We're continuing our February Love Letters project with this lovely contribution from Artist, Shae Myles. Shae is a contemporary artist indulging in the delicious pleasures of food and sex. The basis of her work is to question the nature of our sex-saturated society, which paradoxically still views sex as 'taboo'. She is also the co-founder of @jigglenjuice, a creative collective that engages in discursive and critical conversation about the art world. This is her Love Letter to creative students graduating in 2021.
dear art students, class of 2021
i’ve touched on this subject on my instagram recently, but i (funnily enough) have more to say. what qualifies me to write this? i was in your position roughly this time last year. i have also had a lot of time to reflect on the nature of the art world, and on the importance of art institutions (or rather, the lack of).
i want to start off by saying that your degree show is not as monumental as you might think. yes, it sometimes provides a handful of people in your cohort with some sort of award or ‘opportunity.’ but is that really enough to rely on? you put so much effort in - literal blood, sweat and tears, to ~potentially~ be selected or even acknowledged? at the end of the day, the outcome of your art degree is structured like a competition, and it shouldn’t be like that.
let’s talk about the priorities of your degree show. i’d like to think the first priority would be to work super hard to produce an outcome that you are proud of. something that reflects you and your practice to the best of your ability. the secondary focus, might be ensuring that the outcome is essentially award-winning, highly commendable, something to make you stand out and catch the attention of some important people you don’t know. you want to be an artist after all, so how else do you start your career if not with your degree show?
if this is the case and you can relate, i’m proposing that you try to change the way you perceive your degree show. take the pressure off a lil bit. i do want to address that there are benefits to having a virtual show, which is undoubtably the format of this year. VDSs are accessible to a far bigger audience, they allow you to push the boundaries and create a space which might not be achievable within the traditional, physical framework (e.g. Charlotte Snow’s took up an entire warehouse space, while Marie-Chantal Hamrock’s was located in the sea).
however, your practice might not translate digitally, you might run into technical problems, or worst of all, you might feel short changed or disappointed with what you’ve created. all of these things are okay, probably inevitable. so before all that happens, think about how you can push your own boundaries, and adapt your outcome to reflect what you want the world to see, what kind of experience you want to create. if this doesn’t fit into your school’s virtual degree show format or space, expand it! build your space with an open mind. you’ll have the option to redirect people to other places/platforms. this could be to a performative secret instagram account, to an even more interactive website, or directly to a livestream. think about your VDS as the tip of the iceberg. a starting point rather than the finish line. what do you want people to do after they’ve visited your space? do you want them to contact you? become a stan and follow your creative journey forever? be confused but also curiously delighted by what they’ve just seen? answer that question and think about creating your VDS around it.
i also want to talk to you about institutions and ‘opportunities.’ i used to be a strong believer that i’d only ~make it~ in the art world if my degree show was really really good. this is literally not the case. i’ve found more happiness and purpose by thinking about what i want to work on, and just doing it for myself. i’m talking about both my personal practice, which i have taken breaks on and off for since graduation (this is also totally okay, in fact if you don’t do this, i’ll assume you are actually mental), and my collaborations as Jiggle n Juice with my Canadian bff, Georgia Tooke. this is obviously circumstantial; i was furloughed, then working only part time, now furloughed again, so there’s not exactly much else going on in my life. but if you have a killer idea, the time to pursue it, and know it’ll make you happy while giving your day some structure and goals to work towards... do it!!!! make it come to life!! as soon as i stopped waiting around for ‘opportunities’ from big recognisable names with a juicy follower count, i became a) less anxious, b) more focussed and c) happier!! before i realised all this, the ‘opportunities’ that i did take on, have largely been useless and essentially a waste of my time, energy and resources. relieve yourself of the pressure you feel surrounding “making it,” by allowing yourself to adjust your outlook. the institutions that we regard so highly are probably inherently racist, sexist and committed to offering a shite wage anyway, while the ‘opportunities’ you take on to bulk up the old CV, might just leave you feeling overworked and under-appreciated for nothing.
let’s look at one of my lovely friends, Jody Mulvey. If you haven’t already watched our chat over on Jiggle n Juice, here’s the lowdown. last year, Jody saw a big problem within the art world - that schools/universities were not stepping up to the mark and responding to the pandemic in a way that their students were happy with. she started an instagram account to showcase the talent of the 2020 art school cohort. her platform grew. she was mentioned by The White Pube in DAZED, helped make several exhibition opportunities for her peers at Edinburgh College of Art, and now has secured funding to invite speakers to give professional advice to creatives, such as the director of Guts Gallery, Ellie Pennick, and the founder of Intern, Alec Dudson. she did that!!! she made all that happen for herself, because she was fed up with the lack of institutional support, and simply because she wanted to.
i urge you to take on this mindset. break away from tradition. paving your own pathway certainly isn’t easy, and might not be feasible for everyone. always prioritise your mental and physical health - that and your overall happiness is the main thing to focus on, always. know your worth, too - this is equally important, and will save a lot of frustration and tears, trust me. and be confident in yourself, because you can literally do anything.
all my love,