How to do a good degree show

Hey art student! You want your degree show to be totally amazing right? We’ve got some tips and we’ve got some gripes and hopefully the combination of the two will create a useful guide you can use to make your degree show a wonderful place for all of us

Feature by Rosamund West | 09 Sep 2016

Go to the degree shows

This may seem obvious but evidence suggests it is not. More on that later. Go to all the degree shows. Go to as many as you can reach across the country. Gauge the level of work and the variety of techniques and the time you’re going to need to put in (hint: it’s all the time). 

Don’t worry about the grade

Take a risk. Focus on your practice and on creating something authentic. The most important thing is that you display your vision in its truest form, and that you use this opportunity to stretch yourself. Marking something as subjective as fine art is inherently flawed, and frankly no one will care about your grade by the time the degree show opens.

Know your privilege

This is a unique opportunity of access to equipment and training and space and time that you won’t have after graduation so make the most of it.

Departmental confusion

We’ve all seen the degree show where someone has clearly wanted to do jewellery, ended up in painting, then continued to make jewellery but without the actual technical training in how to do it. They’ll quite often end up retraining after graduation, which just seems like a waste of a painting degree. If your heart lies in a different department, work out how to get into it. Unless literally everyone is telling you you’re terrible at it, in which case you might be best placed to listen to them.

Befriend your peers

Get to know people in your year and the years above you, look at their work, understand what they are doing. The purpose of this is twofold – one, talking to people about art and establishing your creative network is one of the main points of art school. People will literally never ask you what you got in your degree in the real world, it’s the peer review and brain rewiring that happens in the process of your time at college that makes an art school education of incomparable value.

Two, it means you’ll be familiar with what’s been done before and that means you won’t make the same godforsaken show that’s been made every year for time immemorial and might actually create something of relative originality.

Don’t be a cliché

As longstanding degree show attendees, the Art department of The Skinny have noticed a few repeated themes over the years and we would like them to stop, quite frankly. It’s got to the point where we’ve made bingo cards of degree show tropes, and we’re sharing them covertly with other art world familiars. Imagine you’d spent a year slaving over your show and then on opening night realised bastards like us were sniggering and Instagramming and ticking things off on a crudely made bingo card. You’d be devastated right? That’s why we’ve decided to share our sage advice with you now, before you’ve committed any of these terrible cliches. We’re nice like that.

Things to avoid making

Granny’s Living Room
The classic has got to be Granny’s Living Room. The scrupulous recreation of your granny’s living room in a degree show space, complete with gas fire and some sort of rocking chair, terrible red striped wallpaper and an oil painting of a Scottish landscape.

We get it – you’re young, you’ve been asked to make work about something that matters profoundly to you and not that much has happened to you at this point. You loved your granny – that is understood. But please, please don’t recreate her living room in intricate detail. It happens every single year, sometimes twice in one show. And we take photos of it and we laugh at you. Is that a fitting tribute to your granny? Is it? Also it’ll probably earn you a third.

Shit latex
“It’s so bodily.” No, it’s not. Stop pretending you’re setting the world alight by saying some latex is a vagina. We’re way beyond that, as you would know if you’d paid attention in your lectures.

Shed shed shed
Shed that was previously outside, displayed inside with documentation of its previous position outside. This is an odd one because it can work in the right circumstances, but it happens a lot and it’s probably down to Simon Starling. Employ with care.

Bad taxidermy
It is not enough to just throw in a stuffed badger and hope that makes the viewer ponder deeply upon their own mortality. You have to do something really interesting with that badger to make the work worthwhile and ensure that your mockery of that poor creature’s corpse isn’t futile. Also think long and hard before embarking on any amateur animal stuffing. We’ve all seen enough taxidermy gone wrong at this point and it ain’t pretty.

The Room of Rotting Meat
Again, this is used as a shorthand for mortality and an attempt to shock the viewer. Not going to happen mate, this crowd has seen it all.

You might have just heard of Karla Black, but that doesn’t mean your viewers don’t know her. Let’s not waste everyone’s time yeah?

So there you have it. All the information you need to make a banging degree show. You’re welcome.