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Find Your Future at Australia’s top art school

Gina Fairley

Do you aspire to follow a similar path to this year’s Archibald Prize winner, the Director of Bonhams Australia, or a National Gallery curator? You can Find Your Future at the National Art School’s Open Day.
Find Your Future at Australia’s top art school

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There is a big difference between just going through the motions of studying a degree and being forward thinking. The National Art School (NAS) in Darlinghurst encourages a maverick spirit in its students, helping individuals find their creative voice and future vocation.

The upcoming NAS open day, Find Your Future, is an important destination for students searching for the right career.

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NAS believes in the importance of thinking creatively and critically about the world through the making of art – an approach that is not reserved for practicing artists alone.

Simon Cooper, Head of Studies at the National Art School told ArtsHub, ‘You are building people up to know how to apply those critical skills in whatever future career they choose.

‘We are conscious that people are looking to equip themselves to take on a future. It is about a deeper sense of vocation; not just a linear path,’ he added.

Cooper described starting out on a Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) degree as a little like going to ‘art boot camp’.

‘In that first year, a lot of it is skills focused and to engage critical thinking. It can be very different to any experience a student might have had before. By the time they get to third year, there are as many courses as there are students. Simply, it is their own ideas – and critical thinking – that is directing their path of study, and that is incredibly exciting and liberating.’

A good career path has many intersections

Flexibility and focus are key to any successful education. Any person who has completed higher education will agree that the end point is never what was fully imagined at the starting gates. 

‘We are conscious of people choosing to study fine art to become a professional artist. They may not be sure what kind of artist, or how that creative life will pan out, but we are here to show them the options – and there are many,’ Cooper said.

Find Your Future open day will be held on Saturday, 2 September from 10am – 4pm.

In recent weeks, two of the three winners from the high profile Archibald Wynne and Sulman Prizes at the Art Gallery of NSW were Alumni of the National Art School, and the winner of the 2016 Olive Cotton Award for photography was also a past student.

‘It is not just that dusty old guard of NAS Alumni marched out in their success; it is people out there now building their careers. We are really proud of our graduates and they are the ultimate measure of what we do as a school,’ Cooper said.

Studying with the best

Getting the idea of studying art past mum and dad, or a spouse and the kids, might be one of the hardest hurdles for a prospective student – but it need not be if acceptance hinges on reputation.

Last year, the NAS received the score of 96.9% in the 2016 Student Experience Survey (SES), the highest student satisfaction rating of any Higher Education provider in Australia. 

It is a ranking expected of one of Australia’s blue chip universities, but this Sydney art school has outranked them all. It was also ranked #1 Art School in Australia for overall educational experience in 2015 and 2016.

Read: Art school rates above all Australian Universities

Cooper said: ‘There are a range of things [students] are valuing – the staff-to-student ratio is low and the contact hours are the key thing driving that satisfaction.

‘A subset of that satisfaction – on top of location, campus and facilities – is strong peer learning. Students don’t feel like atoms in a learning lab, but part of a learning community and that is what they value year in and year out,’ he said.  

‘Obviously, we meet a lot of families on open day. It’s just not parents; sometime with mature students it’s their kids and partner who are not convinced. We try to remind people that there is no one linear progression as an artist. Our goal is to have a bunch of students that do things differently,’ said Cooper.

Picking up on the theme of this year’s open day – Find Your Future – Cooper stressed that it is often the unexpected career path that will emerge when the study environment is flexible and fertile.

‘If we look at all sorts of career options from studying at NAS, traditional practice tends to integrate with interesting portfolio careers. Alumni Merryn Schriever has just been appointed Director of Bonhams Australia, while another graduate is head of Visual Arts at the Copyright Agency and another is in the curatorial ranks at the National Gallery of Australia.

‘These are all careers they didn’t see when they started their degree. It took their practice to lead them to that understanding that there are other opportunities,’ explained Cooper.

He added: ‘We want professional art teaching here at NAS to expose students to that broader industry, so that they can see the bigger picture and how they might find their place within it, either as an artist or via a portfolio career.’

“If you want to be an artist – come and see us.”  Learn more about the NAS Open Day.

Finding your tribe and your mojo

‘NAS creates an environment that is responsive to each student as an individual. They are all trying to create an individual style – and individual path – and at NAS we offer a place where that can happen.’

Prospective students will get to witness a little slice of life here at NAS, both the hard work and the creative aspects of it.

‘This open day is not a marketing exercise where you are lead around by a PR team. It is a big step to make that career commitment without necessarily knowing where it will end up. An open day is a good way of finding out about the culture of the place by talking one-on-one with staff and students – there will be a lot of students working in the studios on the day.’

Cooper said that prospective students could also bring their portfolios in on the day and get some advice. ‘We are there to help guide them – that is our ethos at NAS.’

He said that taking a stroll around campus and chatting to students is a moment to step in and ask, “Can I see myself in this picture; can I find my future here?” without the pressure of an interview.

‘And if it is for you, then that could be the most important discovery in your life, whether you are 18 or 38,’ Cooper said.

The School offers a Bachelor of Fine Art and Master of Fine Art Degrees.

 

Being Future Ready

‘We don’t teach art so that it will make you a better accountant or the most creative barista; we teach everyone as though they will be an artist, and to have that professional inclination.

‘Some will be obvious – the Mitch Cairns of the world, who just won the Archibald Prize and has a totally focused practice as a successful artist. But there are others who integrate into a more portfolio career and make that practice viable in different ways.

‘Then there are others that don’t necessarily identify as a practicing artist, but they use that knowledge in their life. Regardless, our students bring commitment to their study and that is part of the contract,’ said Cooper.

The National Art School is located within the old Darlinghurst Goal at Forbes and Burton Streets, Darlinghurst, Sydney.

Find Your Future open day will be held on Saturday, 2 September from 10am – 4pm.

#findyourfuture

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.

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