doing a fine art degree

Undergrowth: copyright Vivien Blackburn 60 x 24 inches

People often ask if you can develop fully as an artist without doing a degree. I can't answer for everyone - but for me, I know I wouldn't have.

I'd done my Foundation Year on leaving school - a degree in Art starts with a Foundation Year, where you try all sorts of disciplines and experiment wildly :)

At the time I wanted to go into Fashion/Fabric design - but realised what a tough world it was, the visiting lecturers from London told us constantly! I decided I wasn't actually that tough! so I didn't continue to the degree years.

I married, had my family and started painting again. I joined an adult ed class where the tutor wasn't very good sadly, he didn't inspire, didn't know how to help beginners or those like me who were terribly rusty. I knew there must be better classes - and there were :)

I found a very good tutor, who worked on developing individual skills within a class, running it like a workshop. He'd bring in books or catalogues of artists work to show us, would show us different ways of using materials and then let us use or not use it as we chose and help us with our individual projects. My work really came on with the crit and feedback. My teaching nowadays is done in a similar way, I really appreciated those classes.

I also found a good watercolour teacher. Her husband was a tutor at the local uni on the Fine Art Degree. I did watercolour classes and then oil painting classes with her. Again she challenged us and set imaginative briefs.

Independently, they both said I should go back and do my degree and at first I didn't think it would be possible as I worked part time and had the family. Then I found out that it was possible, had recently started, to go part time and just take a little longer. So I juggled (often chaotically) a part time degree, part time job and the family and trying to have a life as well!

My teachers had tried to explain that my work wouldn't develop the same without doing a degree and I didn't really see their point and didn't necessarily believe them. But once on the degree course I saw what they meant.

It was intensive, we, the students (mostly young but with just a handful of mature students like me) worked long hours, we had each other to discuss work with, talk problems over with, share workspaces, angst, ideas, help and information with. We saw each other through self doubt and generally learnt a lot from each other, as much as we learnt from the tutors.

I had to cope with projects and challenges that I would never have tackled otherwise - and find a way to make them work for me. I had to meet deadlines with heavy workloads.

It gave me space to experiment, to go out on a limb and try things, to make a mess in a studio space of my own, where it didn't matter, work on very large canvasses and huge sheets of paper, learn printmaking, get stressed, deeply depressed downs, happy highs when things went well ... and have fun.

I really wouldn't have missed it for the world.

If you come from a background where your family are artists then perhaps it isn't so essential - Kurt Jackson didn't do a degree. He had that background. As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows, I love his work!

Studying with a variety of high calibre tutors who challenge you can also fill the gap - but that's ok if you have lots of money or live in a major city and have access to quality tuition as a friend does - she has access to some amazing classes that I'd just love to do.

So many ways 'in' but for me the degree was right - it taught me to analyse my own work and fellow students - crits were always in depth and to 'go for it' to do my research and think around a problem and to question and ask why, not to accept others opinions as necessarily the only way, however expert. It gave me more confidence in working my own way and developing my own way. It taught me to understand work that I didn't necessarily 'like' and appreciate the quality - whilst still disliking it on a purely emotional level :D

I'll talk more in later posts about specific examples of projects and things that I felt I really gained from or that were fun. I think this one is long enough :D ... and it's late now, so goodnight gentle reader :) and let me know what you think helped your work to develop?


Katherine said…
Impressive post Vivien - it's good to see it all down on paper having heard bits about the journey when talking with you. It's good to see it all together. I'm sure a lot of people can learn from your experience.

....and that's another item for next Sunday's "who's making a mark" sorted! :D
vivien said…
did you recognise yourself as the friend with access to exciting courses? that make me envious!!!

thanks :)
Katherine said…
Yup! ;)

Blog post is up........and I combined it with the next two to give people something to think about!

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