Grads of the UK is an Instagram project and series of articles run by graduates, for graduates. We are documenting what being a millennial in 2017 is really like, with honest stories about life after university.
Every week we hand over our Instagram account to a new grad and share their unique story here on GradTouch. This week Jack Turner, a Fine Art graduate looking for work in Manchester, is taking over.
You can read Jack's story below, and see more daily insights into his life since uni by following @gradsoftheuk on Instagram.
“Fine Art, really? What job will that get you?”
“Well, I think everyone hopes to graduate and become an artist. I know that’s like winning the lottery, but the degree does really open up the creative sector and I’d be happy doing anything related to the arts. I could go into design, advertising, or work in museums and auction houses. Or, I could always teach someone else to become a successful artist.”
That question was raised so many times I developed a stock response to shut the conversation down as quickly as possible - regardless of whether I believed what I was saying or not. One Christmas, I remember being asked it by a neighbour and catching my brother’s eye as I defended my first significant life choice. He was rolling his eyes and mouthed along with the parting joke.
Every Fine Art student has had to justify their choice of degree at some time, but while at university I never doubted it. My friends and I were free to make and do what we wanted from the first day of first year to the last day of third year. We painted 10 hours a day, we got drunk at lunch, we partied with our tutors, we shared ideas and held shows and supported each other. We found a place where the voices that doubted our decision were replaced by those encouraging us to embrace it.
Now I’m a graduate and my art school bubble has long burst. I’m unemployed and I can admit that the question: “Why bother with Fine Art?” has been ringing around in my head.
After picking up my 2:1, I moved to Manchester with my girlfriend. She had a good grad job and I was flexible location-wise, because there wasn’t anything specific I wanted to do. I planned to get any job that paid the bills and spend my free time painting.
I’ve applied to what must be 100 jobs in the months since then - the vast majority of them I never heard back from.
I worked in door-to-door charity fundraising for a while (it required no experience), which led to a similar role in Sales at another company. At the moment I’m looking for something in Retail or Hospitality.
The problem I’m realising now is I spent too much time at uni focused exclusively on art and getting placements or work within the art community, and not enough getting real world experience. Having held those two Sales-focused roles since, it seems that’s all I’m qualified for, which makes me feel like I’ve trapped myself in a sector that isn’t for me.
One of the issues with graduate life - particularly if you’re unemployed - is that you no longer have the security net, or sense of identity, that comes with being a student. If someone asks you “What do you do?”, they mean, “What’s your job?”. A year ago, I was an art student. Now I don’t have an answer, because I’m not an artist, I’m not a student and I’m not in Sales any more. And not having an answer to that question can make you feel like you don’t really have a purpose.
I am optimistic about the future.
I’m still applying, figuring things out and getting help where I can. Soon I will secure a job that affords me some semblance of financial security, which will allow me to get back into making art regularly. I’ll be able to answer “What do you do?” with some job title, and follow it up with “and I make art,” or talk about an upcoming exhibition I’ve got the money to fund.
I don’t need that much to be happy. I just want to be able to enjoy Manchester with my girlfriend without the financial strain we’re under now and to be painting. I am struggling at the moment, but I would never say I regret what I chose to do at uni. Art school is a unique, arguably a once-in-a-lifetime, experience and it will always be a big part of who I am.
Art has never cured a disease or fixed a car, but it’s a primal form of communication.
It has been a means of expression and of documenting experience for tens of thousands of years. 17-year-old me didn’t make the most ‘practical’ decision when filling out his UCAS form, but what would life be like if you could never listen to another song, be challenged by a play or come across a painting in a gallery that speaks to you in a way you cannot explain?
Both of my parents were pushed away from their passions by their parents when they applied to uni. My mum wanted to do fashion and my dad loved to fly, but they did their degrees in Teaching and Surveying respectively. It’s the reason they encouraged me to do what I actually wanted to do.
Maybe somewhere there’s a teenager who’s making something beautiful. For all we know, he could be the next Picasso. But his parents, or society, say, “Why are you still painting, that won’t get you anywhere, why don’t you go into IT? Computers are the future, why don’t you do Computer Science?” If he does, he’ll almost definitely have an easier time after uni than I have. But both he, and the world, could be missing out on something brilliant that he has to offer. If you really love something, and you’re able to, it’s worth taking a shot. I’m still glad I did.
Jack is running the @gradsoftheuk Instagram until Friday 3rd February.