We've been thinking a lot about going to art college and careers for creative people recently. Mainly due to an email we recently received but also a discussion that we were in with students at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art last week. Is it a good idea to go into a creative education and is it a viable career option I suppose is the main thread of this post.
We were interviewed in ArtMag (Scotland and the North of England's art magazine) about whether or not we understood parents' concerns about an art education.
My response was "I understand parents' concern that an art degree might not be the best qualification for making a living. This has come up quite a lot recently with comments by Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, talking about STEM subjects like science and technology and saying that an arts degree is not a good careers option. But I think there's more awareness now of the transferable skills you learn in an art education, such as using your own judgement, coming up with your own solutions and lateral thinking."
I was a little disappointed with this interview as this answer seems rather simplistic however I understand that space was limited. The subject is vast and warrants a lot more space than was allowed so I will expand.
The email that I received just after this interview was published was also understandable given that not everyone uses their degree to pursue their career.
However, this email was from someone who had studied Fine Art and then Set Design and had never earned any money from her creative endeavours. This person seemed angry with me for endorsing art college as a viable career option – at the age of 55 she was "off to find a shop job".
I am highly aware that careers for creative people might not seem to be that forthcoming. Yes, careers in the design disciplines perhaps are more available however very competitive.
I would say that if you want a guaranteed job, secure income, pension and all that goes with this then an application to art college perhaps isn't for you. However, this is not to say that this isn't possible if you choose to go to art college. Essentially success in any field requires determination, ambition, drive and added to that for a creative career it usually requires some kind of entrepreneurial spirit too.
The conversation with students that we had was about an opportunity that was to paint the bathrooms of a successful chain of bars in Dundee with the artist's work. It was open to students, no pay but exposure and the chance to show your paintings in the main bar for free with no commission taken by the bar. My view was that the bar really should be offering some kind of payment either cash or in kind. The exposure they suggest might happen, MIGHT happen, the selling of artwork in the bar MIGHT happen but nothing is concrete here. This sparked a huge debate and there were close to 100 comments on this thread.
Comments were along the lines of that if painters and decorators are being paid to paint the rest of the bar then why aren't the artists being paid to paint the bathrooms? That people doing this kind of thing for free is perpetuating the cycle of art and design projects being either low paid or no pay – if this is the case then how is 4 years of art education being valued by society? Painters and decorators are skilled, artists are skilled and this needs to be recognised.
I do understand that voluntary positions allow you to get a "foot in the door", however the motives of the organisation offering the opportunity need to be clear – do they just want a free mural?
You may think that this is a petty and what harm can it do? Actually a lot of harm. I have a couple of scenarios that I'd like to indulge in.
One being the attitude to art in Europe, Germany and Switzerland in particular. I undertook an artists' residency in Basel, Switzerland and during that time I met many artists. It seemed many many, more artists were selling work and selling work that wasn't necessarily paintings etc. to adorn peoples' walls. People were buying works as investments and as collectors. One artist used to pay for his expensive dental work with his artwork – it was valued by his dentist that much. Now this wasn't David Hockney or Damian Hirst, it was a middle career sculptor who is quite prominent in the Basel art scene but by no means famous. I can't imagine paying for dental treatment with artwork here in the UK would quite cut it!
The second, an issue that happened just this week with an artist acquaintance of mine. A large ladies high street fashion brand approached this artist to ask if she could do some live illustrations in their store for customers trying on their outfits. No fee was offered but the invitation was accepted, as what a great opportunity it would be to get the work exposed to the public. However, on further enquiry into what fee would be involved, this artist was dropped like a hot potato for reasons that would have been obvious to this brand before asking the artist to be involved. Reading between the lines we both feel that someone else was probably able and willing to do this work for free, but of course we don't know for sure.
So we have come in full circle, with our person having not made a penny from her artistic endeavours because society doesn't value what artists do.
Where I am going with this? Back to the question of "I understand parents' concern that an art degree might not be the best qualification for making a living". 2 successful artists one whom we've featured on our blog Matt Hulse goes on to say "Arts subjects studied rarely feed directly into specific 'careers'. Art schools can't 'make' people into artists. Only the individual can decide to take on that daunting role – it's an internal thing that involves discipline and sacrifice – and part of understanding that role is accepting that art, as a practice, may never lead to material wealth".
Artist Andrea Geile says, "I know loads of people who never made any income from the subject they studied, in many different fields! Often due to the fact that they actually didn't really like what they studied. And we all know frustrated artists, loads of them. It is a hard profession and many things have to align to make an arts practice possible."
Does this mean it's a bad option? I can't answer that for you, I know for me it wasn't. We'll let you decide that for yourself. Nothing is easy, aren't the best things in life worth fighting for? If society valued the work of artists more then perhaps it would be more financially rewarding but the satisfaction of producing, showing and yes selling artwork is rewarding in itself. Having creativity in your life is essential to be healthy (I believe), how and to what extent you get that is different for everyone.
If this has left you still wondering how to make an art portfolio for college or university or if you're confused about the best way to go forward and the difference between art and design then our eBooks will help you.
Please leave a comment below if you wish, we'd love to hear your thoughts.
Also published on Medium.