Catalogue essay for RMIT Fine Art Photography Graduates, 2009

What’s the film that starts with robed graduates hurling their mortarboards in the air? I think there are quite a lot of them. There’s a great sense of release in that gesture. The robes and mortarboards encompass all the seriousness and hard work involved in study and as the hats fly into the air, there’s an enormous sense of freedom, possibility and a certain amount of chaos. Cinematicaly, it’s the cliché of the end of something that begins a new story.

The new story hasn’t taken place yet so currently it’s full of possibility. The hat might land on the ground, it’s pristine black felt soiled with dust. But the dust is easily brushed off. The hats fly in the air and the students don’t know if they’ll catch the same hat that they propelled into the air. This is where things get interesting and the metaphor I’m trying to spin, might just work. What I’m always very aware of when art students graduate is that anything could happen, and probably will. There’s all the gloomy statistics about how few people become exhibiting artists. But why privlidge the exhibition over the art and why privilidge the art over the experience? Studying art has benefits way beyond gaining a qualification that will allow you to show at public galleries and get government grants.

The graduation cloaks are firmly across the student’s shoulders and can’t be throw off with the ease of the hats. They are heavy, and yet do not have the easily hurled weight of the mortarboard. They are the knowledge and experience that students walk with for the rest of their lives. Studying art endows us with understanding that isn’t easily summed up in course descriptions. Sensitivity, daily aesthetic appreciation, the ability to express complex and often illusive ideas are all valuable skills that enrich the lives of those who study art and can also be used in many future careers.

In making art, we start with nothing. It’s more clichés of blank canvas and drawing boards. But it’s also the reality of creation where we start with an idea. From that idea, we research, build structure, encompass more ideas, learn technical skills, experiment, add texture, refine our ideas, over-come a sequence of obstacles, and somewhere along the way, we end up with art. There aren’t many professions in which a single person builds something from scratch. It can be harrowing, lonely and extremely rewarding. And, even if you never make another bit of art in all your puff, the experience is invaluable and can be used in any number of other areas of life.

Melbourne’s ‘lively bar scene’, ‘thriving fashion industry’ and ‘unique café culture’ are riddled with artists. Not just working behind the counter. These scenes were instigated by artists who could start with an idea and the resourcefulness they honed making work with only Austudy and hard rubbish to see them through. They knew what was needed from there: a cocktail of research, hard work, aesthetics, building skills, a network, communication skills and perseverance to see it all through to the end, and beyond.

While the mortarboards are still suspended in the air, anything could happen for each of the students who graduate from Fine Art Photography in 2009. Some will become successful artists with five page CVs before they turn thirty. Some will become successful artists but rarely exhibit. Some will become curators or gallery owners. Some will gravitate to commercial areas of photography, art direction or design. I won’t concern myself with the statistical analysis that only sees a tiny part of the picture. Over the three years of their study, each student has undertaken numerous projects in which anything could happen, and they’ve seen them through, despite the crises of confidence, the shoots that didn’t work, the inarticulate artists statements, the pictures that fell off the wall and all the rest. They’ve experienced uncertainty and are well prepared to see what happens with confidence, curiosity and courage.