Why take a BA in art? And how hard can it be?
17th Feb 2019
I am asked a lot why I am taking a BA in art. I am up to my neck in producing work for exhibitions etc., I am on the board of a local art group and I teach art to others, so why am I adding extra pressure to my life in this way?
The short answer is because I want to, and I can.
The long answer is because despite having been surrounded by art all my life, my parents were/are both brilliant artists, I didn’t take the art route, believing that I would never be good enough to get to their standard and I simply didn’t want to compete.
So what changed and why now?
Well I lived I the USA for a few years, with enough distance between me and my family to make me feel safe from their criticism. There, I was able to produce work judged by other artists and teachers who encouraged me to develop my artistic abilities further.
When I returned to the UK, continuing my studies felt like the only thing to do so I took a foundation course which allowed me to progress onto the BA course at a bricks-and-mortar university. But it wasn’t for me. £9,000 a year to share with three other people a space, smaller than the studio I have in my back garden, along with some pretty unpleasant behaviour from both students and tutors alike, I decided to opt for a distance-learning BA instead.
This is perfect for me. I get to work on my own art business whilst studying for the BA and I get twelve years, that’s right, twelve years to complete it.
But still why, when I am successfully selling my art, would I want to continue with a BA? For me, learning about different artists, different processes the whole discovery side of art education is brilliant. And people have said you could find that out for yourself, but would I?
Possibly, but probably not.
It is very easy to settle into a routine of producing the same thing day-in day-out and even more so when you are selling your work, as so many people want you to stick to the same thing. It makes them feel safe.
But if you follow my blogs you will know that being safe is something I never want to, or hopefully ever will, embrace.
I want my work to be exciting to me. I love that I can try different ways of producing work to make it fun. And yes, the making of the work is all about me. My life, my work my journey and my enjoyment. Without that, and I truly believe an artist’s commitment to and enjoyment of making their work shows through in the finished piece, it has to be, all about the artist, at the making stage.
So how easy is it to get a BA in the arts?
Far harder than you would imagine. If you are reading this and thinking about leaving school and doing any kind of arts degree, be warned, it is tough.
The amount of work you have had to prepare for you GCSE’s and A levels gives you some understanding of what’s required but it is the tip of the iceberg where a BA is concerned. Any doubts, go and do something else. Seriously. It is not an easy option. You can’t afford to be weak – you will have to toughen up to survive. There is nowhere to hide.
You don’t get multiple choice questions which gives you a fair chance of winging your way through. You will be questioned to your core about why you want to continue down this path, you will scream, cry, laugh and probably get drunk in an effort to get through it all. Some lecturers seem to gain enormous pleasure in reducing you to tears at least once a week. Very few students graduate. The year I started at the bricks-and-mortar uni, 76 people started on the course but only eight full-time students and five part-time students graduated three years later. How many of them are working as artists full-time? I don’t have the figures, but I suspect not many.
Why? Because at the end of the day, when you have managed to drag yourself through a course which will make you question your very own existence, you have then to find your way, a future path, along with millions of other hopeful artists.
You will be told to approach galleries (who will take anything up to 60% of a sale) but getting though that door is not as easy as it sounds. You will be told, be persistent and you will get there, someone will discover you, NO THEY WON’T.
They only way you are going to compete is by understanding the art market, understanding marketing, understanding advertising, learning all about running a business, profit-and-loss accounts, balance sheets, cash flow and having some cash in the bank to finance taking part in as many shows as that bank account allows. And you have to grow a really thick skin. You might get lucky, you might be discovered, but in reality, it is all hard graft and most people give up.
All that said, once you are on that path, and I am only really at the beginning myself, but once you are on it, all the years of pain start to feel worth it.
Now I get to make art I love, I get to stretch my knowledge and understanding by taking the BA and I get to have fun.
I am sure there will be more tears down the line, I will have to dig even deeper, but I love what I do, creating something new and intriguing to me, every day of my life.