Working the field: visual arts graduates in the current context

Dist. Prof. Jen Webb (University of Canberra)
2016 Conference

Studies in the UK and Australia show that cultural sector employment outcomes for creative graduates are very poor (Comunian et al 2010). Creative graduates who enter the field do so aware of the long hours, low wages and free labour required of them (Banks et al, 2013), but there is at present little empirical research on what motivates their participation and persistence in the field, nor how such commitments are converted into a sustainable creative vocation. This is a problem for curriculum planners in the creative arts: the combination of high student demand for creative arts programs and the increasingly limited resources available to anyone trying to build a creative career, a creative life offers a challenge to our sector to reconsider how curricula might better support career outcomes for graduates. This paper reports on early findings from an ARC project that investigates the aspirations and lived experiences of graduates of visual arts degrees. Through a combination of curriculum analyses, and interviews with recent graduates, it aims to understand how those graduates articulate the contradictions they face between making a living and making art: between creative careers and creative vocations.

Banks, M. Gill, R. and Taylor, S. (2013) Theorizing Cultural Work: Labour, continuity and change in the cultural and creative industries. London: Routledge.

Comunian, R., A. Faggian and Q. C. Li (2010) ‘Unrewarded careers in the creative class: The strange case of bohemian graduates’, Papers in Regional Science 89(2): 389-410.

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About the author


Jen Webb is Distinguished Professor of Creative Practice at the University of Canberra, and Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research. Her recent works include the scholarly volume Art and Human Rights: Contemporary Asian Contexts (with Caroline Turner; Manchester UP, 2016), and the photography/poetry collaboration Watching the World (with Paul Hetherington; Blemish Books, 2015). Her work mostly focuses on the field of creative production; she is also a poet and produces installations of artist books. She is chief investigator on the ARC Discovery project Working the Field: Creative Graduates in Australia and China (DP150101477).