Sarah (Kasumi) Dean is a 2016 Fine Art graduate of Manchester School of Art who now considers herself to be a practicing full time artist alongside her Careers and Employment assistant role at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Sarah has also undergone a Manchester Met graduate 6 month internship in Employability at Manchester School of Art.
Read her top tips on how to make the transition from student to practising artist …
- Understand the transferable non-art skills you have acquired …
Positive attributes you gain whilst being at art school:
- Art school students spend their time making, creating and working in teams.
- Encouraged lateral thinking, productivity
- Combination of theory, research and practice
- Social/interpersonal skills developed in a studio environment which bares similarities to a workplace
- Turning mistakes into good ideas
- Ability to be critical and be criticised
- Independence gained through personal and self-initiated projects
- Having the courage to mess up !
Learning comes through experiencing new things. Some people arrive at art school with conviction when they speak about their work or the advantage of a culturally rich upbringing. They naturally flourish within the university walls, but this has no telling on anything that happens outside of them. All these things can be learned after graduating, so don’t believe that the higher achieving peers have a better chance at life than you.
- Making the most of university facilities
If you are a graduate, you will understand the aggravating hindsight of not realising how many creative possibilities you had during your University days. If you are a student, this may be the last time in your life you will be in a building where such a high volume of facilities and workshops exist. Printers, scanners, and computers filled with expensive online programmes surround you. I only went in a few of the workshops in my 3 years at Manchester School of Art, and this is definitely normal. You are in an environment where you are praised for experimentation, try things before you realise when it is too late!
- Your network
Whatever direction you decide to take, it is going to be a big change in comparison to the environment you have in the studios. Talking to people on your course that you would not necessarily be friends with outside of it is exactly what you are going to have to do for the rest of your life in any professional setting, no matter what career decisions you end up making. Many art school graduates who get a studio immediately end up feeling isolated, artists’ studios are much quieter than university buildings! Your peers are your creative network. Set up a collective, get a studio group together, it can be your support network when you graduate and makes networking with the wider creative scene easier too! We are lucky that in the creative world the friends we make at previews, openings, through projects, volunteering, freelance work and residencies become our network and connections who quite often lead to future opportunities. You have the power to increase your chances of ‘getting lucky’.
- Taking your time
One of the greatest realisations I have had about myself in the that last year and a half or so is that I have been excessively impatient. The education system and society conditions us to expect immediate success. As ‘millennials’ we feel a lot feel a lot harder done by. Don’t let anxiety stop you, there are less jobs than ever but more choice. It puts us in a position where it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and panic to avoid things. If you persevere, the competition starts to dwindle.
- Job, life and art balance
Your own mental wellbeing is also fundamental to your levels of productivity and the quality of your work. ‘Adult life’ can easily start to feel like a battle between your priorities; you will gain something but as a result feel like you have lost another. If you choose to go freelance or have a practice alongside a day job, this will most probably feel more intense. When I first graduated, I thought money was something I didn’t care about and was completely willing to sacrifice it, but then I lived for a number of months where every decision I made I couldn’t help but obsess about money. I decreased my bar job hours to give myself more time to make work but I stopped myself from doing pretty much everything that involved enjoying myself outside of my practice, my passion turned into a chore. You yourself are the only person who can navigate how to create your personal balance of priorities.
- Consider unpaid work
Although I do not agree with having to work for free, I sense a necessity of doing a little bit of it for the first few years after graduating (this could be as little as a day a month), especially if you have not done any work experience/placements/internships in the area you are looking to go into. It’s a very smart decision to do it before you leave university, I took up some volunteering in an art gallery at the beginning of my final year and it definitely gave me a head start and a bit of a foot in the door. It can also help you to develop an understanding of the industry or type of organisation/institution/company you would like to work for, or help you realise that it wasn’t what you anticipated. If you start to feel like you are not getting anything out of it anymore or an impression you are being taken advantage of, stop immediately. I have already had a few bad volunteering experiences in a short space of time. Remember you do not owe anything to anyone and you should always evaluate whether you are benefiting enough from the experience to justify working for free, especially for extended periods of time.
- Use the Career Service!
It is as though arts graduates reside to their fate; students know that there aren’t as many job prospects for Arts and Humanities graduates than in other courses and sectors, so they don’t even try and get a ‘good job’. Self-belief is the skill with the highest attributes. The careers service is there for 3 years after you graduate and they can offer support finding a job as well as one to one advice if you are still unsure of your options. A member of staff can look at your CV before you hand it out or submit it and the same goes for an application. It will save you lot of energy.