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Confessions of an art student: Sustaining practice

I blogged last week about our recent graduation event, within this I mentioned OCA MA Fine Art Graduate Emma’s inspirational speech, here it is in all its glory – Read it.
My MA with OCA taught me a few things:
It taught me who has time for me….who, out of the goodness of their heart, will follow my newsfeed, offer their face for me to paint on, offer their body for me to take moulds, accompany me to galleries, private views and give me their honest opinion about works in progress (or, in my parent’s case tell me that I need to MOVE ON from the mother-child symbols – they’d have said the same to Moore: enough of these funny semi-human bodies; move on!)
It taught me that I really CAN multi-task – and I’m talking single parenthood, a full time job, volunteering, thinking about maintaining a social life, distance learning, drinking enough water, staying alive, …remaining sane……just! And thank god for OCA for being the only part-time, distance Fine Art Masters in Europe at the time I applied – because without you, people like me cannot raise our academic game. Without a sugar daddy! Thank you.
At school we are open to a million different directions we might go in and by the time you choose a degree you’ve pretty much settled on something you’re actually good at. And in creative fields, like ours, there is a need to make. It is a drive, an irresistible urge, a frustration to move everything else out of the way (especially …the hoovering), to pick up that paint brush or pen or to sing or dance or make music.
I’ve posted images of new work on social media over 200 times since finishing my MA in Fine Art last year. That’s OBSESSIVE! Even my friends have blocked me! Our degrees represent achievement on the back of years of intense study, thought, research, reading im-possibly hard academic writings on philosophical theories in relation to an area of interest….. The achievement loses no significance in the movement of government away from arts subjects in school; in fact it reinforces a momentum that says: ‘CREATIVITY IS INTELLIGENCE, HAVING FUN’ Google tells me that Einstein said that.
Creativity is culture, it is life, it is air. Our degrees say we do not want to be part of a machine that generates money by making us sit in a box all day – unless that box is full of crayons. Artists don’t want to think outside the box – they want to get rid of the box to a place ‘where we can embrace the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand’. (Google said that was Einstein too)
On starting the MA, one of my fabulous tutors – and they were ALL fabulous – took the sting out of the words I had been deflated by on my undergraduate degree. This young lecturer in another college had said “The way to become famous is to find a gap in the market and fill it!” I sat open mouthed for about 20 minutes. Is that what this was really about? So vacuous and calculating. So fame and status-driven. Dr Angela Rogers and Caroline Wright helped us to challenge some of the nonsense we have been led to believe, or, had internalised – they helped me to look at myself as an artist and to reconstruct my identity; to let go of things that did not serve me, assumptions I was making about myself and others. Art is so often tied to money and power & unsurprisingly – particularly historically – dominated by men. Thinking about ‘my place’ in the art world is challenging, sometimes even painful and full of ‘what if’s’, unless you have a spine of self-love and an address book of high profile contacts. But what if money, fame, power, hold no weight. What if Art is the prize? What if making Art, and sharing it, is the act and the reward?
Warhol said: Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad. While they are deciding make even more art. French novelist Emile Zola said:
“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”
That pretty much sums it up for me. My friends who are well embedded in the art world spend a good 50% of their time going to private views, exhibitions, openings, meeting clients, preparing designs, negotiating commissions. It’s a time consuming venture to BE that kind of an artist. And huge respect to all those who travel that path.
By the end of this year I will have had three exhibitions. Exhibiting work that wouldn’t allow me to just imagine it…….. My OCA group are exhibiting together in Germany in October. We are still connected – we embrace the experience of the MA which brought us from the comfort of our international homes or studios to HANGOUT together. Let’s not lose sight of how lucky we are! That we are in the privileged position to be able to study and create; perhaps now we have a responsibility to share this. I can suggest a few ways:
EXHIBIT – as often as you can – get your work seen! A deadline is wonderfully motivating..!
EXHIBIT ONLINE – likes and shares, likes and shares, living the dream…. Whilst you’re waiting for the opportunity for people to see your work in the flesh, bring it into their homes and put it under their fingertips.
TEACH someone else how to do what you do – run a course, support a group, volunteer in a community college or a school or residential home: you will benefit from this, probably more than the people you’re teaching. I say this from experience. I volunteer weekly at a Hospice for the day patients and absolutely adore it. Art brings them friendship, collaboration, companionship and a social circle that in the battle with illness can otherwise diminish. We share art and we share time together. I will be travelling to South Africa in a few weeks to work in schools and to make contact with local artists so that we might develop opportunities and funding for some street murals; using paint and colour to unite groups in the joy of collaboration. I am also working on two voluntary mural commissions; one for a school for those with learning difficulties and another for the offices of Refugee Action in London. My connection to and compassion for the community, through art, genuinely is the wind beneath my wings (Bette Midler)
BE CONNECTED – Get those business cards printed and give them away like sweets. If you want to be fancy – because why not, get the company who make them to put gold on the edges. STAND OUT.
Use this incredible tapestry of contacts and knowledge and friends to support you, and find ways to support them. Send on links to exhibitions that you recognise your friends are better suited to than you. Lift each other UP. Thank everyone – all of the tutors who have helped us here, and all of our families who have supported us, even when we were bitching about writing essays and how boring referencing is! My beautiful son, who is here today, would walk into my studio with a cup of tea and tell me he loves me. DOES IT GET ANY MORE SUPPORTIVE THAN THAT? Perhaps that was what helped me to sustain my practice: a teenage son who fills my heart with love…… It’s not that though; it’s Brexit and Trump and people being referred to as ‘illegal’ and #metoo and war and waste and dirty energy and hate and the lies and corruption of drip down economics and conflict and LOVE ISLAND.
MAKE WORK – make loads and loads of work…
And when someone in the future asks you to talk about sustaining your practice, you are OBVIOUSLY going to say YES, not just because you have anxiety issues about letting people down… but because you have made so much damn work you have no space in your house anymore: that is ‘sustained as hell!’
Follow Emma’s journey online www.emmadelpech.com, @emdelpech
Image Credit: Emma Delpech, Off to war in my pyjamas of steel

Posted by author: Emma Delpech
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9 thoughts on “Confessions of an art student: Sustaining practice

  • A great read and inspirational – keep on enjoying art…
    As for me…a level 3 student needing underpinning.. an MA seems a long way off … but maybe !!

  • I was so sad to miss the graduation so thanks for posting the speech – Emma I hear you speaking this as I read it and it’s great!

  • As usual I am on the ‘catch up channel’, hence the late response. Thank you, loved the article. I have been in the position of full time job, full time family, part (full) time study and I know about periods of exhaustion, of bumping along the bottom, but still dragging forward, driven by heaven knows what energy and the support of friends and family. At the ‘end’ (is there ever an end to a racing imagination) when the plaudits and ‘you did good girl’ swirl around, you know that this is the moment the journey is really starting; scary, unknown and all of your own making.
    Thank you again.

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