What they don’t tell you when you graduate from Art School

I was having a good conversation over much wine with Bik yesterday about what leaving art school was like.

One thing I’ve realised since being on the other side of the artist-gallery divide is just how many really fundamental, simple mistakes artists make and how many of these mistakes I made myself when starting out.

I’ve also met some artists who are so totally doing it right, and making a career from their work.

When you graduate from a Fine Art degree, there’s a lot you don’t know about working in the world as an artist.

There’s a lot of self-limiting stuff about never being able to make a living, too, which I’ve realised isn’t true – not if you don’t want it to be!

On my degree, as on many, the focus is on perfecting your craft, which is great.  I’m all for that.

We also drank a lot of free wine at private views and then stood like this:

My Art House colleagues and I demonstrating the proper art appreciation pose, admiring Lisa Thorne's artwork.

My Art House colleagues and I demonstrating the proper art appreciation pose, admiring Lisa Thorne‘s artwork.

There is, however, very little on how to set up as self employed, how to approach galleries, how to market your work.  As a result there are A LOT of artists out there who just don’t seem to have the faintest clue how to make a career.

Worse still, many seem to vacillate between a crippling lack of confidence in their abilities and a full-scale case of Diva, neither of which are likely to get them very far.

Hint:  To be a Diva, you have to be really, really, really rich and successful already.  Unknown, starving Divas do not get very far.

It is painful, truly painful to behold.  Even more so when I realise the many reasons I didn’t get very far with most of the galleries I approached!

The wasted potential of many, many talented visual artists slowly losing their regular art practice as ‘proper jobs’ take all their energy makes me feel sad.

My mission here on this site has a couple of strands.  There are three types of people I love to work with:

1) People who haven’t done art for many, many years and feel called to get back into it.  Over at The Bubbling Well creativity circle, with the free membership, you can find lots of resources for just this.  It’s a huge passion of mine.   To be honest, most people I start working with are in this situation – as so many people are.

2) Artists who are just ready to take the leap into showcasing or selling what they do.  People who answer to description 1 regularly choose to turn into ‘catergory 2’ after working with me for a while,  I am happy to say.

3) Art graduates who are where I was.  With my experience as an artist, teacher and gallery owner, I have a unique combination of knowledge in this area.  Plus, I have been there.  I know the level of suck.

At The Bubbling Well, my Premium ‘Fireside’ members get many goodies and ongoing support to help with the next steps as an artist, all for a really affordable price (I know artists starting out don’t have much spare cash!).

So, Art School graduates, here’s what they should tell you:

1) Learn about business.  Yes, I know you think it’s a dirty word, but you can choose how you do it.  Making money doesn’t have to mean selling out.  My Creative Money eCourse covers all of this stuff in detail.  At The Bubbling Well in the premium area, we deal with this stuff.  We deal with it like artists who care about our art, but don’t fancy working in a job we dislike.

2) Be patient.  Building a career takes time and constant effort.  Keep at it.  When everyone else is giving up around you, that’s the time to hang in there.

3) Be kind to yourself.  You’re doing really, really well!

4) Get a community, get support.  Leaving Uni can leave a gaping hole in your life where your classmates and lecturers used to be.  It doesn’t have to stay that way. You don’t have to do this alone.  I invite you to take up free membership at The Bubbling Well and start connecting with other people who are exactly where you are right now.  If you like it there and want more, you can upgrade to Fireside membership, but you don’t have to.  I’m not going to lay the hard sell on you, it’s not my style.

5) Keep making your art.  Seriously, the world needs the work only you can make.

What else didn’t you get told about art in school?  Please share in the comments section below!


What they don’t tell you when you graduate from Art School — 5 Comments

  1. This is great! I studied creative writing, but this is still very relatable to me. When I graduated, I knew nearly nothing about the business aspect of things. Finding community after college was quite hard, too, and I live near NYC. You’d think it would be so easy! It was very difficult for me to keep on track with writing when I felt like I was creating in a void. And I think I might tape #3 up on my wall. 😛

  2. I studied Applied Drama, graduated in Sept 2013. SO relatable. The thing they didn’t tell me – all the volunteering, work, extra-curricular stuff you’re doing – and did before uni -won’t be ‘enough experience.’ You’ll have to KEEP working for free in order to gain even more. And moving back home will mean that getting your foot in the door in order to volunteer will be hard work – they don’t know you as well as the people im your uni city have gotten to, so you’ll have to be persistent.

    Gaps on the CV are bad so it’s better to keep working and do ‘any old’ jobs while looking for better opportunities. Yes that means working 9-5 and then job hunting/doing application in the evenings (when you’re not volunteering!). Yes, that’s hard.
    People don’t take you seriously if you’re in your 20s but have a baby face and spots. So you need to act up – act more mature and confident even if you’re not actually feeling it. Shoulders back. Eye contact. Meet them dead-on and show you’re not afraid of a challenge.

    That everyone – including your parents – will question you, moan at you and stick their oar in. Most of them only because they care (other negative people can stick it). Everyone will have an opinion. They’re all worth noting but only your own is true to you.

    A first, or a 2:1, might get you interviews. The rest is down to you.