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Hannah Perry I Was Moved still
Hannah Perry Still from "I Was Moved" 2012 Courtesy of the artistCourtesy of Hannah Perry /

How to survive art school

‘Don’t be afraid to fuck up’: RA director Tim Marlow offers advice on how to get through your educational golden years

This article is part of a series on art today to support the Dazed x Converse Emerging Artists Award  Check out the rest of content here and make sure to visit the Royal Academy in London before 17th May to see all the work IRL. 

Let’s face it, art school can be a bitch. The old-school, anarchic vibes have long since been crushed by the reality of economics. Today, there are extortionate fees you cough up, you spend £££ on your art materials, and the wild parties have given way to study groups on critical theory and part-time jobs at fast food joints. Times are tough for aspiring creatives. Luckily, Tim Marlow, Royal Academy director and Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award judge, is on hand with his tips on how to survive. 

Relish it

“I don’t think art school is to be survived, I think it should be relished. In this day and age you have to treat it as a major opportunity because you’re paying a lot of money. The whole funding issue is bad for all students, but art schools are hit doubly because the percentage of people who are able to turn their art school education into a successful artistic career is tiny. The premise of surviving it doesn’t work for me, it’s how to relish and make the most of it.”

Be tough 

“It’s very intensive, art school education, and it’s very exposed in a good way. In most other disciplines you don’t write your essays or do your experiments and then everyone gathers round and shreds them. So you have to build a certain kind of toughness. I think students need to develop defence mechanisms to make sure that it doesn’t completely undermine or unravel what they’re doing.”

“I think that the pressure now is to find out what you’re going to do and pursue it as a kind of vocation. I think that we should never take away the experiment – it’s important to fuck up” – Tim Marlow

Don’t be afraid to fuck up 

“Art school is a time for experimentation and trying to find not just your voice, but exactly what you don’t want to do as well. And I think that the pressure now is to find out what you’re going to do and pursue it as a kind of vocation. I think that we should never take away the experiment – it’s important to fuck up. Don’t be afraid to fuck up’ would be my motto.”

Don’t chase the money 

“The final degree show is the result of two or three years’ worth of work but there’s also the opportunity for public exposure and trying to develop a market. You have to balance all those things. If you cynically use your final degree show as a way of trying to flog everything immediately, you can often get found out. There’s that old adage that Damien Hirst’s manager, Frank Dunphy, told Damien and it’s pretty good: ‘Don’t make art to chase the money, make money to chase the art.’ You have to try and produce something of integrity that you believe in, and then hope that someone is interested in buying it.”

Don’t sell yourself

“Marketing and self-presentation interest students inevitably, but the danger is it becomes style over substance. I mean, look at Tracey Emin, she didn’t set out to promote herself, she met Jay Jopling in a bar in the East End and said, ‘If you can give me a tenner, I’ll write you three letters.’ Later, he offered her a show. I think the key is still getting exhibitions, and the model of the Freeze generation – where you get together in a group, find a space, put your work on and get people to come – still works. There’s very little substitution for that.”

The Emerging Artists Award 2015 is free entry and is open April 18–May 17 at Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts