I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately. Time to reflect, to regret, to be scared. Leaving art school for the summer is a strange phenomenon. You have all of this free time to think about the real world, the world outside of the art one. You want to keep making things because that means that you can keep up your practice without the influence of professors and peers. Most of the art that I’ve done this summer would be considered experimental in most circles.
This summer feels different from all of the others somehow. Not only do I have the desire to keep up with my practice, but I feel a great deal of pressure. It’s my thesis year three months from now. I was given some advice for my current advisor and future professor, Victor. He teaches professional practices. That class is basically what it sounds like: how to be a professional in the world with a fine arts major. While this class is a good idea in theory, I get the feeling that it may be slightly useless for someone like me, someone who can’t even decide the medium on which she wants to focus.
What does an art major do after her years in college are over? It’s a really tough question. I’ve heard from several people that it’s alright if I don’t know what I want to do. Just focus on the present and near future as much as you can, and everything should fall into place; everyone who goes to college feels like their degree is useless toward the end, even if they aren’t art majors.
Coming back to my question about an art student being thrust into the real world:
I’ve got nothing.
And not only do I feel the need to give “nothing” as the answer, but I also feel like a little bit of a nothing. I have this insane, absurd, masochistic desire to create beautiful and interesting things for a living…and yet, it isn’t much of a living at all. There’s this extremely intimidating statistic that talks about practicing artists and what sort of income they can expect to get: 90% of artists need a second job to support themselves. 10% can live off of their art and are in the middle-upper middle class. 1% of those artists(that is, .1% of the entire population of practicing artists) will show in galleries and be able to receive back most of their commission. They are in the top 10% of wealthy “people”.
The chances of me being in that top ten percent, the group that actually receives back the recognition and money and fame that comes with creating artwork is extremely small. Not to mention the fact that the cost of attending an art college will only be able to be paid off if you get into that tiny margin of success. The school I am attending costs something like $30,000 per year. If it were not for the fact that I’ve gotten a great deal of grants and scholarships(which leave me with about $8-12 grand left to pay each year) as well as some wonderful help from a grandfather who was very frugal in his time, I would be paying off government loans for the rest of my life.
I am one of the lucky ones as far as loans goes.
Being that I am talking mainly about artists who have attended the university in order to receive an art degree, I will only talk briefly about the artist who never attended college. If I would have chosen to go straight into the workforce instead of going onto a secondary education as well as continuing to practice art, I would be in that 90%. I would be doing I job that paid the bills, and making art would be secondary. And being that I’d have even less networking skills than I feel I have right now(even with 3 years of art college under my belt), I can easily see myself doing things highly craft-oriented: fiber arts, pottery, jewelry, and the like. I would actually use my Etsy account; and that is probably what my main source of artistic income would be. If I ever had work showing in galleries, it would be on First Thursdays, and I would be attempting to sell paintings. I can assume that this is the sort of thing practicing artists without a secondary education are doing.
Coming back to my question: What am I going to be doing in a year?
Here is a list of things that I wanted to accomplish with a fine arts degree before I started: To become a gallery owner/curator at a museum To be the first in my family’s generation to complete my BA To develop a style To learn how to show artwork and attempt to sell To learn new skills To widen the scope of knowledge about art To make art that people enjoy or find beautiful
Will I accomplish these things? Am I going to get everything I wanted with my degree, and will that lead me to a degree that deals with art?
I am going to have a Bachelor’s degree(2). I’ve always wanted to go to college; I love learning, and I have fueled my passion for learning and art by attending my current school. I even have grown a love for art theory as well as history by attending PNCA, which accomplishes number 6. I’ve learned quite a few new skills(5), which is amazing. I’ve learned to make molds of several different kinds, basic welding skills, oil painting, pattern making, stop-motion animation, video editing, printmaking…basically anything that I wanted to know in order to support my project ideas. As far as numbers 3 and 7 go, I feel that I’m getting there. My style has changed and developed a bit, and although I don’t feel like I have a set style, I feel pretty happy with where I am right now. I have improved greatly since my first year in Portland when it comes to concept, and testing all sorts of different mediums, while challenging myself and making things that I like with the parameters of the class in mind, I think I make some interesting work. And while people don’t always find my finished product particularly beautiful, there’s something enjoyable or thoughtful about it, and I find the entire process of making very beautiful indeed. Numbers 1 and 4 are where I am unsure of myself…and extremely unsure at that. It figures that this artist, the artist who is asking all sorts of questions about her future after college, would be nervous about accomplishing goals involving potential jobs.
While the history of art has made me feel slightly more confident about being a curator, I have no idea on how to go about becoming a curator. Do I need to start at the bottom(gallery monitor for example) and work my way up? Do I need a business degree to own my own gallery? How do I figure out the logistics of commission and what kind of person I want to be in relation to being a curator? (I do not want to screw over the artists, but I do not want to be broke all the time.)
One of the first negative things I heard about the school I’m attending was that it doesn’t prepare you for the real world. The counter-argument to this is that there is a lot of room to “create your own opportunity”. While that may be true, I don’t feel that the school helps you learn how to do this. The fact that professional practices isn’t taught until your senior year is an example of this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s been my observation that people go to art school for three reasons: to develop skills further(whether technical or conceptual), to learn how they can show work in a gallery, and to get a degree. This school helps with 2/3rds of this. While the reason for this is most likely based on the fact that the art world is brutal and that you need to put yourself out there, the gap between the harsh world and not knowing where to start in a school-sponsored gallery is much too large. I feel very strongly about the fact that it would be better for the students to have some sort of resource earlier on so that they have an entry point; they will know where to start using the vast resources at their fingertips.
Now where do I go from here? I get the feeling that I’m going to end up in the same exact situation as I would have been if I didn’t go to college. So, where does that leave me? I sound cynical and confused and have more questions than answers. I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen to me…and to all of my other classmates once they get out into the real world.
Should I be as scared as I feel?
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