How art can inspire confidence in students

Julie Read

Julie Read has been at both ends of the system; helping students creating an art portfolio for success in applying to art college, as well as interviewing applicants for entry to Edinburgh College of Art for nine years. She also led the student recruitment activity at Edinburgh College of Art (2006 – 9) which involved advising many prospective students and their parents about applying to art college. Portfolio Oomph has been developed to help with art college applications, and is jam packed full of advice and information which is constantly being updated and expanded.

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What is the main purpose of studying the arts at school you might wonder? What are the benefits of studying the arts to a school-leaver? All the products that we see around us, live with, use, live in etc have been designed. We visit art galleries, outdoor installations of art (eg the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red poppy installation at the Tower of London last year) that have all been created by art college graduates. Many people engage in educational activities in galleries, museums, care centres etc.

"In my day, careers advice wasn't as readily available is it is now."

To create a richer environment is the point of going to art college, and the challenges that are explored in this creative education are varied and vast. Artists and designers are involved in the participation of political, economic, social and cultural life developing a knowledge and understanding of the world and their place in it.

Imagine you're a child who doesn't really excel in anything other than art and design. You've achieved the bare minimum grades in other subjects, and a future in the arts was realistically the only option. If the skills used and developed in the art room are not recognised as valuable and transferable in society, then we are stunting a child's confidence and creative growth, which is akin to starving them of food and water.

This child described above, incidentally, was me 25 years ago. Luckily, my parents fully supported my career decisions, however in my day, careers advice wasn't as readily available is it is now, and my future wasn't planned AT ALL. I had no idea what careers I could enter with my degree in Fine Art Printmaking, and I didn't identify the skills I had developed; other than being able to print.

It's not just about painting pretty pictures. It's not a cop-out. It's not just something that you do if you're not good at anything else. Changing some of these preconceptions is key to empowering individuals to allow their confidence to grow in these creative areas.

"As an art student, you're developing and communicating your own beliefs and views of the world to an audience."

An art education is hard graft, personally challenging, and those pursuing one will master a whole range of employability skills that some would find hard to believe. You're not learning hard and fast facts, you're using your own judgement, experience and thinking to come up with solutions to problems. As an art student, you're developing and communicating your own beliefs and views of the world to an audience. At each stage of the creative process, you are assessing risk and making informed decisions with an openness to new thinking and ideas. This builds confidence by trial and error, you are in charge of your journey and you are responsible for its path.

When you create an art portfolio for college, the tutors assessing this portfolio want to see something of the individual who has created it. They don't want just a demonstration of technical skills that lead to creating a single masterpiece. They want to see your creative journey, your mistakes, your successes and how you judge one from the other.

I found it very interesting to read that Banks need arts graduates to put humanity back into business. A leading investment bank is seeking to hire a new generation of arts graduates as it blames “linear thinking” mathematicians and economists for elements of the financial crisis.

How do you encourage your art-loving pupils? Let us know in the comments.

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