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Art School Confidential: Preparing for (Post) Graduation

It’s a pivotal moment that you’ve worked hard for, and any graduating senior student knows that graduation doesn’t just happen: it takes hard work, extra time on projects, meetings with advisors, and more. For art students, especially, graduation marks a huge moment in their careers since from this moment on they will begin to navigate a wider network of contemporary art such as including the art market, teaching jobs and artist residencies. For undergraduate and graduate art students alike, graduation marks a precious moment of growth and achievement. But what about after that? While it can be hard to focus on anything after finally changing your tassel to mark moving on from university life, perhaps the most important aspect of graduation for an art student is setting a clear path to success forward in their career from graduation on.

Below, we take a look at six pragmatic and straightforward steps that all soon-to-be art school grads should take in order to position themselves for success and serious art world treatment post-graduation.

Graduation – Check! Now What?

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Celebrate Your Achievement – Then, Full Steam Ahead!

While art school graduates frequently face a different job market than graduates in other fields – according to Prospects Luminate, creative arts degree-holding grads have a nearly 80% employment rate within six months of graduation but frequently face part-time employment – there are other factors art graduates have to consider in addition to generating income. In addition to sales of work, recent art school graduates need to concern themselves with building a network, settling into a working art studio and crafting a legacy for their work to begin gaining traction in a competitive art market. First things first: graduating artists need to update two things: their CV and their portfolios. Without an updated CV stating exhibitions, presentations, written work, residencies and more it will be very difficult for visiting curators and thought leaders to understand how to approach the artist’s work in relation to the larger field of contemporary artists. In addition, sharing your business card with new contacts without updating your portfolio/works listed on your website is another no-no. Taking your practice seriously as an artist – not a student – includes keeping a portfolio of artwork as updated as possible. These two aspects of an artist’s career, updated CV and portfolio, are non-negotiable.

Secondly, post-graduation is the perfect moment to begin expanding on existing networks. Draw from studio visitors to your university, professors, art dealers, fellow students in the art history department – anyone building links with the wider contemporary art field should show up quickly when you search your inbox. Don’t lose touch with your contacts to the next level of your practice: professors can refer you on to peers who serve as curators and critics. Much in the art world is facilitated through word of mouth and recommendation, and emailing a professor for a chat or asking for studio visit recommendations could mean the difference between no shows the first year post-graduation and multiple opportunities to show.

Third, keep a tidy art studio. Your studio can be small, it can be in a weird part of town, or it can be a funky architectural arrangement. Nothing matters more than having a visitor in your studio who can breathe and see the artwork itself. During your studies, it may have been easy to lapse into a chaotic studio environment due to classes, papers, presentations and finals. There is no longer an excuse for a messy studio – and visitors won’t appreciate having to walk over stretched canvases on the floor or fragments of failed sculptures to get a glimpse of your works in progress.

New Paths Forward

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Post-graduation: Be Prepared for Future Opportunities

Fourth, consider opportunities to teach. Teaching art at either the primary or secondary, or even the undergraduate, level is a respectable means of earning your keep while also joining a wider network of working professionals who also pursue their own artistic success. As with any network of peers, art teachers can rely on and support one another and better understand the landscape of emerging arts through what interests their students. Aesthetics can vary generation by generation, and by seeing art world trends through several sets of fresh eyes artists will earn their living through sharing knowledge while also encountering new avenues of inspiration will also open up to artists who teach.

Fifth, join working professional artists in keeping a running calendar of deadlines that is frequently referred to and updated: deadlines for grant opportunities for artists, residencies, and open calls for exhibitions. Keep a folder of documents you prepare for opportunities that you apply to – if and when you apply for this specific opportunity again, you will have everything on hand to update for the next chance to throw your hat in the ring for the recognition.

Begin organizing your existing work! Don’t leave this step for last; while early post-graduation all of the work in your studio may or may not be running off to be exhibited in Biennales internationally, you want a system of tracking what artworks you have available in your studio, what they are worth, where they’ve exhibited and other relevant details. No fancy ArtBase system needed at this point as Excel will do, but as your practice grows, consider the level of exhibitions you want your work to be shown in and aim to present yourself professionally in order to impress curators and organizers at the level you aspire to be.

Finally, many students get accustomed to the idea that their artistic practice is still in-progress during their studies. Post-graduation, it will be important to find the confidence and self-assurance to know that the way forward is clear. Artists should find their voice during their studies, and post-graduation should value and articulate that voice. It’s important that artists assert their practice, and present themselves as serious artists, not students – the first step forward to gaining the respect of art dealers is to know, respect and carefully articulate the basis of an artistic practice. By knowing you are no longer an art student and presenting yourself as an educated professional, you’ll have a firm foundation on which to build future success.

Any tips that aren’t included above that are important for the upcoming senior class of 2019? Any art school-specific responsibilities that graduating artists should consider? Add your comments below!

About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor based in Sunnyside, Queens, where her Chi-Spaniel puppy graciously allows her to cohabit.

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