Post-graduation advice for students of the arts

Despite the overwhelming love for the arts, pursuing an arts degree can feel a little useless at times. Going into debt to earn a fine arts or English degree can seem like a joke these days. Or at least, they aren’t fast tracks to six figures. But when you get down to the brass tacks, we get to study and create some pretty amazing stuff. To help prepare Portland State arts’ graduates for the sore realities of post-education, I asked members of PSU’s creative community what they’d like you to know.

Don’t stop believing

Most creative professions require passion and believing in the dream we have for ourselves. On May 23, superhero comic writer David Walker replied to my tweet asking for post-graduation advice for Portland State students. Walker linked to a YouTube video of a group of kids singing “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Do what you love, no matter what

Associate Prof. Susan Kirtley also gave great life advice when drawing from a tough life experience: “When in a cafeteria, never eat anything with the word “loaf” in it, such as meatloaf.” Kirtley also added, “Acid washed never looked good on anyone. And it never will.”

Kirtley’s final final piece of advice is important. “Read something you enjoy every day, and maybe write something too.”

Get inspired and use that inspiration to create

Sometimes you’ll create poop, but other times a second glance will reveal your poop is made of gold—or, at the very least, a rainbow participation ribbon. Nick Cave’s discography isn’t hit after hit, but he works every day, and every now and then he really nails it.

“Show up, keep an eye open for opportunities, and be ready for them when they come,” stated Dr. Mark Berrettini, director, PSU School of Film. “When you interact with someone in your field or profession, you are always making an impression.”

Find your people

If the world is small, the world of art is microscopic. Your peers are your community. That community doesn’t have to die with graduation—foster it.

“It’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out yet; in fact, it might be better if you don’t,” stated Dr. Bonnie Miksch, director, PSU School of Music. “That will allow you to be more flexible and open about creative and career possibilities that come your way. Where will these possibilities likely come from? The people who you are connected to! So, most importantly, stay connected to people in your field!”

The future is a minefield of great and exciting unknowns

We don’t have to jump on sinking ships, but sometimes you’ve gotta strike while the iron’s hot. Because, when it comes to arts opportunities, that iron can get ice-cold real fast. Don’t take just anything, but don’t be too picky, and do work that feels satisfying. PSU Associate Dean of the College of Art + Design Sue Taylor agrees.

“As artists and intellectuals, [graduates] feel a lot of pressure these days to bracket their supposedly useless interests in pursuit of economic success,” Taylor said. “I beg them not to surrender their dreams to a logic that measures everything in our society in terms of financial gain! Some grads will be fortunate to find employment that they love, that engages their creative and intellectual passions.

“Many will subsist on day jobs, at least for a while,” Taylor continued. “But they will always have their own work to turn to, it will sustain and center them as jobs and relationships come and go. The challenge will be to carve out regular time for the studio, even if the studio means the kitchen table…Continue to cultivate and cherish the life of the mind, and find kindred spirits who will understand the value of your art and ideas and will support your struggle to give them the priority they truly deserve.”

Make time and space for growth

“Change the world in whatever ways you can,” stated Dean Karen Marrongelle, PSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “You can do this by asking questions, sharing your knowledge, trying out new ideas, and encouraging others. Use what you have learned to make changes you see they are needed; no actions are too small!”