The Blog

A Pocket Guide to Your First Year at an Arts University

Yes you're at an arts university but it's not all a walk in the park. In fact people underestimate art courses as an easy degree which isn't the case but you don't necessarily class it as 'work' if you enjoy an extent, anyway.

So my first year at UCA is complete and I'll be starting my second year soon. Throughout this year, I've spoken to and witnessed other people's experiences of their 'first years' at university and I've noticed that my experience has differed fairly substantially to theirs... And so I give you, my pocket guide to your first year at an arts university.

1. Art is subjective

So at our university, we have various exhibitions around campus that are constantly changing... One week you'll see dirt coating a wall and the next you see a collection of inflated bin bags. But what you may see as a medium through which you get rid of rubbish, another sees a masterpiece communicating a black hole of disregard for our planet.

2. Collaborations, connections & creating

Artistic degrees often require you to work with or ask for the help of your peers, so being nice to most everyone you meet and befriending as many people you can will never not be helpful! In film, you work in a crew; journalists cover stories about other courses; photographers need models, etc. You'll also find that the university Facebook page is a great place to ask for a favour when you need one.

3. Odd requests

Since it's an arts university, everyone's working on projects that express themselves or exploring their interests. A lot of the time, people are looking for make-up artists and different crew roles but if you are found out as having a talent that can be utilised, expect requests from both ends of the spectrum. Personally I found out this year that I can mock up decent SFX make-up after directing a zombie film: I made bite marks, among other wounds and hollowing body make up that I posted on my social media afterwards. This eventually led to being asked to do ballerina make up, bruising make up and eventually creating a fake severed finger from scratch - who knew hot dogs could be so finger-like?!

4. Wear what you want

Before I came to an arts uni I'd be very self-conscious about wearing out outfits that I thought would be slightly unconventional or 'different'....until I literally saw, on my first day, a guy who'd drawn circles around his eyes and another who wore a dress made of fake money. Also in lectures, turning up in a onesie isn't an unusual occurrence. So in all honesty, wear what you want because no one will judge you, you will never be surrounded by more open minded individuals.

5. Pets & more

If you know someone who has a pet - the more exotic and unusual, the better - befriend them. This year, both a hedgehog and tortoise have been used in films...who knows what'll be next? And it could be in your project. I'd also keep an eye out for interesting objects too - I'm aware of someone who also bought a samurai sword on a project excursion this year.

6. Your work rep

This is a big factor across the board. In the words of a friend of mine "your projects are an extension of you". What you create heavily reflects on you so don't do anything you wouldn't want your name attached to. That, along with what you are like to work with, will also heavily influence whether people will want to work with you, relating back to the collaboration point.

7. Caffeine vs. Peanuts

If you're staying up late, a word of advice, go for peanuts and more natural/healthy sources of energy. A slightly motherly rant here but energy drinks are incredibly unhealthy for you and only give you a short burst of energy whereas peanuts provide a more sustainable source of energy that burns slowly, keeping your energised for longer...that with a couple cheeky guilty pleasures and you'll be sorted for the day/night.

8. Try new things

University is probably the last time in your life where you can try new things/experiment without massive consequence...especially if one of your years doesn't contribute towards your degree grade. You're in a safe environment surrounded by people who also want to learn and the worst possible outcome is that it doesn't work and you have to find a way around it, essentially improving your problem solving skills!

9. No idea is a stupid idea

Within reason, of course. Whether it's a gigantic idea or a little idea, if you want it to be a part of your work then do it. 'Stupid ideas' don't (and if they do, shouldn't) exist at an arts university because your project is personal to you - if you're working in a group and want the idea enough you'll find a way to incorporate it whether it becomes the main subject or a subliminal aspect. It's all about give and take.

10. Don't give up!

Yes you're at an arts university but it's not all a walk in the park. In fact people underestimate art courses as an easy degree which isn't the case but you don't necessarily class it as 'work' if you enjoy an extent, anyway. There's always going to be a theory aspect you your course and although it may not be your domain, persevere. There will be people at university who can and will help you whether it's your friends or the support staff at the university.

(image by Ray Roberts)