Are you thinking of studying a BTEC in Art and Design? What about studying Art at university? Joanna Collins gives us an insight into her BTEC experience and her first year as an undergraduate Art student at Bath Spa University.
Thanks for taking the time to share your education story with us, Joanna. You’re currently a university undergraduate at Bath Spa studying Fine Art. How has your first year of university been? Was it what you expected?
My first year was a lot of fun! My art practice was influenced by various lectures from staff and visiting artists – I think it's very important to hear from people who have experienced a Fine Art degree and what they're now doing after graduating. My first year also gave me time to experiment with the workshops, such as print and sculpture. I'm naturally an introvert and sometimes there was quite an emphasis on making friends and going out when I'd much rather be in the studio! I met a couple of others who are just like me and had the same passions, so at the end of the year we completed a collaborative project together.
How has your Fine Art university course been, are you enjoying it? What have you been working on this year?
I was super nervous but also very excited. Now, I know I'm where I'm meant to be. I adore my course in every sense, I'm lucky that I can produce work (sometimes without even thinking) and be within a studio environment. This year I've discovered installation, which I've always been interested in. I like how I can include the viewer by composing an installation which invites the viewer to touch, pick up and think with my works. I've mostly looked at advertisements, printed and digital. I've increasingly become aware that we're existing to be consumed, this can of course be represented by advertising but also physically, mass production and what entails beyond that.
Do you know what you will be working on in the second and third year of your degree?
I want to continue with making installations next year and continue to play with the idea of being consumed by something that's bigger than your own physicality. I'm intrigued by processes that have a historical context, such as printmaking, I think I'd like to push this next year because of the intense physical labour that is endured during various print processes.
Why did you choose to study Fine Art at university? What are you planning to progress on to with this degree once you graduate?
Originally, I wanted to do graphics or illustration but when I found that Fine Art existed I was sold immediately. I chose Fine Art so that I can progress physically and mentally with my practice, to be in a studio from 9-5 and to develop a relationship with the campus itself. I'd either like to progress onto an MA in something relevant or continue invigilating where I currently work which is a wonderful gallery space called Edge Arts. But of course, in an ideal world I'd have my own studio.
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue a career within art? Was there a defining moment, or have you always known it was something you wanted to do?
Growing up I never really had the chance to make 'art' – I was always playing football, something that I'll always find hilarious. Then I discovered 'art', which could be done anywhere, anytime, whatever mood I was in. I managed a B in GCSE and attempted sixth form but for me, it just wasn't the environment I wanted to continue in. After that my mentality suffered a bit which is when I started to rely on art, which was a sort of therapy for me.
I then applied to Petroc, a campus with a small art and design department. The campus anyone but I continued to push through this and make as much of the situation as I could. I then developed my own way of working and continued this into the second year of my BTEC, meaning my days at college will always be special to me. The environment, staff, facilities and peers were everything I ever dreamt of and originally, I just wanted to try and finish a course which I previously failed to do. But the BTEC was far more than a course to me, it became something that I wanted to continue for eternity – making art was, and still is, all I want to do.
And why did you choose to study a BTEC in Art and Design? What part did it play in getting you into university?
I chose a BTEC because there was no exam, I'm a horrendous mess in exams. Also, because it gave me freedom to explore. It was a huge part, I wouldn't have got into university without it.
How did you find your BTEC course at school/college? What did you enjoy about it? What made it different to your subjects that weren’t BTEC?
I adored every moment of it, it never became a chore like some of my other subjects. Back in sixth form the A levels that I attempted where far too academic – too much writing, too much that considered wrong or right. I wanted something that was growing with me rather than disposable.
Would you recommend a BTEC to others? If so, why?
Absolutely! I would recommend it because of the freedom, the experience it gives you.
Do you have any advice to someone looking to follow a similar pathway as you – studying art, going to university etc.?
Keep on making, even when you feel like you've hit a brick wall, try to get past this. For me, a useful way of reusing old material is to keep a pile of things that didn't make it into the final outcome – keep the offcuts, scraps and re-use this. University is scary but it's filled with so many opportunities. If you are looking at going to university, make sure the facilities and environment are what you know you'll thrive in.
You also work at a professional practice with an artist. Can you tell us a little bit about this? How did you get this opportunity? What does the work involve? What experience have you gained from it?
This year for my professional practice module I went back to my old college where I did my BTEC as an Artist in Residence. I was so lucky to have this opportunity. Going back was a great experience, I assisted students with their Final Major Project and end of year show. It was very nostalgic for me, getting the bus and talking to students about their ideas. I then made some of my own work that will be in the Alumni show alongside the current students. Some of my work is also in the local Fringe Arts Bath festival and next week I'm going to The Tate to participate in a performance project at the exchange! The experience from my professional practice has been overwhelming. I'm getting a sense of what it's like after you graduate. I'm really excited to graduate and continue getting involved with projects, artists and expanding my practice.
In 2017 you were awarded as BTEC Art and Design Student of the Year. Congratulations! How did it feel to win? What does it mean to you to have won this award?
I was so shocked and confused, I didn't even know I had been entered until then and I wasn't aware that these awards existed! I'm really proud to represent Petroc and BTEC Art and Design. To me, it's a reminder to myself of what I can achieve.
One of your lifetime dreams is to have your own art studio. Are you hoping to get this started after university? What would you like to create and sell in this studio, will it have a particular theme?
Yes, absolutely but the question is money, as usual. I'm quite content with the spare room of my house that I'm working in at the moment. I'd like to have a bigger studio that's shared with artists, writers, makers and creative minds. From here we'd be able to respond to each other on particular themes, projects etc.
What about the summer break, do you have any exciting plans?
I'm taking part in a project at the Tate next with Bath Spa, I'm super excited because the project is experimenting with performance – something that I haven't really worked with before. I have a few personal projects that I've been meaning to finish.
Last question, if you could meet a famous artist from the past, who would it be and why?
This is tough one, but I'd say Max Ernst, purely because he was one of the first artists I ever looked at that made me ask a lot of questions about my work and the world I am living in.