Where do emerging artists graduate to?
Being a graduate, above many of the emotions that come with that, is daunting. This is what the team behind Short Supply learned in their years after graduating, and what they want recent graduates to know right now.
So, there’s this little rat who’s passionate about food, and wants to cook like a person; like a food artist. He wants to cook for pleasure, to hone a craft, to experiment and create, to fuel his passion. He’s interested in the possibilities to develop as an individual through his interest in cooking. He doesn’t just want to survive; which, being a rat, is usually the primary goal.
(Yes, Mollie is talking about Pixar’s 2007 Ratatouille.)
Opposite this little rat is the food critic, Anton Ego. He’s kind of the antagonist, kind of not. All you need to know is that he bookends the story; we’re told his opinions matter at the very start. If he doesn’t like what you made, you’re finished. His scathing review of one of the crucial chef characters in the film leaves him so broken hearted that he actually d i e s.
As a food critic, there are expectations and rewards that come with this guy sharing his opinions, they have a seemingly non-negotiable value. This is why the whole story hangs in the balance when Anton Ego tastes a meal made by our little hero rat. After spending the film being fiercely critical and cynical, he’s caught off guard by the intrinsic beauty of his passion in life. The expectations, the prowess, the power, the paycheck and purpose of his job melt away – what he’s left with is the thing about his passion that really matters, that spark which exists within him.
Long story short: Pixar’s Ratatouille helped me to understand intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and value as a creative person in a way that education just couldn’t.
This text is not in fact a #sponsored ad for Ratatouille - but if you’d like to go ahead and watch it before reading this, I will not be mad.
As an organisation, Short Supply spends a lot of time thinking about education and graduation. Graduates are a large part of our audience, and form a big chunk of our network. We run a graduate art prize called MADE IT which is in its third year now, offering a showcase, grant money, mentorship and further opportunities to connect with us and our offer. We have had many conversations with graduates, getting to grips with their wants and needs and understanding their frustrations. We are graduates ourselves too, from 2018 and 2019, so we’ve had time to ruminate on our own experiences and weigh them up alongside more recent graduates who’ve been affected by the current circumstances. We wanted to share these thoughts with you today in a snappy list, because what else is the internet for?
SHORT SUPPLY’S TOP TIPS FOR GRADUATES WHO ARE STRUGGLING TO NAVIGATE THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES IN A PANDEMIC!!!
Buzzfeed, eat your heart out.
Your degree can’t teach you everything.
A lot of the stuff that is most important to you, you have to identify for yourself. University has (hopefully) helped to lay the groundwork and sent you on your way, but as you keep going you’ll find yourself learning all the time, maybe at a faster rate than you did on your course. There are definitely a lot of ways university fails to prepare us for life after (taxes, self employment, getting funding etc etc.) but we’ll honestly be here forever if we dwell on that for too long in this list. All you need to know is that despite being out of education, you need to be ready to keep learning.
Drop the things that do not serve you.
You don’t need to cling to everything university or others tell you to do to be successful. Nobody can do everything. In identifying the things that are important to you, it’s also useful to identify the things that aren’t! There are lots of elements to a creative career that can feel like signifiers of having your sh*t together; a nice studio, lots of followers on social media, a slick website, mates in high places - but do these things serve you? Do they mean anything to what you're trying to achieve? Maybe they do, but if they don’t, drop ‘em!
Rinse. Your. Contacts.
The age old phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is ringing in my head as I write this. It’s true - but it doesn’t have to mean banging on Maria Balshaw’s door to get what you are looking for in your career. Pester your tutors, get your mates on your mailing list, invite the people who already love and support you to your openings, let your local art gallery or the people in the bookshop you go to know about what you’re up to! You don’t need to see networking as this big, scary thing that requires smooth talking at private views and dropping heart emojis in the comments of your favourite artist's latest pic on Instagram to get noticed. Nobody is an island - we all have people around us that we can turn to for support, and we can be that person for others too.
Use your graduating energy.
It’s unanimously true that graduation and the months building up to it are exhausting. Everybody has different needs during the period following, but we knew that once it was all over, if we stopped we probably wouldn’t start again. So, we got projects lined up that took us past graduation, and once we were in the throws of those projects, we got more lined up. This is not to say this is the right approach for everyone; but the point we’re trying to make is to redirect your energy to where you need it to go. Spend time thinking about your wants and needs, and how you’re going to meet them. Once everything simmers down, you might not have the same kind of clarity, so get your exit strategy sorted!
Work out your gears (and keep them oiled).
Grace tells me this is something to do with running. I don’t run, I eat dessert with every meal of the day, but I think I get the gist. What does an easy day mean for you, and what does a hard one mean? Grace says their first gear is a day in bed, and their fifth gear is working from around 7 am to 11 pm, probably running between different physical spaces or Zooms, not drinking enough water, sweating out any of the water that they have managed to drink. Work out what your gears are and keep them well oiled so that you can switch when you want to (not when your power hungry boss makes you). When cycling you should adjust down a gear just before you get to the big hill, not when you’re knackered at the top. Pace and ease are not necessarily the same thing, your ‘easy’ might not be ‘slow’ (but it also might).
There’s always disappointment (and why that’s okay!)
Pandemic or not, there will always be disappointment. University fills you with so many expectations (for your degree show in particular) and you fill yourself with them too! You put a huge amount of work in, you want to feel like it paid off, but if you’re anything like us, there’s always going to be this niggling little voice saying “was that it?” The way we approached this (and again, this might not be for everyone, you might have been fully content with how it all went in which case j e a l o u s) was by identifying the things that made us most angry or that we felt we had the energy to change, and we tackled them! We were frustrated with the lack of relevant entry level opportunities in our area that we were hoping to sink our teeth into on graduating; so we made our own (MADE IT 2019). What we’re trying to say is, embrace those niggling thoughts, call them out and use the energy they give you to power you forwards.
What have you already got?
Don’t waste precious time or energy obsessing over things you don’t have, or that other people do. Maybe you don’t have a connection at an amazing art gallery that you want to be in, but you work in a pub with a really good wall that might show your art for a month. Could you ask your boss? Or maybe you have a friend in a band who needs some cool t-shirt designs, could you do a time swap with them? Aim for the sky if you want to, but the road getting there is slow and paved with things that are right under your nose. Eyes forward - what have you got?
So, what have we got?
What we’re trying to communicate with all of this, the fundamental and most crucial part of sustaining yourself after graduation, is find what lights a fire under you; find your intrinsic spark, your nostalgic ratatouille. Whether what inspires you and helps you understand your needs is a comprehensive history of art or a little rat who wants to be a food artist, every graduate's path is their own. Nobody else is on your journey, even if some of the stops along the way seem quite similar. Trust the process, and trust yourself.
Being a graduate, above many of the emotions that come with that, is daunting - but it doesn't have to stay that way.