Prepare To Be Skint, Don’t Call It Art, And Don’t Panic: Our Graduate Survival Guide 2018


Congratulations, you’re about to graduate from a creative degree. So what the fuck do you do now? We spoke to some very talented people working across the arts for some hard-won, practical counsel…

It’s difficult giving advice to recent graduates on life after art school – particularly because each case is so unique. So please take the following words of wisdom based on my own experience. I realize things have changed quite a bit since I graduated in 2005 (not least the amount of debt you’re left with), but I hope it is still useful.

Prepare to be skint. I have never had money and still don’t.

Make work that isn’t expensive to produce. Please join me in going against this super expensive, super fabricated work that seems to be fashionable now. You can only make that kind of art if you’re rich. This is not to say you shouldn’t be ambitious – it just means you need to be inventive.

Prepare to work multiple jobs that pay minimum wages. The perk is that your hours will be all over the place and therefore you’ll be flexible in creating hours to work on your own projects.

Try and get some work assisting an artist. I did this when I graduated and it was really helpful. I’m against working for free but in truth a lot of artists that show have to work on really tight budgets so don’t expect huge wages. It will most likely be the bare minimum.

Make things happen for yourself. If you’re not getting offered shows – curate one yourself.

Stay in touch with your peers. After leaving art school they should provide you with a support network for critique and peer mentoring. There is strength in numbers… Collaborate! I only started collaborating with artists eight years after I left college, but it gave my practice a whole new lease of life, and made me question and reflect and change course in the way I was progressing.

Apply for residencies. I have done a fair amount of residencies in my time, and I have found them really useful. Go for the ones that at least pay for accommodation and travel – if they are asking you to pay, don’t bother. — Jonathan Baldock, artist /


“Bring your own art world into being. Don’t even call it art, invent new terms to describe what it is”


In his book, The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck states that “life is difficult.” True fact! And although it’s a bit clichéd to say that life’s challenges can help us gain wisdom and grow, this is, in my experience, also true.

Working in the arts is as much a lifestyle choice as it is a job. It’s not an easy way to live, but as yer man Peck points out, life isn’t always easy. And if you just have to, then think of it as your labour of love. It’s what will sustain you in good and difficult times. — Julie Borkwood, writer and part of LIPA’s Sixth Form College Inclusion team


Don’t let anyone tell you there is an ‘art world’. Bring your own art world into being. Don’t even call it art, invent new terms to describe what it is you bring into being. Ask yourself if making this ‘bringing-into-being’ public enhances or prevents it from doing what it can do. If you bring something brilliant into being, would it matter if no one else saw it? What other people do you know that bring creative, exciting and stimulating things into being and don’t need to define these things as art? Hang out with them more. — Oliver Braid (pictured, top image), artist /


I came across an article from David Bowie’s collaborator Brian Eno recently where he gave some blunt career advice. He said if you want to do your best creative work, don’t get a job. Now that’s easier said than done, which is why Eno believes we should adopt some form of universal basic income, where everyone gets a wage regardless of employment status. This theory gets you thinking – if you didn’t have to make career decisions based on finances, what would you choose to do?

After all, a quick Google search shows if you are to make a career decision purely based on wonger you could end up controlling air traffic or doing the data science. Instead of questioning what will make me rich, you might instead question ‘what will make me happy’ or ‘what will give me purpose?’.

I also think it would be useful for graduates to put some self-care in place whilst looking for that next opportunity. In what can be a stressful time, punctuated by unknowns and rejection, it is important to do things you enjoy to help reduce stress. Whether that be connecting with friends, exercising, or practicing mindfulness; anything that helps you to pause and reset. – Philip Bridges, founder of The Mind Map / / @themindmapmag


“The truth is I still have no idea what I’m doing most of the time… How can we surprise potential audiences if we aren’t surprising ourselves?”


Any advice I can offer to graduates comes from a different time and place, one where undergraduate degrees didn’t yet charge extortionate tuition fees, but very few people were encouraged or given the information necessary to apply for them in the first place. This was certainly true of the schools I went to (let’s just say my first year at secondary school in Derbyshire played out like something out of a JG Ballard and Lord of the Flies mash-up, and my second year teleported me to a comprehensive in Wales which still seemed to be stuck in the 1950s). So when the compulsory sentence of being in education finally ended at 16, I rushed through a year of A levels at a local FE college then got out as fast as I could, worked in shops and generally tried to figure out where and how things happened in a very ad hoc, trial and error way.

Despite the many years since, and somehow getting a place on an MA in the mid-to-late ‘90s with a portfolio rather than a qualification, I’m not sure I’m any closer to figuring out the mystery of how the art world works. Sometimes it seems the maps offered to graduates showing the short cuts and fast tracks might have been useful – but then very few of the actual graduates I’ve met seem to have seen copies of those maps either, and I now suspect they don’t exist beyond having the connections and financial backing in place to start with. For the rest of us, we follow the kinds of work that interests us, make things up, blag our way into places where we don’t really belong and learn to trust in our ability to recognise each other, keep in touch and conspire together when our paths – as they always do – eventually cross.

So the truth is I still have no idea what I’m doing most of the time, despite having been a full-time freelancer since 1998. But far from being a bad thing, I’ve slowly learned that this not just a kind of universal condition but arguably the only one that works for artists with an aversion to the bureaucratisation of our sector that has exponentially spread from academia into bigger galleries and is currently consuming artist-led spaces, which now have to think and behave like managers to secure any kind of stable funding. Is this a pessimistic view? More an exasperated one, grounded in a sense that art, in its broadest rather than industry sense, is all about not knowing and being on the edge or entirely outside whatever our comfort zones as artists happen to be. How can we surprise potential audiences if we aren’t surprising ourselves?

So trust in your networks of fellow misfits, make work that doesn’t need to be defined as art or presented in some meticulous, expensively fabricated and over-theorised way to have an effect, and ignore as much of the hot air and sage industry advice as you can (probably including this). You are not the only one who doesn’t know how any of this works. I’ve been at it for years and I still haven’t a clue either. As time goes on, and ever more strategic documents, mission statements, conferences, socially engaged conversations, symposiums and consultations pile up around working artists’ (still) mostly empty bank accounts, I think more and more often of that old Hollywood saying: “Nobody knows anything – and anyone who does claim to know what they’re doing is out to fool either themselves or you…” — Wayne Burrows, artist and writer / / @wayne_burrows 


DJ Paulette Constable

Congratulations and Happy Hangover. Now for the shock treatment (especially when you have a First or good 2:1 under your belt), if work doesn’t come immediately. Don’t panic. Use this down time as an opportunity to learn new or hone your interview skills. And always show initiative – a follow up call might land on the day a vacancy crops up.

Follow your dreams but take your brain with you. If you can’t find work in your area of expertise, stay open minded – get involved elsewhere or volunteer but always aim to do something you love or feel passionate about. Keep sending job applications out, keep your CV sharp and don’t give up. – Paulette Constable (pictured, above), international DJ / / @DJPAULETTE


Understand your own value and that the moment you decide to work for free, that you’re potentially undermining that value. By taking on an unpaid internship or placement, you’re effectively telling your “employer” that right now, you don’t think that what you have to offer is worth anything. The best companies will realise that you’re a huge asset and will rush to secure your services with pay and a contract. More companies will (and do) purely take advantage of the steady stream of free labour and if you’re at the bottom of that food chain, expect to be discarded as soon as you’ve been used up. Even as a new graduate, you bring skills and perspectives to the table that are desirable and most certainly valuable, so play to your strengths, show what you can do and if someone isn’t willing to pay you, move on to a place that is. If you can’t find one, start your own thing and scale and skill up by talking to and collaborating with as many creative entrepreneurs as you can. – Alec Dudson (pictured, below), Intern Magazine / / @ThisIsIntern


Alec Dudson graduate pic


Apply, apply, apply. There are plenty opportunities for recent graduates out there. Redeye, Artists Information Company and your alumni group are good places to start researching opportunities. There are a lot of competitions, photography festivals out there. Be selective about which ones to apply for as the costs can add up. Karen McQuaid at The Photographer’s Gallery offers some great advice on portfolio reviews.

Use your day job as an opportunity to learn new skills. As my tutor Carey Young said: “Use your job as research”. It could be building into your own practice or learning new technical skills. If you end up doing office work, use it as an opportunity to learn about business side of things that all self-employed creatives need to do anyways (organisation, time-keeping, project management, taxes).

Photography, like other creative professions is marathon not a sprint. It requires dedication, patience, persistence, and sometimes luck. — Teresa Eng, photographer /


“Be persistent, re-apply, re-submit, revise and evolve. Every successful artist has had numerous disappointments along the way”


Be ambitious, think big, reach beyond what you think may be possible. Work hard and be passionate about what you do. One’s attention to detail can be the tiniest thing that sets you apart. I admire the work of Takashi Murakami, whose show I saw at the Venice Biennale during my time as a student. In his paper, Murakami’s Guide To Success, he pinpoints “attention to small things” as a defining trait – from employing high quality translators for his texts, to meticulous planning and documentation.

Be persistent, re-apply, re-submit, revise and evolve. Every successful artist has had numerous disappointments along the way. For every yes, there are dozens and dozens of no’s. – Susan Gunn, artist / / @SusanGunnArtist


Be adventurous in your thinking. You have permission to reinvent the world you find yourself in. Keep visiting museums. Look at old stuff – there are infinite riches out there – but question the old narratives. Be kind. Work very hard at your craft. Listen well to other people and don’t be dismissive of the things you don’t understand. Be ambitious about the right things (i.e. art and ideas, not money or success). Don’t get bogged down doing something you don’t want to do, although it’s likely you’ll have to do low-paid jobs in order to pay the rent. (If you do, try to choose ones that won’t crush your spirit, e.g. try to find work in a café that cares about the environment, etc.) Don’t put up with anyone exploiting you. Make friends with your fear of failure. Take intellectual risks. Don’t wait to be offered shows / publishing etc.: put on your own exhibitions, design a website. Experiment with what you want, what you need, and what might interest someone else (and know the difference). Remember that you’re a communicator: think about your audience as well as yourself. Learn to budget. Be curious. Cultivate restlessness, but know when to rest. — Jennifer Higgie (pictured, below), Editorial Director, frieze  / / @JenniferHiggie


Jennifer Higgie, graduating in 1990


Network like your life depends on it and find a mentor. This doesn’t have to be official contact, but build a relationship with someone in the industry who is willing to give you critical feedback and point you in the right direction. Creative practice can be lonely work so keep your contacts close to your heart, never stop networking and don’t put people on pedestals. Your curiosity can be one of your most endearing qualities, so remember those at the top were once in your position and most people are than happy to talk about their work and share a few wise words over an appropriate choice of beverage.

Set your goals high but inject some realism into your expectations. Many of the most successful people out there have other day jobs that help fund their creative work. Sometimes that ‘other work’ can offer you surprising opportunities to discover new talents and get to where you want to be.

Lastly, it can be tempting to take on everything and anything remotely related to what you want to do, but you’ve got to find the right balance that allows you to create your best work. No one will congratulate you for pulling an all-nighter in the real world so keep calm, don’t over commit and take care of yourself. – Katrina Houghton, freelance art writer, Marketing Officer at HOME Manchester and Industry Advisory Board Member for Photography at the University of Bolton / @KatrinaHoughton 


Wow, so it feels like the end of an era, and yes there’s lots of change ahead, but now the real fun begins!  I remember being very daunted at the thought of leaving the comfort of the institutional womb, but trust me you are ready and although it might be a bumpy exit you will find your feet and take an interesting route on the next leg of your journey.

Not everyone needs a studio, and when you don’t have all those great institutional facilities to hand, find other ways to achieve your goals.  Remember you can adapt to your environment: this is what the last few years of arts training has been about, recognising that your practice is symbiotic to your circumstances and changes in your life.  Whatever you, do be true to yourself, apply for things that mean something to you.  Look out for graduate opportunities and become part of a collective; it’s always easier to be part of something than to completely go it alone. Build upon your artistic community, open yourself up to new and different ways of working.  Some people might get a lucky break and get scooped up by a gallery, but there are so many other ways of being an artist.

Keep making your work – that is the most important thing. Often the restraints of little budget can produce the most exciting and creative responses.  Above all, enjoy yourself, develop some life experience and feed that into your practice. –Serena Korda, artist / @serena_korda


“Look out for trends but don’t be a slave to them – today’s listicle is tomorrow’s digital landfill, and it’s a bottomless pit”


Without the comfort of a university timetable to keep you motivated (particularly if you have a full-time job), it can be really difficult to find the time to keep your practice going, whether it’s making, writing or research. My advice is: make time! Even if it is just 30 minutes a day at the start, you will soon get into the habit of regular creative activity, whether it’s doodling or flicking through an art magazine. You might feel a little lazy every now and then, but once you get into the routine, you’ll crave your dedicated art time. – Maja Lorkowska, freelance writer and artist; full-time content manager at a software company / @MajaLorkowska


You’ve just graduated. Congratulations, you’re free. What now, apart from falling off the steep cliff into the reality of life, sans the support of your institutional bubble?

I didn’t do a degree in visual arts, nor did I have a real sense of where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do after uni. As a result, my route to working in the so-called art world has been what you could call a circuitous one. There isn’t always a direct or obvious way in, but what I would say is that if you know or think you know what it is you want to do right now, then apply for related stuff, get involved, seek out the paid internships (they do exist), do stuff off your own bat. It doesn’t have to be crazy-ambitious, but it shows you’re interested and you want to part of all of this – whatever this is. Who knows what will come of it?

Without starting this blog, The Double Negative, there’s no way I would be in my present job (Content Editor, Tate Liverpool). I’m a writer, and I try to read as widely as possible across fiction and non-fiction, criticism and some creative non-fiction. Identify and read the writers, critics and authors that you like – because life’s too short. Decide what you like about their work. Can it make your writing better? Probably. Experiment. Be open to new things. Look out for trends but don’t be a slave to them – today’s listicle is tomorrow’s digital landfill, and it’s a bottomless pit. Be persistent, believe in what you’re doing, and be resilient (even if at first you have to fake those last two things).

Finally, mean it, be nice and be on time. – Mike Pinnington (pictured below), writer and editor; co-founder of The Double Negative / @doublenegativeM


Mike Pinnington, graduating from LJMU


I think I wasted a lot of time agonising over things in the years post-graduation, and that has a lot to do with confidence – or lack thereof. So the first bit of survival advice I’d share is: fake it ‘til you make it. Dive in, make stuff AND have a regular routine for making stuff, and don’t compare yourself in any kind of negative way to others. The only person doing your thing is, well, you, and that’s what makes you unique. Don’t let your accent, background or anxieties stop you from propelling forward into what you want to do. Building confidence is a daily exercise, so don’t beat yourself up, but do remind yourself to be brave and try new things and learn from mistakes.

Once you’ve started hustling for work, it can get crazy. Find your balance. Whether I get my rent money from the arts, or outside of it, or a mix of the two, art and writing are always going to be a big part of my life. Can’t help it. I’ve tried loads of different ways to make it work: jugging full time/part time/temp jobs whilst volunteering as a gallery director/workshop assistant/general art dogsbody etc. I now work as a freelancer, doing work for at least three separate editors, organisations and universities every week that *kind of* altogether pays my bills. My diary is mad and sometimes I’m a busy fool who takes too much on. I hustle. I was shocked to find out early on that editors at some of the biggest magazines, far more advanced than me, are also typically part-time and make up their wages with freelance work.

Try to figure out what works best for you and what stresses you out: the balance is completely individual. You have to be the one to work out what is possible and healthy. Realising this isn’t easy! – Laura Robertson, writer and editor; co-founder of The Double Negative / @doublenegativeL


“You will probably be scraping by juggling several shitty jobs at once. This is a well-trodden path. But meeting new peers and nurturing relationships will keep you going”


Go to as many exhibitions as you can and make the most of Liverpool’s free cultural education offer – especially during the Biennial! – Sally Tallant, Director at Liverpool Biennial / / @Biennial


Here is my advice to new those lovely new graduates:

Hunt in packs: join a studio or communal working space and meet like-minded people. The first few years after graduating are notoriously difficult; you will probably be scraping by juggling several shitty jobs at once just to fund your making/producing/creativity. This is a well-trodden path. But meeting new peers and nurturing these relationships will keep you going – and growing – throughout these bloody challenging times. – Jack Welsh, freelance arts producer, researcher and writer / / @JackWelsh10


As told to Laura Robertson

Images, from top: Oliver Braid, graduating in 2006 with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Falmouth College of Arts

Paulette Constable, graduating in 1994 with a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Manchester Metropolitan University

Jennifer Higgie at art school in 1991, Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia

Mike Pinnington graduating from Media & Cultural Studies BA (Hons) at Liverpool John Moores University in 1999

Posted on 04/06/2018 by thedoublenegative