such a social platform; the opening evening on Friday 24th January was a hive of conversations between Chester University affiliates, each brought together through artistic practice. Perhaps the exhibition will reaffirm some friendships, encourage collaborations or instigate further creative endeavour.
Seven Keys is a series of perfumes about love and lust. Presented are 7 perfumes; only one is a concoction of natural ingredients which represent the virtues of love. The rest comprise of synthetic oils and represent lust.
Seven Keys is a great introduction to the possibilities of perfumery – highlighting that with careful scent design perfume can house narrative and symbolism. The theme also lends itself to valentine’s Day, which is useful as Nice to See You to See You Nice runs until 12th March. The opening hours are Mondays – Tuesdays 10-4; Fridays 12 – 6; Saturdays 10 – 4.
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?
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.