Art Graduate Survival 101

Words: Josh Milton

The cuts to the art industry is one of the most short-sighted acts of vandalism in recent years. With prospects for graduates glooming, what support can art students look to?

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Google search results can be terrifying. See also: uncertain career paths, wonky prospects, and a vague idea of what life after art school even is. After chalking-up years of arduously studying art, history, and a whole lot of Foucault, art students slip into a workforce that doesn’t always appreciate the curation of heterotopias, but would rather appreciate extra foam on their cappuccino. Occupying Starbucks, art student’s attitudes become as bitter as the coffee they’re hired to make.

The landscape that art graduates encounter isn’t one Theresa May would find strong or stable. It’s on shaky grounds, and not many institutions are facing the matter of art graduates. In 2016, only 69.1% of fine art graduates landed a job. Such jobs were mainly retail, catering, and a rather ominous ‘other’ category. This is as worrying as it is important. These statistics make a powerful and compelling case for the precarious situatedness of graduates. Is studying Herodotus something we should pay people to do? Currently, it’s a no. The cultural work graduates can offer is restricted, dismissed, and erased by non-art circles. The (mis)treatment of art graduates is a sign that something is wrong with how particular societies locate the arts. 

Upcoming artists are crucial to keeping things fresh. Whilst we pay these practises a certain amount of lip-service and Instagram postage, clicks and shares won’t pay the rent. Art institutions are crucial in providing platforms and forums for the curation of new and promising artistic modes. But some of these can be arcane, leaving art studies struggling to exoterically explain their art. University faculties take refuge in niches. Whilst this enables students to navigate specificities, the outside world neglects this. 

Art award schemes can provide graduates an opportunity beyond the white walls of university to express themselves. The variety and vitality of schemes, such as the BP Portrait Award, Frieze Artist Award, and the Sunny Art Prize, provide ways for upcoming artists to be recognised globally. When Art was listed top of Forbes’ 10 worst college majors across the pond, the need for healthy art exchanges is needed more than ever before. 

(London Pop Up Art Fair for emerging artists, 2017)

Over 2,557 artists from across 80 countries applied for the BP Portrait Award in 2016. 53 artists were selected by the judging panel and saw their still life come to life in the National Portrait Gallery. So, when just 2% of artists who enter find their work selected and be in the running for £30,000, the program provides a critical platform for portraiture; an arguably dying medium. By divorcing strict figuration, the portraits range from tactile finger painting-esque pieces, to photorealist methods. Commissioned works come to form an exhibition that represents the diversity, creativity, and vision of contemporary portraiture. The competition carries the prestige capable of changing an emerging artist’s life. 

  
(Image from http://www.ajoto.com/journalblog/bp-portrait-awards)

Jettisoning the portrait, we encounter spatial arrangements that test the idea of the site in the Frieze Artist Award. The competition allows emerging artists to realise a major commission at Frieze London. The site-specific works are ambitious, often interrogating concepts of digital media, video, and sculpture and the methods in which these can find relief. Previous winners range from Yuri Pattison’s navigation of the self-as-data across networked data systems, Rachel Rose’s layering of communication and sensory perception, and Mélaine Metranga’s unhurried negotiation of emotional-economic exchanges in a series of videos and an on-site café-installation. Produced under the guidance of the Frieze Projects team, the Award sets a budget of up to £20,000.   

(Image from http://www.motherstankstation.com/exhibition/frieze-artist-award/)

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is one of the world’s largest open-submission showcase. The panoramic scope of the exhibition illustrates art’s pluriformity. Running since 1769, the Summer Exhibition is open to all artists and hangs within its palatial walls everything that is happening in the art scene. Both fresh and established artists can submit, and with £50,000 worth of prizes floating about, it’s a peak into the whimsical realm of contemporary art. 

(Image from https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/summer-exhibition-2017)

Held by the Sunny Art Centre, the Sunny Art Prize creates a transnational space for art from across the world to come together. The institution aims to showcase the plurality of fine art today, from 2-dimensional paintings to 3-dimensional sculptures. By crafting a worldy grammar through art, the competitions sees art from London, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Macau represented and articulated to a larger audience. Cash prizes are on offer (with up-to £3,000 for first prize) alongside a public solo exhibition at the Sunny Art Centre, and a one month residency along with a show at their partner galleries. 

(Image from http://www.sunnyartcentre.co.uk/artprize/exhibitions-and-galleries/

Visibility is key to art. It is a language not of stillness, but robust dialogue. It refuses to be silent. Art has been inflected with superficial associations, meaning that culture has become obfuscated. Art’s insights have been lost, so the sooner we find relief in art, the sooner we’ll view art graduates as more than future-baristas.