Ask the Art Prof: What do You do After You’ve Finished Formalized Training in Visual Arts?

Chipboard Personality Sculptures

“What do you do after you’ve finished formalized training or an apprenticeship and there isn’t a clear path towards employment/financial independence directly in sight? What’s the best way for an artist to approach building a blueprint for how to live doing what they love?”

I remember after I finished my undergraduate studies at RISD that I felt overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge that I had been gathering over the past four years. I had been embracing so many media and approaches to the point that I felt like I was completely buried in information.   My professors were also starting to confuse me with their highly contrasting opinions:  what one professor loved about my work another hated.   I found it impossible to sort through all of the various opinions and figure things out on my own.  I felt like my artwork had become a patchwork quilt of my professors’ techniques and approaches, and had nothing that I could truly call my own.

So what should be your first move after you finish training?  I would advocate taking a break to clear your head. I wanted to give myself the chance to sort through everything I had been absorbing as a student.  I knew that eventually I wanted to go back to graduate school, but I really wanted to take some time off before diving into another degree program.  I was curious and eager to get some “real world” experience and see where I could go on my own. (read this article I wrote about my first few years out of school) Although those four years I took before graduate school were difficult, they were critical to giving me the mental space to breathe after finishing my BFA.

After you take a break, what is the signal that you’re ready to get back to work?  When you start yearning to make work, when you truly start to miss the challenge and exhilaration of creating.  Starting completely from scratch can be very intimidating, especially after making the transition out of school.  My recommendation is to go through your sketchbooks and revisit a prior concept. Resurrecting an old idea can be a great way to get going. Perhaps it was an idea that you never brought to full fruition because of time constraints, maybe it was a concept that you put on the back burner at the time. Either way, an old idea can provide the launching pad that you need to jump start your artwork after school.


Anticipation“, a monotype from the Digging series.

My MFA thesis work was a project called “Digging.” One of the final monotypes I created in “Digging” was an image of people waiting near a pit, with the diggers absent from the image. (see above)  Towards the end of the project, I had started to lose interest in the diggers, and started to redirect my focus on the people who were waiting. I was wrapping up my degree at the time, was about to move and start a new job,  and I knew that I wouldn’t have time to focus on the idea of these waiting figures. I temporarily shelved the idea, and then returned to it once things had settled down.  “Waiting” became my first project after finishing graduate school.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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“When you have a fine arts degree, what do you do for the rest of your life?”
What is your advice to young students who have just graduated from their undergraduate degree?”
“How do you stay motivated after school?”



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