Getting A Career In The Arts – Helpful Advice From An Artist

4th January 2017 Jess Kadel Study

The thought of life after graduation can be daunting, especially for those in the creative sectors. To help current art students prepare for their future careers, we spoke to artist Olga Koroleva to hear about her journey:

Olga Koroleva at work
Photograph by Katherine Fishman

In the summer of 2010, shortly after graduating from my BA course at Wimbledon College of Art, I worked as a stills photographer on a friend’s short film. Then, unexpectedly for myself, I said ‘yes’ to a last minute invitation to join a two-week workshop in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv ten of us were crammed onto a small boat meant for six, then we slept in the basement of a restaurant. In Jerusalem our accommodation was a bomb shelter. Five days after returning from Israel, I flew out to Berlin for a six-week residency.

That probably sounds like a lot to have taken on within a couple of months, and that is because it was. I, like many other arts graduates, feared that ‘big black hole’ that was looming and simply gave myself too much to do. By mid-autumn I was exhausted and struggling to make enough cash to support myself. However, there are several lessons to be learned from this experience as a young London-based artist.

Sustain relationships

Most of my exhibitions, projects and paid work came directly or indirectly from the people I studied with and former tutors. Keep in touch with those you developed good working relationships with while studying. Update them on your progress after graduation. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, too.

Be generous

Help your friends with their projects; swap equipment, skills and offer support even if they are not able to pay you (yet). This will return manifold.

Make your job work

It is almost inevitable that as a young artist in London you will have to find employment. Aim to find a job that will feed your practice in some way and allow you to use your skills. As a student, and for three years after graduating, I worked at the Barbican Centre, which allowed me to see some of the best contemporary and classical music, film and theatre. This was an endless source of inspiration. It may be that working in an art supply shop will help you cut the costs. Or work as an editor, as I do, if you work with moving image and photography.

Photographer holding a camera

Make opportunities for yourself

Set up exhibitions, events, projects. You don’t necessarily need a gallery space to show work in. 38b and Ladette Space are both project spaces set up by artists in their own homes!

‘Be selective’

This is the one single best piece of advice I received on how to survive as a young artist. It came from a well-known artist, and twice Turner Prize nominee whom I was lucky to meet through a job. Being selective means knowing your own limits and giving the attention and energy to the things that really matter to you. It is impossible, and in truth unnecessary, to attend every single gallery opening or event. This can be physically and mentally exhausting and could leave you with little time to develop your own practice.

Share a studio

This is a great way to keep working within a group of like-minded people after graduation. Organisations like ACAVA, Acme, Bow Arts, Space and ASC offer affordable studio spaces across London.

Apply for funding and residencies

Arts Council England is a great source of funding. As a young or recently graduated artist you are more likely to get funding for group projects. Make sure they benefit a large audience and have a legacy upon completion. This is also a good way to finance residencies and travel abroad, which is something I did not know about when I graduated. Residency Unlimited, Artquest Artist Information Company (a-n) are all brilliant resources for opportunities for artists.

a-n offer an affordable artist membership which includes public liability insurance – a necessary piece of protection against any potential damage occurring to a member of public as a result of your exhibition. Institutions and galleries will already have this in place, but if you’re putting on your own exhibition this is a must. Always check with the venue if you’re unsure.

Art gallery

Register as self-employed

If you sell your artwork or carry out jobs on a freelance basis, you must be registered as self-employed. You will not pay tax if you earn under a certain amount, and you will be able to claim tax back on work related expenses.

Consider teaching

If you are still looking for a way to be creative and earn a regular income, don’t rule out the possibility of teaching. While it is not for everyone, teaching is incredibly rewarding. It pays well and often provides a support scheme for those wishing to pursue their research and practice.

Practice is not the only way forward

Many art graduates discover that being a ‘practising artist’ may not be their calling after all. There are many jobs within the arts, such as production, curation, administration, and writing. A good friend of mine landed a coordination job at Soho House shortly after graduating, another one started a band that recently toured Europe. Taking on a job or doing something other than ‘art practice’ does not diminish your achievements as an art student and artist. After all it is up to you what you call yourself!

Take your time

If you decide to pursue art practice and further your education, take time to decide on the most suitable Masters course for you. I took three years before I applied for one, and this is something I would thoroughly recommend to everyone.

Olga Korolevas Performance Still
Photograph by Katherine Fishman

Olga Koroleva is a London-based artist working across writing, photography, moving image and live action. She pursues her long-term inquiry into inter-species states of becoming through the examination of gestures, language and biology.


Jess Kadel

Jess Kadel

For more great posts from Urbanest about accommodation, London life, study tips and much more, visit the Student Journal.