Thoughts on: Studying Fine Art at NUA

by Beauchamp Art

This is taken from a conversation with a peer at another university, studying Fine Art where I did my Foundation course, giving a summary of the course and its structure, starting from a description of my studio space and going from there into a general synopsis of key components of the course. There were originally references to another institution and its buildings that have been removed due to pragmatic necessities, and some sections have been reworded for the sake of clarity, though is still telling of my experience so far of the course, and may not be the same for other students. As this was fairly extensive, I felt it was worth including as part of my reflective writing, though does not directly relate to the work I am making, only the environment I am currently working within the University.
Here I have taken the main points from the message and amalgamated them together into one body of text which offers my perception of the function of the Fine Art course here at NUA. This is not intended as a criticism or an attack, rather a recollection of observations based on my time here so far, as well as from anecdotes and opinions by peers, graduates, and facility members.
This does not in anyway reflect the opinion of the NUA or its staff.

Well, my original studio space this year was awful, I got a small half-desk with a chair, and a bit of wall space smaller than my arm-span crammed in with 5 other people. However, I and a few others moved from there, so I am were the lockers were, until I moved them, in a sort of corridor space/thoroughfare between some of the studio rooms – so now I have a few metres of wall, and a couple of desks. Though I tend not to make work there, just store things. Most of my work is made with a camera and a computer, so I spend a fair amount of time in the computer suits and library. I still am drawing, but have pretty much abandoned painting for the time being. There is an reasonable amount of studio space in general. There are three main areas of studio, over two floors of one building, and a small section in the basement of another building, this is for all 3 years [the MA is separate; in the basement of the first building].
Fine Art’s studio space currently consists of the upper two floors of St Georges and the Gutons basement, split between a number of interconnected spaces. There used to be another two rooms, though they have been turned into teaching rooms this year, and the basement space is now half storage. However, as there are around 250-or-so students on the course, it is quite crowded, and the space is not evenly distributed. The sculpture spaces are fairly generous, whereas the printmakers are fairly cramped [I was put in with them, for some reason].

The course structure sometimes is a bit confusing, but in first and second year, we have weekly lectures for most of the year, along with seminar, group and individual tutorials and crits, then additional workshops. In first year there’s more workshops stuff, more like a Foundation structure, which we then specialise in a certain area and have more specific tutoring. These areas are Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, and Hybrid (also known as ‘new media’, with more film, photography, performance sort of stuff). However, these specialisms are not that fixed, you can go between freely, and in second year the only real difference is the studio space. In first year, I specialised in Painting, but also went to most of the Hybrid/New Media workshops, and this year I was put in with Print (again, I do not know why exactly).
We get approximate marks for 4 ‘Learning Objectives’ that do not explicitly relate to the major aspects of the course: studio work, research, reflection, ‘personal development and planning’, and the essay, though this can vary unit to unit.

This year there has been a fair few inter-year sign up workshops, I have done a few in printmaking film, and life drawing in my own time. They have also started these regular discussion groups called ‘Thematic Crits’ which have been really interesting, in which a small group of students and two tutors would meet up to discuss a theme. Though we were only meant to go to one, I ended up going to around fifteen, because they were rather enjoyable. However, by this time of the year, most of the ‘taught’ workshops stop [though the actual facilities are still open, the sculpture/3D workshop has had building work so has been closed for most of the year, but the print facilities, computer suits have stayed open). There is no kiln for firing clay, only a small one for making moulds to be cast; there is no ceramics department.

At the end of each year, the emphasis shifts from making work and writing to organising exhibitions and display for all years. The studios will soon be dismantled in preparation for the degree show, and then we have a week after until submission, which for this last time is entirely documentation. For me this makes no difference, as I just submit a couple of folders and a memory stick anyway.
I am not quiet sure about 3rd year, they have 2 units, broken up by Christmas, and they have to write a 5000 or 10000 word dissertation/research report, the format of which can vary, though most people write an ‘extended essay’, in a similar format to previous written work. There are no workshops or taught session in 3rd year, besides the sign-up activities and a few exhibition opportunities, though they are more tailored towards 2nd years – nor are there any lectures. There are, however, still tutorials; for practical work and the dissertation; group and individual. This culminates in the Degree Show, where the studios are emptied and filled with the students work, curated by a small group of students and lectures/tutors. The exhibition is opened to the public for a short while, and then is dismantled. If your 2nd and 3rd marks total over 40%, you graduate, having to pay an extortionate fee on top of the cost of the course itself, for the ceremony, robes, and other ritualistic elements (which can total just under £100, if one has a guest/parent or two in the audience).
After graduating, there are MAs and Alumni schemes that can be considered, though where one goes from there is one’s own choice. Currently, NUA has around 55% of graduates in employment after 6 months, so one’s fate is uncertain. However, things are always prone to change, I try to keep aware as to the shifting of the tides, and how affected they are by wider politics as well as the relationship between the courses.