It’s that yearly event that so many artists – even those who are largely self-taught – so often talk about in hushed tones. Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about the fine art degree show.
They happen in art schools across the world at about this time of year, and even if your own local college or university’s fine art degree show usually passes you by, it’s well worth looking up the dates for it, as there’s no reason to be intimidated.
Indeed, there’s usually a private view evening at which tutors and the featured graduating students are often available and may even speak publicly in reflection on a busy year. Otherwise, fine art degree shows are much like any art group exhibition, with a wide range of pieces on show to cover all manner of tastes.
I’ve been attending fine art degree shows myself, often but not always as a mere disinterested art lover, since 2005 – the year I entered my BA (Hons) Fine Art course in my native North East of England. I’ve not yet managed my long-held aspiration to visit the degree shows of all of the universities in my home region in one year, but I’m sure I’ll accomplish it one day.
But what about you? What can you gain, particularly as an artist, art lover or art collector, as a ‘mere’ visitor to these shows?
Degree shows provide invaluable food for thought
In a period of human history defined by rapid political and ideological change and uncertainty and an increasing tendency to reach for the most glib and pithy answers to complicated questions – a trend perhaps hastened by social media – there’s much to be said for the ‘slow burn’ effect of visiting an art exhibition.
That is especially so for fine art degree shows, as these are – after all – workshops of ideas from the latest emerging generations of twenty-somethings, both citizens and those who may have realistic aspirations of long-term creative careers.
As I touched on somewhat in my previous blog post on how you can make the most of your own fine art degree show, these exhibitions are stopping-off points of sorts. Many of the featured artists will never display their work again after this much-anticipated event, while others may be only just starting.
Art has never been able to provide all of the answers that we might yearn for in such ever-evolving and frequently troubled times as those in which we presently live – indeed, it has rarely provided such clear answers at all.
Still, if the only thing that you gain from your next visit to a fine art degree show is an ability to look just slightly afresh at the world as a result of the intellectual food for thought that it provides, you have not wasted your time in visiting.
How else can you respond to a fine art degree show?
You can, of course, respond by sharing your thoughts and images on social media – a-n The Artists Information Company in the UK, for example, is using, this year, the hashtag #andegrees17.
Another response that could be rewarding for you and exhibiting students alike, could be to actually purchase some of their work. Graduating students do often put their work on sale at their degree show, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for a price list. Just in case they don’t have one ready, it may be best to give a indication of your general interest in a particular piece, then follow up with them using the contact details on their business card that you collect from their display.
If you are an artist yourself, collecting graduates’ work could be an affordable and convenient way of building up a collection from which to draw inspiration for your own practice. You never know – those students from which you purchase works could even turn out to be great professional contacts at a later date.
We would suggest that if the idea of buying degree show work does appeal to you, you do so for love and not for investment. After all, it’s a great reward in itself to buy the works of artists who are only just emerging, and who may therefore be only just starting to develop a distinctive creative identity. Plus, experienced and inexperienced artists alike always like it when you simply love their work.
It’s time to get visiting!
If you get little else of a fine art degree show visit, well, you could always just collect a lot of the visually appealing postcards and business cards that the various exhibiting artists often put on display – it’s certainly a habit of mine!
Above all, remember that visiting a fine art degree show should be enjoyable, fulfilling and thought-provoking. As a mere attendee of such an exhibition, you aren’t the one who is being examined – so don’t take it all too seriously!