Degree Shows: Some Thoughts On The ‘Art Market’ & Our Role In It

Artificial Womb visited the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design degree show in Dundee while making this issue, sitting on the wall outside for most of the opening evening selling zines & then venturing inside once we had some money to use as patronage.

The undergraduate degree shows are nominally about presenting a new crop of artists, designers & visual creatives to the arts industry and the general public. They’re the introduction, a chance for enterprising and ambitious graduates to market themselves and hopefully become ‘creative professionals’

But is it fair? Do art agents really roam the corridors looking for new talent? Art critics certainly find things to review, but what happens afterwards? What determines who ‘makes it’ and who continues working in a supermarket, using their earnings to make artwork only their friends and family ever see?

In theory, in this internet age it should be even easier to find the information needed to become a professional artist. Nowadays anyone can have their own website, business cards, and do their own networking. But, isn’t art college supposed to give you the skills, the business sense, the industry insider knowledge, to enter the profession after graduation?

So, why do so many recent graduates feel disillusioned with art college, and with the arts industry? Partly, it’s because art college just doesn’t seem to prepare artists for the business of being an artist. How many small exhibitions are free to enter, don’t feature pop-up shops, are set-up as if money doesn’t even exist with the free drinks and the lack of change in the pockets of the audience members.

And yet, how often are the artists featured operating on a loss? Working a part-time job to pay for their artistic materials?

We’re all responsible for the situation we are in, where we expect to be able to appreciate art for free – always assuming someone else is paying for the artwork we’re enjoying. But while the Scottish Artists Union is trying to get recent graduates to use a set hourly rate of £20.45, in reality it’s a challenge even getting paid at all.

For example, regular exhibitions are part of appearing to be a working artist, but many galleries charge a hanging fee or require a group of artists to get together and pay to rent the space. For emerging artists it may not be possible to do this, to have the money upfront. Instead, it may be more in the artists’ interest to negotiate for the gallery to take a sales commission, to take a percentage on every piece sold. But where does the artist learn how to negotiate like this?

Really, the only way to make sure an artist is being paid is to ask that artist directly, and ideally, to buy some work off them. Only through actually paying for art with actual money can we ensure that the artists whose work we admire are able to continue making that work. Please keep this in mind when visiting the degree shows this summer, and, if you can, do venture north and give the emerging artists of Gray’s a chance too.


P.S. Are the degree shows for Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen and Glasgow School of Art on the exact same dates this year (18-25 June)? It certainly looks like it. Uncool, GSA.


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