With degree shows on the horizon ELL looks at how Fine Art Graduates can get their foot in the door

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With art seemingly more popular then ever, ELL investigates how to get your foot in that ever-elusive door, through further study, freelancing, funding, and the holy grail of our generation: the internet.

By Laura Raphael & Mathilde Ive

Stumbling Block Pic: Mitra Saboury

Stumbling Block Pic: Mitra Saboury

The corridors of Goldsmiths University of London are filled with echoed sounds of nervous muttering and occasional outbursts of laughter. They are standing there, in awkwardly formed groups, chatting, eyeing each other up.

It’s the day of interviews for aspiring Fine Art undergraduate students, and by the look of it, the 2012 fee-rise hasn’t cooled off the interest of investing in creative studies, despite the art industry being notoriously known for its volatility in terms of finding well-paid work. Or is that perhaps an urban myth?

All indications are that the UK art market is on the up. Worth a staggering £71.4 billion to the overall economy – that’s £8 million pounds an hour – UK’s creative industries grew almost 10 per cent in 2012, outperforming all other industry sectors.

London in particular seem to have benefitted from the surge in public interest in art, with regional museum and gallery visitor numbers higher than ever, according to the latest national Taking Part survey by the Department of Culture, Media and Sports, and the Arts Council of England.

“There’s never been a better time for visual arts in the UK than right now, with more people going to see art, than own a smartphone. We’ve also seen an explosion in grass-root visual arts in London, with artists collaborating across fields – making it happen”, says Peter Heslip, the Arts Council director of visual arts & London.

Signs of a bright future for these aspiring art talents, as they make their way up the stairs, to prove why they should be awarded a spot at one of UK’s leading arts departments.

They won’t be the only ones wooing course convenors to secure a place of study. The number of active art students across the UK has remained stable for years, even as the fees went up from £3,000 to £9,000 in 2012.

Current Goldsmiths Fine Art student, Giulia Tommasi, is watching the slightly nervous bunch, a funny smile on her face, as she recollects that day a year back: “I remember being nervous – but I had a really nice chat with my tutor, which convinced me this was for me. I’m still nervous, but in a different kind of way. Nervous about finding work, pursuing my passion – I want this so bad.”

In four sub-articles below, we look at how some art graduates have made it happen after graduating – through study, freelancing, funding, or using the internet.

We also asked four east London creatives to give us their opinion on art, higher education and the prospect for art students based on their own experience.

If you are already in debt denial from doing an undergraduate, looking at a full-time postgraduate course, which on average comes in at a stonking £6,000, you might laugh - nervously.

Especially as there is no government-owned organisation that administers loans for postgraduates, can those extra letters on your CV make a real difference?

The art department of Goldsmiths University of London has an excellent reputation for fostering artistic talent with a roster of alumni such as Laure Prouvost - this year’s Turner Prize winner, so how do their graduates fair?

Goldsmith’s fine art students, both post- and undergraduates, have had success in finding work, with two thirds in full - or part time employment within six months of graduating. That is five to six per cent higher than the University’s overall employment rate of 60 per cent across all its graduate programmes, according to the annual HESA Leaver Survey.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for fine art is 15 per cent, considerably higher than for other graduate subjects, according to the Labour Force Survey.

Only a small minority of fine art undergraduates go directly into work in their field. Most will find jobs in allied or completely un-related jobs. In terms of finding work in the arts, the outlook is better for postgraduates, of whom 40 per cent go on to find employment in the creative industry, within six months of graduating.

Owner of Jealous Gallery and Print Studio in Shoreditch, Adam Bridgland, a fine art graduate himself, believes the reason postgraduates find work in the creative industry, is because they made the conscious choice of pursuing art as a living. In contrast, undergraduates might yet be undecided. This is why his Jealous Prize, dedicated to helping emerging art talent, is aimed at MA art students.

“We choose MA students because we want the best - and because we believe artists at that stage have decided they want to be part of the creative industries. It is not an experiment for them, and The Jealous Prize is a chance to further explore their work and enter into a creative partnership. In terms of BAs, I know so many people that have stopped at that level – only three of my former fellow BAs, including myself, are now artists.”

HESA figures show that a Goldsmiths art graduate can expect to earn on average £18,914. According to Peter Heslip of the Arts Council, the average pay of a visual artists in the UK is around £10,000.

A recent survey by DCMS shows that the majority of registered visual artists in the UK chose to set up their own studio space. In fact,197,000 of the total 277,000 who worked with visual arts and music in 2012, were self-employed. That is 71 per cent. By far the highest percentage compared with other creative industry categories, such as design and fashion, or crafts.

One of them is Sanju Matthew. Five years ago, Matthew left his family’s spice farm in India to come to the UK and study an MA in Printmaking at Camberwell College of Art. When he graduated in 2007, he founded Print Editioning, his own fine art printmaking studio. Now a master printmaker in Hackney, he has gone onto work with many eminent printmakers form the Royal Society of Painter and Printmakers, and is about to open a second studio, specialising in lithography.

As Matthew runs his business single-handedly, he is only too aware of the risk and on-going challenge of working with a traditional medium, within an industry obsessed with digital media: “I encourage artists to work with this new medium, of course it is not a new medium, but it has been forgotten due to digital technology, but no computer will print as good as a press. I would really like to bring these mediums back again, which is very hard, but that is my project. Don’t get me wrong, the digital technologies are fantastic, but we shouldn’t be forgetting our past and how we used to do it. It has character, and that you cannot re-produce.”

Before Matthew graduated, he knew he had to make a decision to be an artist, or provide a printmaking service for artists. His technical ability was so strong that he decided on the latter. Committed to giving up-and-coming artists a leg up in the industry, he is looking to found a collective that would give graduates the opportunity to exhibit their work alongside his established clients such as Marcelle Hanselaar, the Dutch printmarker, who has exhibited her works at the British Museum among others.

Believe it or not, there is money up for grabs, thanks to the Arts Council of England.

Over the past three years, the ACE have invested roughly £1.9 billion in new and existing art, across the UK, and what’s more, they have funding schemes with rolling deadlines, such as the Grants for the Arts scheme, open to up-and-coming creatives.

Grants for the Arts, a Lottery-funded programme, devotes £202 million to individuals and smaller organisations. You can apply for awards from £1,000 to as much as £100,000 depending on your project. It is all done online - with a fast turn-around process of less than three months. Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Price, and Richard Barlow, are just some of the thousands of artists, who have benefitted from the scheme. The council calls the GfA “the R&D side of the equation, and central to helping artists develop their careers.”

If you are aiming for your first commission with a local gallery, then the organisations funded by ACE’s central scheme, The National Portfolio Funding Programme (NPO), is a good place to look. It is the duty, of these creative enterprises - carefully selected by the ACE - to “nurture talent and promote an artistically led approach to diversity” in their region.

Find your local NPO organisation on the map below: 

In a recent ACE report, the council found that new commissions from the funded organisations (NPOs) rose from 24.2 per cent in 2009/2010, to 27.7 per cent in the following year. 84 per cent of the new commissions were in the London region in 2011/2012.

Other possible routes? In east London, Hackney, is head and shoulders above its neighbouring boroughs in terms of places to find work, exhibition space and artist collaboration opportunities. The borough is also the front-runner for successful applicants of the Grants for the Art scheme, and organisations supported through the NPO.

The map below rates the ELL boroughs based on number of art enterprises, NPOs, and successful GfA applicants: 

At the other end of the spectrum, Croydon has no NPO organisations, and only one Grants for the Art funded visual artist in the period from 2013-2014. Lewisham also has no NPO organisations.

If writing funding proposals isn’t for you, there are also 101 ways to stump up the cash as Anthony Xuereb, the owner of The Arch Gallery, knows only too well.

“In May we are having an exhibition called ‘FUCK’ it’s all about sex, you should come”, Xuereb is clearly in his element. “The girls who are running it, Imogen and Zoe, have recruited strippers from a strip club on Hackney Road. We are going to have them in the window, not fully naked, tastefully done. So our coffee shop will become a strip bar for two days only. I don’t say yes to every exhibition that comes my way, but I think you will remember this one.”

Debuting a pop-up strip club might not be for everyone, but when Xuereb put a contortionist and taxidermist in the same window, last year, it made the BBC’s 6 o’clock news.

Three years ago Xuereb transformed the abandoned railway arch on Cambridge Heath Road into The Arch Gallery. All this without any real budget to speak of. Sandwiched between a hand-carwash and a garage, the gallery’s grey exterior appears innocuous, but here Xuereb has held the Royal Academy reject show, and even filled the arch with balloons, before Martin Creed’s recent Hayward show made it all the rage he says.

Xuereb, a self-taught artist, says the art market is: “a very difficult industry to crack, its very political. We don’t make money selling art, we don’t do that in any way. I personally have not made the right connections in order to do that, but it turns out events were a way to pay the bills.”

Events are the gallery’s financial linchpin, from indoor markets to pop up restaurants, alongside a coffee shop in the front window. This works, mainly because of Xuereb. Born down the road at The Royal London Hospital, he is a true east end “wheeler dealer”, and it is his ruthless business acumen that allows The Arch to exhibit art for art’s sake.

The procrastination haven that is the internet could be your stepping stone to stardom, so stop starring at GIFs of Ryan Gosling, and take note.

Despite being one of the last creative industries to make its digital debut, the art industry is now big business on the internet, with more art sold online than in physical galleries

Now, you don’t have to leave the house to visit a gallery, or go to an art auction for that matter. It’s all online. That means, you can quite literally have a captive audience in the palm of your hand – yes, the one holding your smart phone – if you choose to promote your art online.

The internet is an ideal place to have your work seen and even better, bought, with the online art market estimated to be growing by 20 per cent each year.

Collectors from all over the world are heading to internet auction houses such as Paddle8, where you can pick up a Sarah Lucas for an eye-watering £33,000, if you dare to click.

It is not just collectors who are capitalising on the internet but the curators too. The internet is changing how art is being viewed, rather than being hung on gallery walls it is going up online, but true to gallery form it is still behind glass, albeit a computer screen, and there is still “no touching the work”.

A recent cultural online participation survey by DCMS revealed a staggering 70.7 per cent turned to the World Wide Web to look at arts websites. An additional, 29.8 per cent visited a gallery or museum online in the last year.

There is even a new movement of internet artists, spearheaded by Molly Richards. Last year, Richards graduated with a BA in Criticism, Communication and Curation from Central Saint Martins. Whilst studying she had developed a concept for an online gallery dedicated to internet art. So she got in touch with a web developer, handed over 18 dollars for a domain and Virtual Verbs was born.

All the artworks, be that GIFs, Vimeo videos or digital images, relate to verbs that now hold an entirely new meaning thanks to 21st century culture such as to zip or to de-tag. She has now worked with artists across the globe and is beginning an internet culture blog.

Richards said: “The internet is an incredible resource, it goes without saying, what I found really interesting was that artists were becoming very self aware and had begun to make artwork about the internet, so the internet was making work about the internet. I thought that was a really interesting aesthetic as well as a concept.”

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