[The Reality of] Life After Art School
I graduated from Pratt Institute with a Bachelor of Arts, Magna Cum Laude, with a job lined up and an apartment in Bed-Stuy. Never mind the constant tugging I felt in the pit of my stomach by all of the unknown that laid before me, never mind that my boyfriend lived some hundred miles away, and never mind that I had one month left to find another job, another apartment, another overall outlook - one less antsy and bed-ridden in spirit.
I should be happy, I thought. You could have it all at your fingertips, or you could be picking quarters from your couch cushions for the umpteenth cheap take-out binge. But the tribulations of transition don’t exempt anyone. And in that moment; while the hats are thrown, your families cheer you on, and you accept the gildedness of your once seemingly everlasting youth; you’re in shock and marveling all at once, paralyzed by the inevitability of moving on.
They tell you in art school - network, network, network. Make connections. Introduce yourself. Make connections. Be proactive. Make connections. Find internships. Make connections. And KEEP those connections.
If there’s anything that particularly stands out in my memories of navigating the art world in-school and the art world on the outside, it’s the entirely irritating fact that it’s who you know, not what you know, that counts. The art world doesn’t give a rat’s ass unless someone can speak for you, or you can speak for yourself. Surely, that’s the capital world in a nutshell, regardless whether you played by the book and made those connections.
What separates the art-world so drastically is your trade, for one, baring its stigma (because you know you’ve heard it at least once in some 9-5’s buttoned down, sarcastic tone as they ask you again what you majored in), and banking on your creativity to provide a sense of security - which is almost oxymoronic in and of itself.
As you continue on in an attempt to “make it”, you realize that your art - originally an intuitive, ever evolving fluid form of expression - is treated like a business deal every time. You’ll get tricked into asking yourself how you can make your art more sell-able, likable, more of a necessity to big corporations, how do you make it more important by way of deeming it economically valuable?
I’ve come to realize this is good in one way and awful in another. It’s good because it causes you to question your process (if you haven’t already) and develop a more disciplined creative workflow. However, depending on how you are, it could discourage you from creating anything that is genuinely coming from you. Instead, you will begin to create based on your audience’s wants and needs - or ONLY produce work because it has become your duty as an employee - which will ultimately lead you to sit down in front of your art overtime with the most bleak, indifferent expression.
I think what they forgot to tell us in art school is how to sustain the essence that makes your art ‘yours’. The red flags we encounter on our journey out of school and into the workforce won’t matter - we’re trying to make a living, we’re trying to be worthy of our sky high tuition debt and deflect the vision of being a twenty-something deadbeat art student. But once we snap to this realization, the better question would be 'how can someone teach YOU how to sustain YOUR art?'
And if you were like me with no one to really speak on your behalf to get a foot in the door, no way of knowing that suddenly, your art will become a chore and it’s not that you don’t want to “art” anymore, but that you’ve lost touch with why you ever began in the first place – I’ll tell you to keep fighting. I’ll tell you now it’s an exhausting journey, and the answers are different for everyone, but the question is always the same, and it’s worth every second.