Streams for Artists

If your work as an artist seems basic and unsatisfying and you can't figure out how to gain the level of sophistication you see others achieving, then you probably need more technical training.

The education environment can allow you to get feedback on your work from others. Fundamentally, you want to leave your course with skills that you could not have acquired on your own. You should also ensure you make use of your time by making contact with as many people as you can, as this will keep you in work following your studies.

The various levels of studies include:

BTEC / HND
Undergraduate (BA/BSC)
Post-Graduate (MA/MSC/MFA and PHD)

BTEC National Diploma / Higher National Diploma

The BTEC National Diploma courses are worth about two good A levels. A BTEC National Diploma in Music Tech that is based on the City and Guilds 1820 sound engineering is the best qualification you can get at that level. It is the only qualification the sound and music industries really recognise.

You can also study an HND in Music Tech based on the City and Guilds 1820, Level 3 Sound Engineering syllabus. Or you can study performance, composition and fine art at this level. Generally, this is good for hobbyists, but not that useful for people who want professional work in the area.

University

At degree level (BA/BSc), there are lots of options. Try to find a course that has a good track record in producing students with technical competence and check university guides for the teaching quality, and most importantly, the research rating.

Students from these institutions will have a better chance of being employed. If you choose a degree in popular music or traditional music, make sure that you go somewhere that can demonstrate a clear career progression. If in doubt, pursue a degree in engineering, computer science, architecture, maths or physics instead, as it might make you a better artist.

At degree level, there are performance-based courses, which by and large, are not that helpful, but a great deal of fun. Alternatively, you can study a course that demands a high level of technical competence, which is better if you want to continue developing your practice whilst acquiring skills that will get you work.

Try avoiding courses that pander to your desire to be a famous artist. These are not likely to help you. It's better to get experience doing things that other people cannot do. This will make you employable, although you will have to work harder. Being an artist is no different from any other job, ie. no fun unless you are improbably lucky.

Post-Graduate

At post-graduate level, things are a bit different. If you are particularly good and still going as an artist, an MMus, MA or MFA is not a bad idea, although it is expensive. From these courses you will get close attention and feedback from professional artists, who tend to work at this level at university. This can help you to develop a personal voice as an artist. This is recommended only if you cannot face doing anything else without feeling completely unfulfilled. Be prepared to face some uncomfortable truths.

PhD

If you are completely committed to being a creative person without restriction, and/or you have not been able to make enough money to remain independent, consider a practice-based PhD. Do this only if you want a career in academia and are prepared to research and teach to the best of your ability. A PhD will take your head apart and put it back together in a way that will transform you for ever. If you learn how to communicate what it is that makes your work special and valuable in the context of contemporary art, then you will be of great use to people, and could gain the opportunity to make work without being concerned by the needs of the market.

Case Study: Mick Grierson

“I began making experimental electronic music independently as a teenager in the late '80s early '90s. I was making noise music around 1990–91, ran a digital studio until about 95–96, and went to film school as I was obsessed with the relationship between sound and image. I discovered a rich history of artists exploring exactly this area and realised I wasn't crazy. I worked really hard and did two other jobs whilst getting my degree – 20 hours per week as a media technician and freelance work as an artist.

After working as a music industry trainer and consultant I got a scholarship to study experimental digital film practice at PhD level. To earn extra cash, I taught degree courses in film theory, film practice, music computing, sound engineering, software development and improvisation, among other things (aesthetics, acoustics) – all in research-led institutions with very high research ratings. I kept up the relationship between my experimental practice and industry. I scored some large commissions for the film and TV industry and was awarded an AHRC fellowship at Goldsmiths in electronic audiovisual arts practice and perception. I began running their computer arts courses in 2008.

My practice is in experimental audiovisual interactive screen-based art. I'm lucky in that my personal work leads my funded research projects, and so it’s not restricted by any financial, market-driven or culture/audience driven paradigms. It's ridiculous to try to place a value on the non-utilitarian aspects of arts practice, so I don't even attempt to. The upshot is, I get to do whatever I want, but I am successful in developing what I discover from engaging in practice so that it demonstrates value on a totally different level and scale.

There are a few important people who have supported me, and they have almost all come from academia, and some came from industry. These people almost always became my friends, as there is precious little encouragement out there. As a result, I try to encourage all my students as much as possible, but also demand that they work incredibly hard.”

Mick Grierson

Dr. Mick Grierson is an experimental artist specialising in real-time interactive audiovisual research, with specific focus on cognition and perception. He works in film, music, and software development, both inside and outside industry, designing, developing and producing new approaches to creating audiovisual experience. He is currently Co-Director of the Goldsmiths College Creative Computing Programme and an AHRC fellow in audiovisual cognition at Goldsmiths College Electronic Music Studios.

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