NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Provocations in the playground: Navigating a path from art student to artist

By Jamie Lewis — When I completed my undergraduate studies in art school in Singapore, I remember thinking I knew the theatre that I didn’t want to make, and not the theatre I wanted to make. I then lapped up the opportunity to undertake a postgraduate diploma in Australia a year later.

I had already begun working in the “industry” two years before my tertiary creative arts education; yet for the entire duration of both undergraduate and postgraduate studies – I could only call myself an art student; not yet an artist.

It has been 12 years since my postgraduate studies – and I often think about when it shifted – to be able to consider myself an artist, a practitioner, a professional. And of course, that ability to consider myself so did not remove the early years of imposter syndrome post-tertiary life, or that it took me a while more to then actually articulate what my practice was.

Then there is the matter of understanding and navigating a sector as migrant; what is this playground, and how do I get to play?

My undergraduate theatre arts degree prospectus listed these roles as potential future employment: director, dramaturg, critic … But of course, I now know that there are no linear pathways or trajectories to employment – and not immediately after graduation. And in a sector built on casual, project-based work – I now know in the first 10 years – that list is built on the forward slash instead of commas. Provocation: how can the creative arts tertiary experience truly account for all the hats we wear and prepare us adequately?

One fundamentally fraught, though worthy premise of this provocation is that there are no real firm, clear jobs[1] in this “industry.” Provocation then: can the creative arts within a tertiary institution ever divorce itself from the necessity to justify its barely existent career pathways?

The known knowns. The known unknowns. The unknown unknowns.

We don’t know what we don’t know – and it is a sliding scale between the knowns and the unknowns. In practical aspects – the operating / producing / hustling aspects of being an artist – you strive towards a bigger portion of the known knowns. But in creative aspects – the inquiry / research / experimentation – where you want to sit in is the known unknowns.

A lot of learning happens as it happens. We find templates and replicate them. We develop processes, then repeat and refine them. We learn on the job. Provocation: if we learn on the job, then what do we really want to experience and learn while in the creative arts tertiary space then? And yet, if we begin to replicate being on the job through internships or placements and the likes of that in order to be closer to industry, then what is the role of the tertiary space?

But practice! Is honed – with rigour, perception, deep consideration, and critical thinking. And before you learn to structure your own processes – it’s good to have structures you can replicate, repeat and refine. Over time. Time! To let ideas, breathe. To bring other voices in. To expand. To distil. To raise the next round of funds. To consolidate. To plan. To fail. To respond to the world around us. To expand. Only to distil again. To repeat and refine. Provocation: what do we need in order to make new work?

Substantial commissions. Residencies. Fellowships. Jobs. Universal Basic Income.

Frameworks that allow us time and space to dream ambition into being – works of scale backed by inquiry and experimentation. Honing a practice in order to articulate it. In order to develop – not a career – but a lifetime pursuit of creativity. Provocation: I would love to be known for my body of work when I am forty years old, but how do I ensure that I can really do this for the rest of my life?

The primary hat I wear these days is CEO/Executive Director of an arts organisation whose mission is to facilitate artists, artmaking and experimentation. Provocation: how do I nudge at the walls of institutional habits into softness, engendering an organisational practice that genuinely enables artists to hone their practices with dignity, ambition and hope; who could walk away from their time with us knowing their value and articulating their worth?

I approach it in the way I know how. As a practitioner would. Read Next Wave’s strategic plan here: https://nextwave.org.au/about/about-next-wave/strategic-plan

References

[1] https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/article/the-case-for-salaried-artists


Based on Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne, Jamie Lewis is a Singaporean-Australian artist, curator, dramaturg and facilitator. She creates and curates site-responsive performances that engage audiences as participants, and communities as artists; and often works with autobiographical stories, conversation and food.

Committed to diversifying practice, Jamie seeks alternative models in her work and a re-imagining of leadership, governance, and structures. Jamie is currently CEO / Executive Director at Next Wave.

More from this issue

More from this issue

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