I have attended two annual Professional Art Practice conferences, first as a student and this year as a graduate. I now feel, more than ever, that the wealth of information students receive over the week-long programme is undeniably valuable and should not be taken for granted. I think experiencing the conference a second time around, and being almost a year out of education, has helped me come to this conclusion. After listening to each inspiring speaker share their experiences and talk about their role (or roles, more often than not) in the bewildering world of art, I feel a renewed sense of vigour, a fresh enthusiasm…something I thought I had perhaps lost over recent months. You see, I have already had a taste of the (somewhat expected) post art school lull, or to be more accurate, the ‘what the f*** am I doing?!’ phase. Without a doubt it has been a struggle at times, but it has also been exciting and challenging, and I know that this is only the beginning for me.
This time last year, when the week of lectures and workshops was (finally!) at an end, I remember feeling truly exhausted and quite overloaded with information, not all of which seemed immediately relevant to me. I can predict that some of you may not have even thought past the degree show deadline yet. You are focusing on the most important task at hand, just as you should! I don’t doubt that a few of you are very on-the-ball, and have already organised a studio space or have been applying to PGCEs, or maybe you’re looking into continuing your education (art or otherwise) elsewhere. But for those of you that are still not quite sure, don’t panic. Remember, as many of our wonderful speakers have said this week, take a step back, think about what you want to do. What drives you? What stirs your soul? What gets you up in the morning? Right now the thing that gets you up in the morning may be the fear of failing your degree! But beyond that, what do you truly love to do? And if you don’t know the answer to that question yet, keep searching until you do.
My epiphanic moment didn’t come until the end of April last year, just over a month before the final deadline. Something clicked – I thought to myself, ‘I really love this. I want to make art! I’m going to be an artist!’ It was a wonderful feeling, that inexplicable sense of knowing. Before that moment though, I had been anxiously weighing up my options. I had thought a lot about teaching. Back home in Canada I had done some volunteer teaching prior to starting university. I really enjoyed sharing my passion for art with an enthusiastic group of 8-year-olds. For a long time, I figured that teaching was what I would do. But there was always something niggling at the back of my mind, a little voice telling me that maybe there was something else out there for me… (The more time that passes, the more I’ve learned to listen to this little voice.)
So here I am, nearly nine months after the big opening of Spectrum, the 2012 Fine Art/CAP Degree Show. What have I been doing with myself? Well, I was given a fantastic opportunity to maintain my ‘momentum of making’ when I was awarded a two-week residency at SIA Gallery in Sheffield. By then I had already moved into my studio at Bloc, so was spoilt for choice when it came to having somewhere to work. I also began a new job in a restaurant, which I was initially quite excited about. At the start of summer, everything seemed to be going rather swimmingly.
In November, a friend and I put together our first post-uni show at Bank Street Arts. We had weekly meetings for months prior – we felt just like ‘real’ artists. During these wine-fueled sessions we covered every little detail of the show…but did we? I realised much too late that I had focussed most of my attention on the promotion and marketing and hadn’t left enough time for the most important aspect of any exhibition – the art. As Lesley Guy pointed out (with a little help from Wurzel Gummidge), finding that balance between wearing your creative head and your business head can be difficult. I suppose I still have some practising to do.
In the run-up to our exhibition I hadn’t been feeling 100%. After it was over, I worsened. “You need to learn to manage stress better”, said the doctor. Apparently, the exhibition had taken its toll. I hadn’t been managing my stress levels…I hadn’t really been managing at all. I realise now that I was putting too much pressure on myself to ‘succeed’ after leaving art school. I was getting ahead of myself, attempting to adopt what I believed to be the persona of a ‘successful artist’, when in fact I didn’t even know what success meant to me yet, or what kind of success it was that I really wanted.
After a couple of very low months, during which I didn’t do much of anything besides think and worry, I slowly began to bring myself out of the hole that I had been digging myself. I knew I had to ease up, take some very deep breaths and shift my way of thinking. Slowly but surely I started to feel more like myself again. I now understand that everybody’s definition of success is entirely relative. For some, it may mean buckets of money, fame, stardom. For others, it could mean making a difference in some way. For me, it’s doing what I love. And in that respect, I feel I am well on my way to becoming the successful artist that I want to be.