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Life After Art School

Life After Art School

Amy Wilson

If you’re a senior in college or finishing your second year of a MFA degree, I don’t have to tell you that the end is almost near. Depending on where you go to school, you probably have between five and seven weeks before the semester is over and you’re cast out into the “real world.” So what are two things you can do right now to help yourself prepare for the day after you pick up your diploma?

Establish a Web Presence

Make yourself findable. No matter which field you’re pursuing in the arts, it’s important to make yourself easy to get in touch with. Whether it’s a friend casually mentioning your name to a curator who might like your work or a design firm trying to find out more about the creator of a portfolio that caught their eye, you’re about to be googled by a different audience than has ever searched for you before – professionals in your field, looking to possibly do business with you in some shape or form.

So beat them to the punch – google yourself right now and see what comes up. Within the first page of hits should be a website that you control (ie, one that you can log into and update), which contains contact info for you and presents you in a professional and businesslike manner. If you don’t have the time or money to have a dedicated URL to promote your work, that’s ok. There are plenty of other ways to make yourself findable. Creating a portfolio right here on ArtBistro is one way, another would be to start a simple blog at blogger.com or wordpress.com. Doing both is an even better idea – the more pages you can have, the easier you will be to find.

Bear in mind that in setting up your site, the goal is for people to find you and you want what they find to be good. A very common problem people make is that they are called one name casually but try and go by another professionally. If your resume is for “Elizabeth Brown” but all your websites are for “Beth Brown,” that’s not going to work. How would the person looking for you know to look up a variation of Elizabeth? So keep your name consistent from one promotional tool to the next.

At a minimum, your site should have an image, your name, and a way to get in touch with you. Bear in mind that you’re going to be uprooting yourself very soon, so don’t put your school email address which will expire in a few months or your local phone number if you’re going to be moving. If it’s helpful, start a free email account on gmail, yahoo, or hotmail that you use just for this purpose.

If you want to make your site more elaborate than just the bare bones, just make sure the images and texts you post support the professional persona you want to promote. Things are much more casual now than ever before and most people are understanding if there are a few “off topic” images on your site. However, a perspective employer or gallery should not have to sift through a dozen pictures of your new kitten (or worse, of you partying with your friends) while trying to find your portfolio. Test drive the site with a few friends and check to see if it’s really easy to navigate and if it represents you well.

Form a community.

One of the things we take for granted when we’re in school is how easy it is to get the feedback of another artist. If you want someone who is knowledgeable about art to look at your paintings, you probably don’t have to go further than down the hall to find a sympathetic student or faculty member willing to give you their opinion. But once school is over and everyone is dispersed, the situation changes. It’s suddenly very difficult to get good opinions that you can trust.

Find two or three people who are graduating at the same time you are and sit down and have a talk with them. Pledge to keep in touch and to support each other emotionally. And use this time before the semester ends to establish some habits. Since you won’t have school bringing you together, you’ll have to set up some sort of other environment that keeps you coming back to each other, over and over. An art book club could work, or twice monthly trips to the museum together. Maybe once a month, you can go to each others studios to see what you’re working on. You could also try collaborating on a project together, maybe curating a show of everyone’s work. It doesn’t really matter what the occasion is that brings you together – what’s important is that you see each other on a regular basis, you continue the dialog you started in school, and that you stick with it.

You can try and expand this group as well – if you have a lot of people to choose from, maybe you want to open the group up to seven or eight different people. But keep two or three at your core – that will keep it running the smoothest. You can also form critique groups on ArtBistro.

These may sound like simple steps, but believe me – they will go very far in terms of supporting your practice for years to come. Good luck to all our soon-to-be graduates!


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