Any working artist or creative today is likely to be familiar with the challenges faced by the arts: diminishing funding, irregularity of work, inaccessible and ‘gatekeeping’ institutions, the rights and treatment of First Nations artists, the environmental crisis looming over the future of any and all industries . . . the list goes on. It begs the question: do young people see art as a viable career prospect?
I spoke to several young creators, aged around 17 to 19 years old, with work included in either Powerhouse’s SPACE2022 exhibition or the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s ARTEXPRESS 2023—these are exhibitions which bring together young high achievers in visual art, textiles and design. There are similar shows currently showing across the country from ARTEXPRESS at Hazelhurst Arts Centre to Top Arts 2023 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. And the upcoming Creative Generation 2023 at the Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Brisbane.
I discovered that the way young people perceive art in their future is a lot less about the singularity of choosing it as a career, and lot more about how to incorporate creativity into whatever they do.
Daniya Syed is an 18-year-old student in her final year of high school, and has two different pieces exhibited in both SHAPE and ARTEXPRESS. The former is her HSC Design & Technology project, MediBot, a personal healthcare assistant robot, and the latter is her Visual Arts sculptural body of work, Life after shrapnel. Syed describes her artwork as merging “the concepts of SteamPunk and junk art aiming to present the re-use of the junk within our eco-conscious and globalised society to create artworks from objects packed with rich history whilst challenging the pre-existing notions of art”.
While she is going on to study Mechatronics Engineering, Syed does not see this as the end of her creative practice. “My artwork was heavily influenced by my passion for robotics and mechanical systems, although I do not plan to pursue studying art after high school, I do hope to continue creating such sculptures and integrating their structural concepts within my other projects.”
Like Syed, Amelia Semovski sees art in her future, though not necessarily as a career. Semovski created a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Macedonian ‘Igranka’ costume as “a piece of art that best reflected myself and my heritage”. Created first for an HSC project, the garment is now on display in the Textiles and Design section of SHAPE.
On pursuing an artistic practice, Semovski says, “It is unambiguous to me that the practice of fashion design can be exercised at any given time and especially outside of one’s career. I firmly consider it to be a hobby that perhaps one day could turn into a job.”
Another ARTEXPRESS participant, Sabry Beshir Mohamed, is also looking further afield for creative employment: “I personally don’t see myself having art as a career, but rather work in an environment or industry where art is explored or done within.” His photomedia piece, Peace be with you, is a thoughtful exploration of the way individualism is restricted by moral or religious expectations. Mohamed plans to continue photography as a hobby, but is interested in pursuing theatre design as a career.
Participants in the SHAPE exhibition all submitted the work they created in 2022, and now so many of the young creatives I spoke to have graduated since completing their projects and are currently pursuing further study. Two other textiles designers, Tate Boswarva and Liseil Price, are either in the process of continuing further study or have plans to.
Boswarva’s SHAPE work is a two-piece outfit that is “aimed at gender neutrality and challenging the audience’s assumptions about gender roles within fashion”. The garment was inspired by Hilma af Klint, a reference that integrates her interests of fashion and fine art. Boswarva is currently studying a Bachelor of Fashion Design at TAFE. “What I know is that I want to integrate art and creativity into whatever career I end up pursuing,” she says.
Liesel Price, who designed a three-piece costume for a contemporary adaptation of Molière’s 17th century play Tartuffe, is also studying fashion design at TAFE this year. She says, “I’m still not entirely sure what direction I want to take but I know for sure that it will be in the arts.” She is not without concerns though. “I have a good understanding of how contracted work is, and there is the concern of going through phases of having no work. And of course there is the worry of pay and how artists starting out really do struggle.”
For young creatives feeling this way, Alise Hardy of the National Association for Visual Arts (NAVA) is working to help facilitate a transition into gainful employment. Earlier this month, NAVA launched Art is a Real Job—a national program of artist-led events and workshops aimed at secondary-school students and educators that explore what it means to have a sustainable, ethical and successful career in the visual arts, craft and design sector.
“Young artists leave school or university with very little or no experience with self-advocacy or running a sole trader business,” Hardy says. “Encouraging young artists to work and think like professional artists is crucial for the development of the skills and strategies needed to future-proof their roles as professional artists, curators, public programmers, educators, installers, patrons and observers.”
The calibre of the work exhibited in SHAPE and ARTEXPRESS this year is evidence of the talent and potential of young creatives, and it is encouraging that they all hope to incorporate their practice into their lives in some way.
For those of us working in the arts sector though, a progressing influx of new perspectives is vital in continuing the fight for ethical and sustainable practices. This is what Hardy is focusing on. “The sector needs to harness the enthusiasm of young artists and arts educators and help them advocate for arts careers. We need to change the narrative where it matters most—at the place and time when young people are making their first career decisions.”