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What I didn't learn at art college.

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

I have very mixed feelings towards my three years at University for reasons I am going to attempt to explain. I was completely ecstatic when I was accepted into my first choice course - Drawing at Camberwell (UAL) - I felt like all my years of hard work at school and sixth form had finally paid off. But within the first term it became clear university was not what I thought it was going to be. I hope this blog post will help anyone considering an art degree make an informed decision on whether or not it is right for them. The following are a few things I didn't learn at art college...

How to get a job.

In my experience, my 'millennial' generation had been taught from a young age by our parents, teachers and the government that university is a necessity if you wanted a good job. I rather naively believed that once I graduated, the dream starter job would land in my lap. I soon discovered these roles were few and far between and there was always someone willing to work for free thanks to unpaid internships. After graduating, I spent several years working in retail, at times holding down 2 jobs just to pay the rent as well juggling an unpaid internship for 'experience'. With each year that passed, I became more miserable. I'm going to be honest and say I dreaded each summer, as I knew it meant a fresh group of graduates to compete for jobs over. After what seemed like hundreds of applications I felt like a complete failure. I started to question whether I would ever find a job I didn't hate and whether I even wanted to work for someone else in the first place. I decided to leave London so I could concentrate on my artistic practice and I am so glad I did!

How to be Self Employed

A really useful and important lesson I was not taught on my art degree was how to be self employed and how to do your taxes! We learnt about Relational Aesthetics and what 'a Flaneur' was in my lectures - a man who strolls round and observes society in case you were wondering - but at no point did anyone tell me how to file a tax return. I was completely clueless when I first started and it's still a task that fills me with dread. As soon as I can afford an accountant I'm hiring one!

Practical artist skills.

Despite it's title, the drawing course I enrolled on barely taught any practical skills and instead focused heavily on concept and theory. We were given some very basic drawing lessons in the first few weeks but nothing I didn't know already. All my painting skills I taught myself after university during my free time and my days off from work. With lots of practice I have steadily improved and I am finally at a level I'm happy with although I am sure I still have a lot to learn. I think if I actually counted I must of painted around 500 paintings and drawings in the last 4 years! In hindsight, I wish I had done an illustration degree as I think they focus more heavily on developing your style and building your portfolio. Although maybe ex illustration students would say otherwise!

How to market my artwork.

One of the greatest lessons I've learnt since leaving university is the importance of marketing and self promotion. When I left uni, Instagram was just starting to become popular and my artwork wouldn't be where it is without it. It allowed me to build an audience and show potential customers my work - FOR FREE! It taught me the value of consistency and allowed me to experiment with my art in a largely supportive and encouraging environment. In many ways it has been much more valuable to me than my degree ever has.

How to be confident in my work

Perhaps this is something that can't be taught and only develops over time but I definitely believe uni knocked my confidence in my artwork rather than building on it. As my course was heavily theory and concept orientated, nothing I wanted to make ever seemed deep or clever enough and was constantly picked apart in class crit sessions and tutorials. The course structure centered around ticking certain boxes and whether or not your tutors liked your work. How much effort you put it in or how much work you made seemed irrelevant. I realise now I made work to please my tutors - who were all practicing artists - rather than the stuff I actually wanted to make. I don't think this is a reflection on the tutors as teachers, more the university grading system itself.

There were many brilliant things that came out of my time at Camberwell, mainly I met a great group of like minded people who I'm sure will be lifelong friends. If I could go back and do my time there differently, I would treat it as 3 years of studio time and not be concerned with getting a good grade or what my tutors or my classmates thought. You do not need to spend thousands of pounds on studying art to be an artist. In my opinion, determination and self belief is much more important than a degree.


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