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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Continuing to Learn After Graduation

It is so important to continuing your education after graduation, in this blog I list several reasons why. I also describe my personal experience with education and how that has shifted and changed over the years. Using my own experience as an example, I highlight the many different ways to get an education both in and outside of the traditional avenues, where to look to further your studies after you have graduated, and the importance of selecting the right option with the best fit to suit your current lifestyle.

I will be the first to admit that I am a student for life. As a lifelong learner, I love learning new things, ideas or discovering new ways to create, but this wasn’t always the case. I always did pretty well in school when I was young, but it wasn’t until I studied Fine Art that I really fell in love with education. When I found my passion, I really enjoyed learning anything and everything that was related to the subject.

I have been in and out of school for many years. After graduating high school, I went to cosmetology school to become a hairstylist because I didn’t want a 9 to 5 desk job, and I wanted to do something where I could be creative. After finishing that program, I stayed on at the school to take the Esthetics course that was also offered. After working for a few years as a hairstylist part-time, I decided that I wanted to do more with my life. In high school I took a lot of classes in the arts and history, so I decided to go back to school taking the Fine Arts Advanced program at Georgian College.

I loved the studio course offered at Georgian. I learned about making art in different mediums like print-making, sculpture, drawing, painting, and of course there was also art history, and gallery studies (which was a course covering the business side of the art world). I often stayed late at the school working on art projects. I loved it and I couldn’t get enough. I was there because I wanted to be there and that is when I first discovered that art was a real passion of mine. A few years into this course, I applied to an extra-curricular opportunity to work as a Campus Gallery Curatorial Assistant. It was here that my interest in the inner workings of museums and gallery spaces was discovered.

In this volunteer position, I was a part of a small group of students who assisted the curator with running the art gallery that was on campus. From setting up chairs for artist lectures to working with established artists to install their art exhibitions in the gallery, it was a real eye opener for me, and I remember thinking “Wow, how do I get paid to do this kind of work!?” When I completed the Fine Arts Advanced program, I continued my education through Thompson Rivers University by taking a few online courses that enabled me to receive my Bachelors in Fine Art. While taking these online courses, I learned that Georgian College was in the process of developing a new program – Museum and Gallery Studies.

As you may have guessed, I was a part of the first student body to take the Museum and Gallery Studies program offered at Georgian College. During my studies in this course, I realized that my interests were mainly in collections management and exhibition installation. As a requirement of the course, I had to do a summer internship to graduate the program. I applied for an internship at the MacLaren Art Centre, where I was already a volunteer. I was offered two summer intern positions at the MacLaren and I accepted both positions, working simultaneously as a Summer Curatorial Assistant and as an Assistant in Collections Management. (Keep in mind that through all of my studies at Georgian and the internships, I continued to work as a hairstylist part time).

After completing the Museum and Gallery Studies program, I realized that I missed working alongside other artists in the studio and the feedback they would offer on my artwork in progress. When you work alone in your own studio space, none of this is readily available. Once again I decided to return to school, this time I wanted something completely different – an adventure! I was accepted to the University of the Arts London (UAL)….in England.

This meant big changes in a short amount of time. I had to leave my position as a hairstylist and move from Ontario, Canada to Wimbledon, which is in the South Western part of London, England. There I studied at the Wimbledon College of Art, taking the 2-year MFA: Fine Art Program. While studying at UAL, I worked part time as an Attendant Cleaner at Westminster Abbey and also at Phillips Auction House as an Art Technician. All of this was great experience and a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity.

On my days off while living in England, I would take day trips. Sometimes it would be some sightseeing in London or I would hop on a train and spend the day discovering a new place in England like Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge, Hastings, Bath, etc. On these outings I would bring my small point and shoot camera and photograph anything and everything that I thought was interesting. I thought I might use some imagery for artwork or projects and other images as documentation of my outings to share with friends and family on Facebook. In the end, I was hoping to make one big scrapbook of my time in England.

While in the UK I was accepted to a summer artist residency known as the Canary Wharf New District Residency. Again, this was another opportunity to create artwork in a shared space with a different group of artists. During this residency for whatever reason, I struggled to create artwork. I ended up doing rubbings of different textured and patterned surfaces in and around the space and I also took lots of photographs of my time there. It was such a unique experience to make art, I met many new artists and really enjoyed my time on this residency.

After receiving my Masters in Fine Art, my student visa expired a few months later and I had to return to Canada. Shortly after my arrival, I realized that the storage device holding all my photographs from the two years spent in the UK had malfunctioned and I lost nearly all of my images. I was crushed! I had so many planned projects for those images including my big scrapbook. I never wanted this to happen again and after using my small point and shoot camera for two years to document my time in the UK, I really grew to love photography.

I purchased a new digital SLR camera and I joined a small photography club that met one night a week to learn how to use my camera and experiment with a variety of techniques for different effects that could be done in-camera. It was something I really looked forward to doing every week. When the course was finished I wanted to continue learning about photography and the small club I attended each week was lacking the post processing techniques that could be done on the computer with editing software like Adobe Photoshop. I remember as an art student at Georgian College I would walk by the Photography department and see the instructor in the computer lab teaching Photoshop to his students and I wanted to learn that too. As an art student there was very little exposure to photography, likely because there was an entirely separate course dedicated to photography itself.

My First DSLR Camera, a Canon Rebel T7i

I decided to take my photography more seriously, enrolling in the two-year Photography program, and I was once again a student at Georgian College. While studying in this program, I was a Gallery Attendant, and a Lead Artist Instructor, teaching art classes at the MacLaren Art Centre. For me, photography was a very different approach to making art. First of all, the course was designed to produce photographers that would start their own business or work in the field as a photographer. I was approaching the program and the medium as an artist looking to create fine art using photography. Secondly, I found that because photography was digital, it was a very different method of working. As an artist, I felt a bit removed from the process because I was always used to being in a studio space working with my hands and tools to physically make something. Now I was in the studio shooting behind a camera and editing on a computer in front of a screen, sitting for long periods of a time. I was definitely out of my creative comfort zone and it took me quite a long time to adjust to this new way of making. Of course, once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, everything went online and using a computer became one of the main outlets for me to communicate, study and create new artwork.

The Photography Studio at Georgian College in 2019

Since graduating the photography course, I have learned that I need to find other ways to access education and I can’t keep investing in these programs that are several years in length. I don’t know if it is because I am getting older or because the photography course was so different from any other that I had taken in the past, but I found it very difficult to get through at times and felt that this type of education may no longer be right for me. I still love to learn and if the subject is interesting I can soak up new information like a sponge. But I have learned to do research and find other avenues to continue learning. There are many different forms of education available, the trick is to find the method that is right for you.

If you read through my educational journey above, you will notice that there are lots of different methods of learning that I have used including college, university, in-person classes, online classes, extra-curricular activities, clubs, volunteering, internships, a residency, on the job experience, and more. I was able to learn in all different forms because my lifestyle was able to shift and change with the way that the education was delivered. Now my lifestyle has again shifted, and I am now in a position where I work full-time as a Preparator (packing and installing artwork and exhibitions), I make art/photography in my free time outside of work and although I am still curious and eager to learn, I have a lot less time to focus on education. Understand that education after graduation is still an important component to my art practice and any practice worth investing in. If you don’t continue to use what you have learned, you will lose it.

I now work full time and education thought traditional school courses is no longer an option for me. You may have found yourself in a similar situation, so what is available? Truth be told, in today’s world there are so many options and opportunities to learn. Some of these options are free while others come with a price tag. Depending on what it is you want to learn, it may narrow your options, but it pays to do your research and explore all possibilities.

Other Ways to Learn:

Ask others! Reach out to your mentors, past professors, instructors, friends, acquaintances, or former classmates. If you just have a simple question that needs answering or even if it is more involved, then reach out and see if they can offer help in any way. Even if they can’t, they may be able to point you in the right direction to find what you are looking for.

Online Learning

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning has become very popular. There are online tutorials, how-to-videos on YouTube, livestreams from companies that want you to use their product, LinkedIn Learning where you learn at your own pace, informative blogs, social media pages, and more.

LinkedIn Learning is an example of education available online

In-Person Learning and Hands-On Experience

This includes everything from volunteering, joining a club, getting on-the-job experience, apprenticeships or internships, and one- or two-day short courses to name a few. There are some options offered in-person and/or online, such as conferences, lectures, short summer courses offered at community colleges or universities (usually only a few short weeks in length), and libraries. Don’t underestimate the library, they offer more than just books to borrow nowadays.

If none of these suggestions are right for you, then perhaps you just need to find something that drives you. Continue to push forward, continue to experiment, continue to be curious and if all else fails, then try being self-taught! It is amazing what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it and are willing to do the hard work necessary for success.

Best of luck to you and happy learning!

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