For this month’s post, I’ve mulled and pondered, thought and reflected, yet I could not come up with any sort of brilliant topic for my penultimate post. So I thought I would just tell it like it is and lay out all that has been on my mind lately. To be honest, a lot is going on: dissertation research, job applications, and general rumination on life and the future. And in considering all these things, my emotions have run the gamut from worry to excitement, trying to remain steadfast throughout (much like the British Ministry of Information during WWII, who promoted the slogan: “Keep Calm and Carry On”).
Like fellow Open Enrollee Melinda Guillen, I have been deflecting the question, “What’s next?” While I do have an unpaid internship lined up for the fall, I am still faced with the gaping hole of the summer and the reality of living in London, complete with the economic practicalities that come with it. In looking at jobs in publishing, auction houses, galleries, and museums, London seems like an ideal setting to cultivate experience in the arts. Every now and then, however, I ask myself, “What is an MA in Art History good for?” While the additional educational credential is definitely a plus, I find the requirements of current job opportunities rely more on previous job experience. No matter how enthusiastic you may be as a potential candidate, the offer doesn’t come down to future potential but, rather, to demonstrated past performance. It’s unfortunate but true.
Of course, the MA definitely doesn’t count for nothing, providing valuable specialization as well as immersive experience in engaging with scholarship, research and writing. While foreign students will forever foot a massive bill made worse by an unfavorable exchange rate, young British artists and art historians now face the challenging new reality of the education system (recently reported in The Guardian), with fees tripling to £9,000 almost across the board. Getting an MA in this period of transition will seem more of a privilege than an option, the British educational landscape shifting to look less like Canada and more like the USA. For what it is worth, getting an MA (or even a BA for that matter) will mean taking a plunge into the red.
For now, I need to pleasant myself with deep-sea-diving into the red for a while longer before I start to head up to the surface for debt-free air, since I still need to clear the last hurdle between me and that MA: the dissertation. After slowly recovering my motivation post-exam in the fresh spring/summer sunshine of London, I have now begun to bury myself in books and articles, libraries and archives. Through research and writing, I’ll gradually crystallize and articulate my exact focus, putting together my final art historical paper (at least for now). It is a process of sifting and digging, reading and ruminating. It is a game of connect-the-(useful)-dots of research sources to present my scholarly art historical voice. While going through this process, I’ve been writing art reviews on the side and working part-time at the slide library at The Courtauld, thus paying heed not only to my intellectual life but also to the daily practicalities of my London life.
So the future looms, but I can’t really worry about it too much too soon. After all, I do have a dissertation to write. After cyclically getting lost in thought and worry, I come back to the present, take a deep breath, and carry on. For now, I am quite lucky and grateful to have my fairly relaxed (if not entirely financially viable) student lifestyle. Thus, back to the routine of yoga, cooking, working, researching, writing, and a whole lot of thinking…