Issues in the Arts: when curatorial practice isn't respected and the uphill battle of the emerging professional.

In 2017, I began a Master of Arts Curatorship. The course boasted industry access, networking opportunities with Arts professionals and a solid grounding for establishing a career in the arts. Having completed an honours degree with a focus on the role of art and visual language in social and political history, I have always been strongly interested in how we use art, creativity and visual media to communicate ideas and to distinguish social parameters. Our interactions with space and place are key factors in our identity and relationships and I have always felt that communicating visually can develop ideas and form relationships between people.  

We had numerous guest lecturer come and talk about their work in the industry, both in Australia and overseas. Out teachers talked of their successful careers, although rarely mentioned anything from within the last 5 years. I started becoming increasingly skeptical.

Guest lecturers only discussed out-dated ideas of job-hunting, acknowledged that there would be no way to recreate their professional journey and promoted ideas of who-you-know not what-you-know. At a graduate level, I felt students should have been capable of discussing critical ideas, working within the industry and developing a curatorial practice to set up for a productive career. Lectures spoke about the process of writing an exhibition proposal, but we were not given many opportunities to do so, not did we have sufficient opportunities to communicate with galleries, other curators or have an practical experience in how to hang a piece of an art on the wall. It’s easy to lament that students should be doing these things on their on time to support their studies. The challenge was that we were, but even our lecturers acknowledged that it would not lead anywhere.

The linchpin came when we were discussing memes in a "Curating Contemporary Art" subject. Like any millennial, I love a good meme. I think that are an under-rated way of discussing pop culture and social ideas. This is what were discussing:

 

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The first image got my defenses up very quickly. I refuse to be categorised as a "millenial snowflake" who can't take a joke, but this joke was costing me $25,000 in university fees. To the amusement of my classmates and the dismay of my lecturer, I pulled my pen out and drew the University’s logo above the third vending machine.

Sadly, i wasn't able to keep my original work because my lecturer quickly confiscated it.

It was when the second image made its circulation to my table that during this class, that I opened my laptop and immediately emailed student services to withdraw from the course.

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For an institution that claims to promote learning, critical thinking and the environment to create global graduates capable of succeeding, this was a little insulting. This class was making a complete mockery of the degree it sells to hundreds of students a year, while simultaneously demoralising those students with jokes about mental health.

With so much social commentary about millennials being unable to contribute to society, unemployment and low rates of employment, and the changing nature of tertiary education, institutions should be adapting their courses to encourage students with practical skills, critical thinking and creativity. 

My dissatisfaction with the curatorship degree drove me to find something that would enable me to develop my skills as a writer, foster my interested in the arts and enable me to establish a career.

Few understood my decision to drop out. I could have been out of there in another three months with a masters degree under my belt. But I knew that I wasn’t learning anything that would me get a job or establish a career. I chose to go against the advice of my lecturers and my family because where I was felt wrong. I aspired for more and I knew that I was capable of more. It was the best decision I could have made.