People get an art education for a variety of reasons that span from being really passionate about learning and excelling in art making to wanting to please their parents with a university degree. No matter why someone decided to go to art school in the first place, the real challenge comes when you have graduated – this is true for people finishing their Bachelors or Master’s Degree. All of a sudden a big part of your life has finished and, when I graduated from my undergrad, I for one was left scratching my head wondering about what the next step was.
If you ask someone that completed their degree a couple of years ago many of them will tell you the same thing: a high amount of their peers are not practicing anymore. Which seems daunting and leads to the question of why does that happen? Is the “Real World” really that bleak?
If you think about it, after graduation, the institution’s support is gone, the teachers giving you assignments and grades are not there to legitimize or critique your artwork, and you probably wont be hanging out with the same group of peers. It can be a difficult time in an artist’s life because things have changed, but may feel like they have stayed the same; you are no longer a student but you are still considered an emerging artist, in the early stages of starting a practice.
In my case I spent a year after my Bachelors from Concordia serving at a Greek Restaurant in Saskatchewan until I couldn’t stand the smell of tzatziki, or my basement studio apartment anymore, so I decided to get my MFA. Now it is two years later and in many ways I find myself at a similar point. When I started the MFA, I was hoping that it would be the next step, or my ticket into the art world. Now, on the verge of graduating I am recognizing that there are many artists in similar situations, all trying to make careers for themselves.
It’s a daunting prospect because it can be difficult to make artwork, juggle a job, apply for exhibitions, and all the other stuff that comes along with being an artist. Of course it may seem like there are going to be people that are seemingly doing everything without even trying, becoming art stars before you even feel like you’ve got your foot in the door. But it is important to remember not to try and compare yourself and your success based on what other people are doing. It can be easy to misjudge and dismiss your own experiences and opportunities when you start trying to compare yourself to others. It can definitely be hard to see yourself as other people see you when you are right in the middle of something. Remembering to step back and look at the whole picture of your achievements is really important.
And it is also important to remember that sometimes all artists struggle. Committing yourself to being an artist means that you have to work hard for a long time. I remember hearing a quote in my undergrad that was attributed to painter Dana Schutz that “you have to work hard, like Madonna.” This may sound ridiculous, but the truth is Madonna’s career is a good framework to think about, in terms of an example of someone having a lot of drive, and being very determined even when facing a lot of rejection. There is no sure fire recipe for how you can become a successful artist because it all depends on how you define success. Keeping sight of your goals will take you farther then comparing yourself to others. If you are in it for the long haul, keep trucking.
By Humboldt Magnussen