NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Building Resilience in Visual Artists

By Eileen Siddins and Ryan Daniel — As Bourdieu describes in his text ‘Firing Back’, the modern world has moved into a work situation dominated by employment precariousness, constant insecurity and downsizing to increase profits and therefore shareholder return. While artists have in general faced employment stresses for centuries, the impact of the broader economic move towards dominant players and markets is affecting the art world as well.

Museums, galleries, performing arts companies and the like are under increasing pressure to justify spending, to evidence public value and return, and to demonstrate innovation in their work.  Opportunities to seek funding are arguably in decline, as governments attempt to reign in public spending, with the arts often the first area to be hit and hit hard. Tensions also abound in relation to art for art’s sake (elite) and art in a commercial context (popular), with these added tensions affecting creative practitioners and those attempting to establish a career in the area.

The research literature demonstrates that artists are vulnerable to a broad range of risks. These hardships include underemployment and an oversupply of labour, suggesting that only the most brilliant, or lucky, aspiring creatives succeed (Goldsmith & Bridgstock, 2015). After securing work, most artists are unable to control and predict their career trajectories and often need to maintain more than one job to support their creative work (Goldsmith & Bridgstock, 2015). Artists’ mental health needs are noticeably unique, with many romanticised references to their true inspiration being sourced in vulnerability, or even madness (Morton, 2012).  

There is an opportunity, if not a responsibility, for artists’ unique mental health needs to be met by increased support platforms, whilst embedding practical resilience building strategies in tertiary art curricular

Despite these career risks there seems to be little emphasis on resilience building education to prepare Australian tertiary art students for these challenges. This is particularly the case for visual artists but is not limited to these creative disciplines (Siddins, Daniel, & Johnstone, 2016). There is an opportunity, if not a responsibility,  for artists’ unique mental health needs to be met by increased support platforms, whilst embedding practical resilience building strategies in tertiary art curricular. For example, art students could gain awareness of ‘real-world’ competitive experiences through industry simulations in the classroom, and learn to apply resilience-based knowledge to these scenarios (Duening, 2008).

Taking into consideration the limited extant research relevant to resilience in visual art education, a study was conducted in 2015 to explore how tertiary educators in Australia fostered resilience in their students (Siddins et al., 2016). Data was collected via interviews with a sample of 17 tertiary educators in Australia, who taught across four visual art disciplines: illustration, design, film, and photography. During interviews, participants were asked to provide their perspectives on students’ vulnerabilities, resilience capabilities, and their current strategies used to foster resilience through various curriculum-focused activities. The findings from these interviews suggest that although resilience was seen as integral for student development, clear strategies that fostered resilience were not regularly implemented into the curriculum or learning for students. For some participants the word ‘resilience’ was not used in the classroom, whereas others described resilience as more implicitly woven into their teaching.

. . . although resilience was seen as integral for student development, clear strategies that fostered resilience were not regularly implemented into the curriculum or learning for students.

When questioned about the use of industry simulations, participants described effective resilience-building exercises like studio-based programs and graduate exhibitions. These exercises helped build students’ experience of real-world hardships and learn from them. However, some participants expressed concern that this type of strategy would be manipulative and difficult, particularly for younger students. Other strategies were utilised instead, including the following classroom activities: peer feedback sessions; presentations; group work; guest speakers; classroom discussion; and self-paced online training. Other suggestions included industry mentors, work integrated learning, networking events and field trips.

The study also uncovered educators’ grievances and restrictions to fostering resilience in their teaching. This included a lack of relevant psychological qualifications, resources, opportunities to put students in ‘uncomfortable’ environments, and the students’ general lack of engagement due to fear of failure (Siddins et al., 2016). Such implications, and any potential solutions, require further exploration through additional research, extending past tertiary educators to art students, emerging artists, seasoned practitioners and employers in the creative industries. This is particularly important given the broader challenges that visual artists face when they transition into the creative industries.

We would welcome further discussion on research possibilities with colleagues in creative arts disciplines.  Please contact: or


Duening, T. N. (2008). Five Minds for the Entrepreneural Future: Cognitive Skills as the Intellectual Foundation for Next Generation Entrepreneurship Curricula. Journal of Entrepreneurship, 19(1), 256-274.

Goldsmith, B., & Bridgstock, R. (2015). Embedded creative workers and creative work in education. Journal of Education and Work, 1-19. doi:10.1080/13639080.2014.997684

Morton, B. (2012). The Madness of Art. Dissent, 59(2), 81-82.

Siddins, E., Daniel, R., & Johnstone, R. (2016). Building Visual Artists’ Resilience Capabilities: Current Educator Strategies and Methods. Journal of Arts & Humanities, 5(7), 24-37.  


Eileen Siddins is a design lecturer who will shortly begin her PhD at James Cook University. Her research is now published in Journal of Arts and Humanities.

Professor Ryan Daniel is a senior researcher at James Cook University and has authored over 50 peer reviewed publications. His research is published in Studies in Higher Education, Journal of Australian Studies, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, Creative Industries, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, CoDesign, International Journal of Music Education, Music Education Research and the British Journal of Music Education.

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Su Baker, President, Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts — In this issue of NiTRO we ask how well are we connecting the academy with artist practice outside the Citadel. How well are we preparing our students and how do we support our colleagues in their core career aspirations, that in most cases will be outside the university and educational context?
By Dr Jenny Wilson — In his 1999 book, Art Subjects, Howard Singerman saw the university as ‘a crucial structuring site where artists and art worlds are mapped and reproduced'. University teaching, research and engagement agenda and the strategies that are adopted serve to enhance or restrict how its artists, staff and students, connect with and advance their genres and professions.
By Arun Sharma — Creative and performing arts disciplines are at an interesting juncture. After decades of concern about lack of funding, and about being sidelined in favour of the STEM disciplines, there may be some positive signals. The question is whether these disciplines are ready for the opportunities emerging from these signals.
By Malcolm Gillies — Sitting on my shelf for the last eighteen years has been a copy of "The Strand Report". Dennis Strand's excellent work was for a project overseen by the Head of the Canberra School of Art, David Williams, and chaired by Peter Karmel, a leading economist and former vice-chancellor of the ANU. It was the first coordinated attempt to bring together the full range of visual and performing artists to address how they might better fit in with the developing research expectations of the National Unified System.
By Tamara Winikoff OAM — Earlier this year ArtsHub, published an article by National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) CEO Tamara Winikoff on the changes in art schools following the Dawkins amalgamations. It collated views and experiences of those currently working in the university sector and provides a useful starting point to consider how contemporary universities are influencing artistic practice. With the permission of NAVA and Arts Hub the article is republished below and has been updated by Tamara for NiTRO.
By Dr Sue Gillett — The current trend in Australian universities has seen the proportion of enrolments in Arts subjects declining over the last decade, with regional universities and campuses more significantly affected.
By Associate Professor Vanessa Tomlinson — The second Australia Percussion Gathering, directed by Associate Professor Vanessa Tomlinson alongside advisors Tom O'Kelly, Dr. Louise Devenish and Francois Combemorel was held at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University in July 2016. Sitting somewhere between a music festival, a conference and a music camp, the six day event brought together industry professionals, international guests, and an impressive 96% of all students studying percussion in tertiary institutions in Australia.
by Ian Haig — The status of the Avant grade has now been systematized into what Dave Hickey calls the ‘therapeutic institution' – a self-propagating structure of academics, curators, critics and artists proclaiming arts goodness for the world.
By Dr Peter Knight — The relationship between academia and artistic practice is in flux, and in my view that's one of the reasons why the space in which they meet is an exciting place to be working. I undertook two postgraduate degrees in music both of which had an emphasis on practice-based approaches.
By Professor Clive Barstow and Dr Jenny Wilson — On the eve of his 25th anniversary of his emigration to Australia, Jenny Wilson talks to artist and academic Clive Barstow about his reflections on arts education.
By Dr Linda Ludwig — The Symposium at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel – introduced by Carla Delfos from the European League of the Institutes of the Arts – brought together methodological reflections on research in the arts with recent activities from researchers in the field. It was goal of the Symposium to discuss how art and design generates knowledge that is of relevance to society.
By Professor Pamela Burnard — Why is it an imperative for arts institutions and academies to identify creative teaching in relation to creative learning as a vital way of addressing the politics of higher education? What is it about creative teaching in relation to creative learning that offers new priorities, new narratives, new forms of knowledge, new ways of ‘knowing how to speak' and ‘knowing how to hear' for creative teachers, artists and artist scholars?