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After Art School

The BA Fine Art course at Central Saint Martin’s offered woefully slim professional development provisions last year. In their defence they’ve made some dramatic changes in time for next year’s graduates, but it’s meant that anything the Class of 2007 has put together so far has been entirely self-initiated. And I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing in terms of preparation for the real world. Aside from the time and support I needed to pursue my practice, my time at art school has mainly given me a brilliant network of peers and the confidence to use the word ‘artist’ in reference to myself.

But it’s a fragile situation to be in, because those are both things in danger of fading fast in the years following graduation. It seems to me that as a rule, most things in the world set out to impede the smooth transition from artist-in-art-school to artist-in-world. Lucy Day has some interesting things to say about this in her essay After Art School in the Degrees Unlimited section of the a-n site, which is well worth having a look at. She works as an artist, curator, consultant and lecturer, and she says her varied experience means she’s familiar with lots of the issues facing young artists today as they leave university. She writes:

Amongst the most significant challenges for new graduates is the ability to sustain their practice in comparative isolation. It is telling that a sizeable number of artists stop practising in the five years after they leave art college – although figures are notoriously difficult to confirm.


Research and reflection are common practice whilst at college and yet can often be the first thing to be sacrificed on graduating. Understanding the vagaries of the art world and how the market operates may seem daunting, however organisations and individuals supporting artists professional development are now commonplace. […] From monthly peer critiques initiated and facilitated by arts organisations (for example at SPACE and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London), supported programmes such as a-n’s NAN (Networking Artists Networks) initiative to self-determined projects and glocal networks artists have the ability to create important allies and disseminators for their work. Forming relationships with emerging curators and later with gallerists can provide artists with platforms for their work as well as critical appraisal and context. Knowledge and information are key to realising projects and developing one’s practice.

Tamarin Norwood


3 Responses

  1. “It is telling that a sizeable number of artists stop practicing in the five years after they leave art college – although figures are notoriously difficult to confirm.”

    When I was in graduate school, a professor leaned back in his chair, looked out at those of us attending the seminar and said almost those exact words. “In five years, most of you won’t even be making art.” Of course being young and naive, most of us didn’t really understand what he meant or why he would say that. Well, that was many, many years ago. He was telling the truth. As the years flew by, the fresh-faced artists fell into other vocations and lifestyles, leaving their art dreams behind. FEWER than five of us are still working artists now.
    Art school is an idyllic environment. During that time you have a built in environment of support, instant feedback, unlimited chunks of time to do the work, and very little life-stuff to distract you. Upon graduation, it is easy to experience culture shock. You are in your studio alone. You don’t have motivational assignments. You have to make money to support yourself. Relationships take up your time. The weight of the world is upon you. It is hard to carry around those heavy art dreams. You have to really WANT to be an artist.
    In addition to the Lucy Day article, there is also a good book that deals with the “after school” issue. “View from the Studio Door” by Ted Orland speaks on issues touching the isolated artist. I have no ties to this book. I just read it and found it to have many truths. You might want to check it out! In the meanwhile, good luck to all the new artists. There is a hard road ahead of you, but he journey is worth it!
    Sheree Rensel

  2. 35 years after artschool i am still plugging away many years i worked by myself having to inspire myself while raising 2 children for awhile I belonged to an art goup which was great like being in school each month we had a new project than a group show. I finally quiet my day job and it was so much easier to be inspired and work on a great body of work. Then I started showing my work at the beach not selling much but meeting alot of people and getting great feed back The public loved my work galleries consistantly turned me down but every time I got turned down it made me stronger. I am know working for a man painting his painting which is great experence 6 hours of day of painting but now my painting has slipped but I know I can get it back and I already have a large body of work anyway. this man is building me a studio and nameing it after me I feel very greatful. Also people in Europe like my work and want me to be in a couple of artbooks. What I say to young artists if you love art and think you can make it for the long hall with very little money go for it. I haven’t made much money yet but I am very satified with my work. I want to do this for the future generations and paint or draw every day

    Lori Wakefield

  3. […] the momentum going after art school is no easy feat, but the artists showing at the Waterloo Gallery this week are giving it a very […]

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