Erin Davidson discusses some tips for working in the arts

Making a commitment to a career in the visual arts can be daunting. Selecting a course that is right for you, while wondering where it may lead in five years time, is enough to make even the most passionate lover of Pissarro, Picasso and Pollock pause for thought. Having a plan is great – and post graduate qualifications are essential – but life can lead you in unknown directions. Still, if you are open to such twists and turns, the visual arts world can be an exhilarating place in which to work.

Internationally renowned Australian art curator Nick Waterlow put it best in a list he titled ‘A Curator’s Last Will and Testament’. Found after his death in 2009, Waterlow’s words of wisdom offer an excellent precis of the skills required to make your mark in the sector and will resonate with anyone who believes in the importance of art and artists:

1 Passion

2 An eye of discernment

3 An empty vessel

4 An ability to be uncertain

5 Belief in the necessity of art and artists

6 A medium – bringing a passionate and informed understanding of works of art to an audience in ways that will stimulate, inspire, question

7 Making possible the altering of perception.

Held at the Gallery earlier this year, a career panel for high school and tertiary students brought together local artists Peter Drew, Alice Potter and Meg Wilson, along with curators Liz Nowell and the present writer, each of whom explained the path their career has taken. With backgrounds in philosophy, theatre, graphic design, occupational therapy and interior design, all now work in a variety of arts roles in South Australia.

As the panellists discussed their respective career paths, it became apparent that many aspects of their journeys were similar. Each had volunteered and interned, collaborated with others and spent time travelling. Each spoke about dealing with uncertainty and taking risks, and found that these experiences had led to the development of new networks and skills. They were also refreshingly honest about the length of time it takes to establish oneself, while being enthusiastic about what a career in the visual arts has to offer, now and in the future.

Five years ago, positions at the Gallery such as Curator of Contemporary Art, Tarnanthi Education Officer, and Project Officer, Artistic Programs, did not exist. Now they do, proving that the sector is expanding, and that people from diverse backgrounds with a multitude of skills can become involved. In another five years, who knows what exciting new positions will be available? For those who decide to commit to such a career, working in the visual arts will always offer a space in which to be stimulated and inspired.

Erin Davidson is Project Officer, Artistic Programs at AGSA. This article first appeared in AGSA Magazine Issue 30, 2018.