What is it really like at art school?

Artist Emmaline Zanelli offers us career advice and insight into her experience as a student and recent graduate from the Adelaide College of the Arts.
What is it really like at art school?

Image: Long Live the Birthday Boy (2), C-Type print, 297mm x 210mm, 2015 by Emmaline Zanelli.

For emerging artist Emmaline Zanelli, there is no doubt in her mind that the Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design she studied at Adelaide College of the Arts, has brought her to where she is today.  


Now an award-winning artist, a recipient of both the Centre for Creative Photography Latent Image Award in 2015 and the 2016 inaugural winner of the Helpmann Academy Watson Award, her career as an artist has started strongly.

She shared her experience at Adelaide College of the Arts and discusses how her studies influenced the career path she is now on.


Long Live the Birthday Boy (5), C-Type print, 297mm x 210mm, 2015 by Emmaline Zanelli. 

A chance to experiment

‘In the first year you try everything; you’re working with clay and doing sculpture, a little bit of installation, photography and painting. I think it is common for people to be totally swept up in a different direction than they intended, which is really cool. A lot of people discover they have abilities or interests that they didn’t think they had before,’ said Zanelli.

The degree had a beneficial effect on her artist practice by pushing her in new directions and encouraging her to branch out and try photography, which later became her major.

‘I was predominately interested in drawing at the start and was dead-set on a drawing major. Then I had some feedback from a teacher who said maybe you’d be good at photography, so I thought ok I’ll try that. The studio teachers guided me to make that decision.’

Long Live the Birthday Boy (7), C-Type print, 297mm x 210mm, 2015 by Emmaline Zanelli. ​

She describes the experience as ‘like being in a three year mentorship’ and remarks on the relevance of the studio lecturers who were themselves practicing artists specialising across studio disciplines, had first-hand and current knowledge of the arts industry, and were personally invested in students’ success.

‘It’s not dated information about what used to happen, the people teaching you are having their own shows and know what needs to be done to make your way.’

After College

The course set Zanelli up for a career as an artist. Now it is up to her and her advice for other artists is to use every possible avenue: apply for awards, submit exhibition and project proposals to galleries and apply for grants.

Long Live the Birthday Boy (14), C-Type print, 297mm x 210mm, 2015 by Emmaline Zanelli. ​

‘You might get a whole lot of knock backs (or not hear back at all) but keep doing it anyway,’ she said.

‘Treat your practice like a job (even if it's part time), and discipline yourself to make and research. It will be hard for others to take your practice seriously if you don't!’ 

For more information about Adelaide College of the Arts visit http://www.tafesa.edu.au/adelaide-college-of-the-arts

Brooke Boland

Thursday 26 May, 2016

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.