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How to improve your postgraduate visual art experience

James Davis

Careers Commentator
The ability to express yourself through works of art and design is rewarding, but how can you set yourself up for success? We’re here to help.

If you’re taking visual art or design at the postgraduate level, you’ve likely heard and read all manner of methods for succeeding in your classes. This article will be slightly different, because we’ll explore how your studies can be used to bolster employment prospects in parallel. It’ll be a broad exploration applicable to many design and art careers, including painting, sculpture, architecture, graphic design and more. Without further adieu, here are several methods you can employ to enrich your grades and portfolio.  

1. Before embarking on a new project, consider how it can be used professionally

How would it look in your portfolio, website, blog or other materials? Are there potential future clients that’d be interested in this sort of thing? Does it contrast well with your other work, by which we mean will it be sufficiently different so as to show breadth of skill? If you’re going to be committing a large portion of time to a work, it may as well be as practical as can be. Take the opportunity to challenge yourself with an entirely different style or theory where applicable. It may seem limiting to confine yourself to these terms, but many careers in these fields are centred around client-focussed designs and commissions. By learning to uniquely adapt to criteria, be it yours or a client’s, you’re practicing for a variety of future creative careers.

2. Join any and all relevant student societies

This is a tip we’d give to just about every student under the sun, but each discipline contains its own reasons for doing so. For postgraduate visual art, it’s a chance to become better acquainted with local artists. This is exceptionally valuable to any budding artist beyond just networking. It’s a chance to become immersed in the creative processes of others like yourself and draw inspiration. You’ll also gain the chance to forge friendships and maybe even partnerships. Collaborative works can develop your ability to work with others, which is useful in many professional contexts you’re likely to encounter. This piece of advice may not seem like it directly relates to improving your study experience, but in exploring the ideas of others you can consolidate your own.

3. Get your work into as many exhibitions or relevant equivalents as possible

This is where joining student societies can help. By getting your work into exhibitions, you’re showing potentially interested parties what you can do while also putting something you can boast about onto your CV. The real value in this is the potential to get exposed to a new audience while putting in minimal additional effort. Unlike unpaid internships or similar experiences where you’re likely to create original work from scratch, exhibitions allow you to display what you’ve already done. Of course there are situations where this isn’t the case, but it’s still worth being on the lookout for opportunities to display your work, even if it means creating more.

It also helps having a deadline in place to serve as motivation. If the exhibition takes place at a certain time and date, you have no choice but to finish in advance.

4. Always be looking for opportunities to expand your portfolio

This is what these tips come down to really. It’s nice to have a postgraduate degree under your belt, but whether you intend to freelance, work for a company or both, being able to show precisely what you’re able to do is paramount to success. To this end, it doesn’t hurt to learn some web design skills along the way so you can build yourself a stylish website that conveys what you wish. Having these skills will also make you a more valuable hire too. Your work will almost always be published online, so having a place of your own to display it on the web is necessary. You’ll also get more out of your postgraduate experience, because you’ll be learning more about how and where your work can be applied. Good luck!