Learn the skills to master the art world

A degree can give artists qualities to get themselves noticed.
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The Independent Online

Apainting workshop in Venice, curating a gallery in Argentina and the chance to use a hotel wall in Brussels as a blank canvas are all in a day's work for some fortunate fine art Masters students. Postgraduate courses have an increasingly international flavour and include travel, but will they help find employment? That is the question students are increasingly demanding of universities before they part with their money, a fact that helps to explain the emphasis on projects and work placements.

The Royal College of Art in London is the only postgraduate art and design school in the world. It recently surveyed former students on its two-year Masters degree in curating contemporary art and found that 95 per cent were employed. Nowadays, undergraduates often need a Masters to get started on their careers and art is no different, says Professor Mark Nash, the head of the department.

"Gallery jobs that might be difficult to get into otherwise open up for our Masters students – so long as they can get through the two years, which can be tough," he says. The world of curating is international, and after graduation students undertake placements at galleries in a range of countries, including Germany, Argentina, Spain and France. The college is preparing to launch a new scheme funded by the Arts Council, which will provide gallery-based postgraduate qualifications for ethnic minority students to increase the diversity of the curatorial workplace.

One of the biggest providers of art Masters degrees is Nottingham Trent University, which has 36 different titles, plus professional certificates and diplomas run under an art and design framework. This includes fashion marketing, decorative arts, textiles, puppetry and animation. Students from the different specialisms are encouraged to work together in teams of eight to develop the skills that employers seek, says Carol Ann Jones, head of the Masters programme. "The fine arts industry is very selective. We can't all be Tracey Emins, but arts students have transferrable skills. We tell our students it's a changing world and they have to be adaptable and able to work together to show they can bring something to a project."

For example, students worked together to launch a blog. They included artists, a textile designer and those with business skills. "It shows employers they have worked on different aspects and contributed to the team," she says. "Artists tend to be a bit selfish and protective of their work, and we help them to share and learn to work with technicians or marketing departments."

Mature student Sandrea Simons says the Masters course has not just changed the direction of her art, but her life as well. She was chosen for a project at the Hotel Bloom in Brussels, which invited artists to decorate its bedrooms. "We were given a wall as a blank canvas and the theme of the perfect bloom. I chose to paint the beautiful bunches of pink roses I was sent by a Nigerian who tried to con me out of money on a dating site," says Simons, 43. "Then it evolved into the whole story of how I fell in love with him on the internet and found out that he was part of a gang getting money from women through sob stories."

Since then, she has been invited back as a consultant to support other artists who are decorating the hotel, and now she plans to become an art lecturer. "After my Bachelors degree, I wasn't sure where I was as an artist and the Masters sealed it for me," she says.

Kingston University in London has launched the first course in the UK that prepares artists to work in the European arena. It includes a one-week intensive course in Zurich, Switzerland. The Masters in European arts practice can be pursued either full or part-time and concentrates on practical projects to investigate the artistic ideas and cultural policies of different European cities.

But not all artists seeking Masters qualifications are doing it to find employment. Many of the students who enrol on the fine art postgraduate programme at the University of Brighton are local artists who want to challenge themselves and reconfigure their practices, says Matthew Cornford, Professor of Fine Art.

"Meeting others working in different areas and taking part in tutorials can be a really transformative experience in which students can assess what they have been doing and feel inspired and re-energised."