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By Framd | 09 September 2019

The abstracts of art education

We recently set out to uncover what our student members really thought of art A Levels and art studies in general… and it’s thrown up a few interesting facts.

Contrary to the popular GCSE, A Level route of yesteryear, more students are taking their own creative path to the creative arts. We homed in on three of our student members to tell us about their very different experiences and thoughts on the pathway to arts career success. Holly Watkins is a third-year student taking Fine Art and Mixed Media at Westminster University; Linda Lang studied for three years at Truro and Penwith College and will be completing her degree at Plymouth College of Art in September and Jade Borny is an HND student taking Art Practice at Canterbury College.

Why did you choose art?

Holly: I just went with my heart. My grades weren’t bad in other subjects… and I think my parents may have preferred me to have done something more ‘career’ focussed but….

Linda: I’ve been painting for years. I discovered that pet portraiture is quite lucrative as I started to get more commissions once I started doing pets. But I wanted to learn more about techniques and art in general. Mostly though, I needed a career change.

Jade: I chose Art Practice simply because… I enjoy it!

What was your route to university?

Holly: I did a Level 3 in Art and then went on to do a foundation course which definitely helped me, so I found getting a place at uni not too difficult.

Linda: It wasn’t difficult to achieve my place at Penwith or Plymouth. I love learning and I think my enthusiasm always comes across during interviews, which helps. I am very keen to achieve my degree, to help me progress with my chosen career.

Jade: I didn’t do A Levels, I studied in college to get an extended diploma.

Holly Watkins
Photo by Lindsey Barretto


I swear its a real painting (2019) by Holly
Photo by Lindsey Barretto





Linda Lang
Photo by Lindsey Barretto


Jade Borny

Lindsey Barretto


Bird Life by Linda

Lindsey Barretto


Posters by Jade
Photo by Lindsey Barretto


What difficulties do art students face in your experience?

Jade: I think everyone views art differently, and if you produce something conceptual, assessors who are more traditional wouldn’t mark your work to the standards of someone who enjoys conceptual art.

Linda: We all often struggled to understand what criteria was needed to achieve a specific grade, due to the wording in the briefs. It wasn’t always clear what was expected of us as the phrasing of the task was quite vague.

Holly: Looking back, I would say I didn’t realise how important contemporary and conceptual art was. I wasn’t exposed to this genre early on which was quite challenging in the beginning. When presenting a portfolio, university interviewers are looking to see a progression or development in your own style, but as you are looking at so many different fields within art before you go to uni, for example, pottery and photography. I feel there is a missing link somewhere here, particularly with A Levels.

What do you think about the difference between studying for A Levels and an art degree?

Linda: There’s quite a difference between the two. The access course (which is the equivalent to three A Levels) offered the opportunity to explore oneself as an artist, with a bit more freedom. The course was perfect in helping me understand how to create a sketchbook, and how to properly carry out research. A degree, on the other hand, is much more structured, with specific instructions and it’s more difficult to meet the criteria to gain higher grades.

Jade: I personally didn’t do A Levels, so I could just focus on art and nothing else.

How much do teachers and tutors impact the work you do as an art student?

Holly: My tutor swayed me into a particular direction more and more. She also encouraged me to look at specific artists. But they don’t care too much if you take their advice on board or not, as fundamentally, they are looking for you to take your own independent path as an artist.

Jade: My tutors and teachers have had a massive impact on me. They were amazing and sculpted me into what I am today. They were always very easy to approach.

Linda: My tutors have been instrumental in helping me to understand how to elevate my creative ideas, and specifically, how to help me think more laterally.

Where do you want your art education to take you?

Jade: I’d like to be an art tutor. I’ve always had a passion for art and teaching so I’m putting them together!

Linda: At first, I wasn’t sure, but now I am working towards a career in art therapy, preferably with children. After I’ve completed my degree, I intend to start an MA in Art Therapy. Initially I thought I would set up my own pet portraiture business but since being on the course, I have definitely shifted my focus onto therapy.

Holly: I am still considering my options right now and I may travel after my studies. At the moment, I’m enjoying being present in my art. I’ve been producing holograms and making interactive pieces of work that explore the concept of touch and break down the barriers between what is digital and what is ‘real’. I use my hologram pieces to explore this, as well as experimenting with old TV screens and webcams.

How much do you spend buying new materials/equipment for your course? How do you feel about this?

Linda: I haven’t ever made a note of how much I spend on materials, I guess I spent about £400 last year. I don’t mind so much as I think it’s worth it!

Jade: A lot! I’d say £100 a month. I’m okay with it now I have a student loan but when I was at college it was very difficult and I often ran short on supplies.

Holly: I spend quite a lot. In the first couple of years of my degree I spent a lot on canvasses and paints as these were not supplied on the course. It’s actually one of the reasons why I started working digitally – I can eradicate the cost!

Do you have any advice you would give to anyone considering an art course?

Holly: I would encourage people to look at studying a Level 3 course in art rather than A Levels, as I feel they better prepare you for a degree. I would also remind people that a portfolio is a massive part when it comes to studying at a higher level and it is the one thing I would go back and change if I could.

Linda: Something I have learned and I continue to find fascinating is the importance and art of visual, descriptive language. In the past, I’ve considered descriptions to be pretentious, but now I have a much better understanding of it. It’s been a great learning outcome for me!


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