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Crawling out of the Arse End of Academia

I'm twisting the wire in and around on itself in a careful shape, keeping the pressure pulled tight, this always takes longer than I expect and I find my back aching, my knees hurting from resting on my awkward living room floor and this familiar pain in my thumb. My newest painting is finally 'finished', now it can hang on my wall for a while as the oils sort themselves out, who knows how long this one will take to dry.

I stand up, take some steps back and find myself staring at the wall instead of my painting. I've probably been standing here for well over 5 minutes, I'm trying to get to grips with my position in the universe at this moment. I'd received an invitation to South Devon College's summer show this year as a guest artist, having completed my Foundation Diploma back in 2014. Had it really been 6 years?!

Since my time at college I had moved to and lived in Bristol to attend The University of the West of England, studying a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art - this feels like a brief moment in time, people have come and gone - some of which have become life long friends. I think back to the projects and themes I was concerned with in regards to my work, how different it all feels now.

I had even moved again, more recently to London to attend a Masters in Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL. This time around my work/life/study balance had all become so blurred during my stint on this course that I find myself still here even after graduating last summer in 2019.

Back to back years of studying has provided very distinctive chapters for my 'art career'. I can clearly draw lines when looking back and this helps me analyse how my artwork has evolved and adapted over time. From 'street art', photography, human sculptures (performance art) to sculpture and painting. Every new work I make is rested upon years of inquiry and experience. It's easy to forget this, in fact I've decided to give myself a nice pat on the back. I know that South Devon College is largely to thank for this variety of media at my creative disposal, the foundation course felt like a constantly revolving door between the photography studio, print rooms and wood work spaces - nothing was off limits.

What do I want to share with young emerging artists, what would have been useful to know? (some tips if you are continuing your studies or not)

I would like to have a one word or even one sentence answer, though sadly it's just not that simple. Life gets weird.

One of the best take away pieces of advice I can pass along (I overheard a tutor say this on my BA) "Most people only have one truly good idea in their life, if they're extremely lucky they might have two". At first when I heard this I thought this tutor was being a dick, but it has stayed with me and maybe take it with a pinch of salt, but there's something in there.

Don't discredit your work, if you have a good idea run with it - don't just breeze over it to get the idea out the way, give it the dedication and time it deserves and make the most of it. If it's truly a good idea, it will support you. Education sometimes requires jumping through hoops and going in weird directions - it's OK to keep something on the back burner and come back to it later with a new perspective. Don't be scared to repeat yourself, if it's for the right reasons (but also don't be stubborn).

The important bit! If you're taking your studies seriously as I often did, life tends to creep up on you. I really took on being a student and part of a college/university as my identity and of course this is only temporary - it may sound obvious but your foundation to your wellness and creativity is your life, look after your relationships with friends and family, however dysfunctional they may be. It can be tempting to let studies consume you with criteria and deadlines - you will feel the pressure and it needs doing but you do not need to shut yourself off from the world to get things done. As Pav once said to me, "things will get better".

For bonus points, if you're like me and unlucky enough to need to work a job or two to support yourself during your studies, sleep and drink lots of water.

My last piece of advice is to get to as many exhibitions as you can, try to visit new galleries and museums, attending private views is a fantastic way to get involved and it makes the art world seem so much smaller (they're not even that private by the way, they just say this so they don't have to give out as many free drinks! They usually love more people turning up.)

Well, I do hope this helps! Whoever you are congratulations for making it this far in life and props to ya' for reading all the way through.

P.S: Don't ever work for free!

Useful books and resources:


BOOK How to Write about Contemporary Art by Gilda Williams

BOOK (Boring but useful) Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art by Michael Shnayerson


What They Didn't Teach You In School by Rosalind Davis

Exhibitions & Events:


Open calls: https://www.zealous.co/explore/opportunity

Open calls:


Record your presentations and watch them back

Who the Heck wrote this? Mitchell Smith // Artist & "Writer" www.msmith.art

Want a thing? Fantastique, get in touch: mitchellsmithart@gmail.com