I have been invited to speak on a panel for the junior and senior photography majors at MassArt about "Life after MassArt." happening tomorrow, and I am thrilled. Now that I'm nearly three years out of school, I can see how nobody could ever prepare you for the transition that comes when you leave. Every person has to figure out how to live as an artist outside of a school environment, which is drastically different for everyone.
Though it has only been three years since I graduated, I have been building a career in museums right alongside my career as a fine art photographer. I have found balance by having a full-time job and making my own work on the weekends. In 3 months, I'll have a Master's in Museum Studies, setting myself up for a steady career to support my photography. But this is not what I imagined my life would be like when I was about to finish art school.
When I graduated, I faced the hurdle of figuring out how to balance the financial and time requirements of daily life and making photographs and also of finding a way to keep making work and a community of people to make that work within. All of that aside, my biggest hurdle was the expectation that I would continue to be as productive as I had been while in school. I had a very fuzzy idea of what it meant to be "an artist," one that involved lots of sacrifices, no steady apartment or job, lots of residencies and grants, and, let's face it... ramen.
None of this really proved to be true for me, at least not thus far. I make my work slowly but steadily, around the demands of my full-time job and the reality of paying rent and doing laundry, but it works. In fact, much of my work, inspiration, and people from whom I get feedback and ask for advice has come from my experiences working at the art museum, the mineralogical museum, or in my master's program. In other words, though it is a struggle to make photographs around a 9-5 job, a large part of my work would never have happened without it. I have grown as a photographer as a result of working within these spaces and within the time restrictions of balancing a job and my own work (and an occasional social life).
None of the above writing will be presented in any formal way on the panel tomorrow- rather, I'll be showing my work and interjecting thoughts in between as I think of them- but it is interesting to try to put 3 years of "figuring it out" into a tangible piece of advice for another generation of soon-to-be grads.
There is no "one fits all" for how to be an artist- or for that matter, a person- and everyone will have to figure it out for themselves. I am thrilled to be going back to speak, as I always valued hearing from artists about their experiences while I was a student, and hopefully it will prove to be helpful. And maybe make that massive period of uncertain transition right after graduating a little bit easier.