Sketchy futures? ... art students at Anglia Ruskin University. Photograph: Graham Turner
So what next? For all the post A-level congratulations/commiserations, that's the unspoken question at the back of many people's minds if you've happened to have taken Art or Art History. Everyone is very pleased that you can draw and sculpt so well or that you are knowledgeable about post-impressionism and modernism, but what exactly is the point?
In an increasingly pragmatic and competitive age, the purpose of education is increasingly being reduced to the functional basics of getting a job. And given that openings for the new Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin and curator of Tate Modern or the Courtauld are likely to be thin on the ground, your career prospects don't on the surface look incredibly rosy.
Some years ago you might have just said, "Sod it, I'm going to study Art or Art History at university anyway," but now with tuition fees running at £3,000 a year and many students graduating with debts of around £20,000, it's not so easy to take that kind of attitude. Research shows that more students are now opting for vocational degrees, and that arts graduates tend to have lower staring salaries than almost everyone else.
If this all sounds a bit gloomy, then get used to it. These are the facts and there's no point trying to pretend otherwise. Equally, it's no reason to give up on your dreams. If Art or Art History is what you really want to do, then go for it. Far better to study a subject about which you are passionate than to grind your way through three years of a course that you're not particularly interested in.
Put it another way. If your sole purpose of going to university is to get you a qualification that will give you a job you don't particularly like that pays enough to pay off your student debts, then maybe you've rather missed the point. Of course, it's not very nice to know that you're likely to come out of university at the lower end of the financial pecking order, but then if you're into the arts you'll just have to get used to it. Loads of graduates want interesting, creative jobs and employers exploit that ruthlessly by paying them peanuts.
In any case, assuming you're not one of the five people each year to end up with a vocational art history job, it's not what you learn at university that really counts. In the same way that employers aren't terribly interested in an English student's analysis of Donne's metaphysics or a history student's take on German imperialism in the 19th century, no one is going to much care what you know about Picasso's Guernica.
What people will be looking for are the same things that every employer is looking for: good communication skills, IT literacy, flexibility, teamwork skills etc. Your actual degree is just the first step towards getting your CV shifted on to the pile of those candidates selected for interview. And, generally speaking, which university you went to still counts a great deal more than what you studied. How else could so many uninspiring Oxbridge graduates get to the top of so many greasy poles?
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