The Tale of an Arts Graduate

the Teddy Bear Museum in Korea has an amazing art gallery.

the Teddy Bear Museum in Korea has an amazing art gallery.

While I have been at home enduring the long and painful wait to process my visa, I managed to get a few weeks work in an art gallery. Nothing major, just helping to open shows and do some writing, keeping me busy and giving me a little bit of cash. Now I know that it is only a temporary job and nothing to take too seriously, but I do have an educational background in this type of work and I have worked in a  gallery before. Bottom line, this girl knows what she is doing. So imagine my dismay when I turned up today and was told “the floor is so dirty, can you vacuum and then mop it?”


Part of me wanted to say something witty like “oh sorry I never passed my paper on how to mop a gallery floor,” another part of me wanted to do it all smiles and them run the mop down one of the art works (my that would make me feel like a bad ass, all those years of not being aloud to touch them). Instead I spent hours cleaning the gallery and awkwardly talking to patrons about the artists. 

Now I know that the job market is tough out there and that we need to start at the bottom, but sometimes it seems like people in their early 20s are taken advantage of. We worked just as hard as anyone else to graduate, often we have fresh ideas and new motivation to bring to the job, and instead we get give the crappiest tasks. A lot of the time we aren’t even getting paid – I know I have spend many hours sitting in a cold gallery as an intern, just so I can add it to my CV. 

It has me thinking, when is that big break, the turning point where you can actually feel like you are contributing to your job and have some value there. My friends and I have been out of University for about three years now, we survived our first jobs and got over the jitters that come with working in the real world. Now it feels like nothing is changing and wont be for a long long time. I find this really disheartening and it is partly what turned me off pursuing the arts world for a job. We start so motivated and excited to be there, but when you give a new graduate a crappy job like mopping the floors or cutting out labels, they are going lose a lot of ambition. These are the types of things that I was doing when I was a student because they gave me some references and would help me later on, it makes you wonder what that degree was for in the first place.

I feel like we are judged because of our ages, for two reasons

1) we are young, therefore should be appreciative to even have a job and it shouldn’t matter how much we get paid (which is good for the employer)

2) We are young, therefore we will fuck things up. Partly because we would rather be in bed sleeping of a hangover then at work (because that’s what all us 20 somethings do right), and also because we have no experience.

This last one fires me up because I see our lack of experience as a good thing. For me, the art world is full of middle aged men who write and talk about the same old crap, they don’t like change. Younger employees have fresh ideas and a new passion for the job. yeah there are some people who don’t care about their job that much and would rather be at home, but part of that is the employers fault isn’t it? Shouldn’t you be motivating your staff instead of discouraging them. Right now I feel like I wont get anywhere if I continue to work in art galleries, the feeling of suffocation and mind-numbing boredom that drove me to Asia



teaching colours through dominos is much more fun then cleaning.

teaching colours through dominos is much more fun then cleaning.

So what are we to do?

– I guess we could just suck it up and wait for things to happen. It is true that dedication to a job will impress your boss. If you keep at it you are showing him/her that you want to be there and are serious. However this can be a little risky, you don’t want to get labeled as that employee whose fine where they are – let your ambitions known. Tell your boss, manager, whoever that you want to get ahead in this field, perhaps ask them about their background and how they started. This lets them know that you are serious and keeps you at the back of their mind.

-Be professional. Yeah that sounds lame and cheesy, as does the saying ‘dress for the job you want not the job you have.’ But to be honest this is good advice. I do feel like 20 somethings aren’t looked at too seriously by a lot of people, my friend had a job interview recently where she was asked several times how often she went out, drank, and had called in sick in the past year. I understand an employers concern but man it is annoying when they do this! Instead of getting really frustrated at this judgement, show them how mature you are and rub your amazingness in their face. Dress professionally, turn up on time, do your work thoroughly and efficiently – most important don’t get hammered on a work night! Turning up with a hangover is not going to work in your favour. Maybe wait until you have been there few years and have a good position, then do it (kidding).

– Don’t sell yourself short. With a first job particularly it is easy to just tell them what they want to hear, “sure I don’t mind doing a few dishes the night after an opening/making coffee for everyone/any other basic task that has nothing to do with my background or this job.” While it is important to make yourself flexible with a first job, it is equally important to let them know you aren’t just another 20 something graduate. There is no shame in telling your boss “I see this position as a chance for me to expand my skills and eventually move on to a higher position within the company.”

think about your interview and really plan it.

think about your interview and really plan it.

– Same goes for that question “where do you see yourself in five years?” This question, or some variation of it, seems to be a token for most interviews. I have never liked it because my automatic reaction was to say something to help me get the job, something like “still working here, I am ready to settle into a position.” When we do this we don’t really make much of an impression other then label ourselves as a person who isn’t aiming that high. A much better answer? “I would like to be working as a (insert desired job here), overseeing tasks such as (insert super cool and important jobs).” Make sure they know that you don’t want to be at the bottom level for too long.

-Already in a job? First point would be to talk to your manager or whoever. Let them know that you are serious and ask them how you could help your career. If they don’t want to help you then something is seriously wrong with them, all businesses should want their staff to learn and move up in the company.

– Use your initiative. Don’t be afraid to take your ideas and tell people about them. Letting senior staff know of an idea you have is such an easy way to get noticed as a bright young person. There really is no such thing as a stupid idea so don’t feel shy, these people were once in the same position as you and might be able to offer insight and help to get your idea off the ground.

move on to something better

move on to something better

– Know when to move on. There are some jobs that are just crappy. Maybe your boss is taking advantage of your age and doesn’t really care if you move up in the company or not. If you let your ambitions known and are still finding yourself doing useless tasks after several months it may be time to leave. At your next job you can explain to them why you left, that despite all of your experience and background you were still being treated as an intern and you want to be seen as a professional. It is only going to make you look serious and committed to your next employer.

I hope this helps and that you do manage to turn your job into a career. As for me? Today I vacuumed the floors, cleaned up all the wine and glasses from last nights gallery opening; then wrote a free lance review of the show which I will try to get published. If we don’t make things happen for ourselves, who will?


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