A video still from Somewhere Over a Cloud by Eilis O'Gara. Image courtesy of the artist
WE HAVE come to that time of year again. The next group of students from the Limerick School of Art and Design have finished their four long years of study and ended with a bang – every year the college becomes not just a place of study, but is opened up to the public to see a selection of artworks from each graduating artist.
It’s a exactly one year since I graduated from the Limerick School of Art and Design – one year since I stressed, strained and worried late into the night over final touch-ups to paintings, and eventually, put on a brave face and experienced that odd blend of anxiety, vulnerability and quiet pride all artists deal with when thrust into the limelight of the publics attention.
Speaking as a slightly-less-fresh graduate to the newest kids on the block, listen up because I have a few things to say.
Every end of year exhibition is significant in its own right, and because of this, is ripe for conversation and discussion about art, artists and art college.
Who was the standout artist? Which department was the best? How critical is one allowed to be about someone’s initial step out of the college bubble, and into reality? What is the role of the art college? It goes on, as it should. The end of year exhibition is a rare thing; a concentration of 4 years of private working and mentorship which explodes onto the public stage for its first time.
There’s an added excitement too, as we’re witnessing the newly produced artworks of a group of people who’ve come through an elaborate and intensive experience of encouragement, mentorship and critical engagement, and when we experience their work we’re inevitably curious about how this system has had an impact. And furthermore, what kind of impact the artists themselves can have; from this beginning contact with the newest, just-trained artists, there is the potential for a speculative insight into an artworld to come.
But this is what we, the audience, concern ourselves with. To you, the artists, it’s something infinitely simpler and impossibly more terrifying. Enjoy the launch day. Enjoy the week of the show. Enjoy the compliments, sales and awards. But get ready, because the real work starts now.
It’s tough to be an artist. The truth is that most of you intending to pursue it won’t, at least not in the long run – harsh, I know. Irish art colleges produce far more aspiring artists than our cosy artworld and creative industries can contain. And the harsh reality of this? Many once-upon-a-time-artists give up and never make work professional or privately.
For those of us who hang on, we will mostly enter into some level of employment related to the creative industries – technicians and assistants, front of house customer service or back room administration, marketers, researchers and educators. For me personally, it’s been an odd journey one year out. I think of myself as an artist, I’m mostly known as a writer, and spend the majority of time as an administrator.
But most of all, nothing has meant more to me than sharing in the passions and creative projects of others; nothing could have been as nourishing as coming to know, understand and appreciate artists.
Your own success won’t sustain you, it’s sharing with others that will.
And finally, remember; being an artist is a lifestyle and it takes a lifetime to build a career; get ready, there’s work to be done.