“My Life Plans” or “What to do with an Art History degree”
By Caroline Croasdaile
We’ve all had that overbearing uncle at the Christmas party ask us what we’re planning on doing with our lives- how we plan on making a living, and who has scoffed over our use of the words ‘art history’. These days I just roll my eyes and go for seconds on the shrimp cocktail Bridget Jones-style. However, in the past and more dramatically: I’d refuse to tell anyone about my plans to study art history at the postgraduate level, declaring to my family that I was didn’t care about the input or opinions of acquaintances. This of course is ridiculous, and was probably the result of a trepidation about the future that I’ve luckily since shed. However, at the time this seemed important to me, even though complete secrecy is hard to accomplish, especially when you come from a social and talkative family like mine. Last autumn my father hosted a brunch for his retiring colleague that I attended primarily due to the enticements of mimosas and omelets. His colleague who, bless her, was only trying to be nice, gave me and my family a shout out from a mic. in front of the room of 100+ aging clients, which included telling everyone what I wanted to do with my life- at the time literally my nightmare. Of course, my sister found this hilarious and burst out laughing, because she knew just how uncomfortable I was with sharing my hopes and dreams with people, and how absurd it was that a banquet hall of white-haired strangers now knew.
In reality, any university student who is nearing graduation struggles with the stress and anxiety of what to do next. For some reason I thought my situation was dire because I didn’t study finance or accounting, and I wasn’t a pre-med student with the next decade of my life mapped out. No, I studied art history, which over the years a lot of people have made me feel pigeon-holed for doing. I’ve been told it must be a vanity project, or that I’m not serious, or (this one I’ve only gotten in St. Andrews) that I’m “looking for a Prince William”. I’m sorry to disappoint, especially one ginger-haired spare, but the more I’ve developed my own sense of self and ambitions, the more I’ve found this to be radically untrue. The reality is that if we approach our degree like any other we will be disappointed. Instead, the prerequisite for success after graduation with an art history degree is creativity- luckily something our education and personal dispositions tend to have in high supply. We can’t expect to enter a corporate ladder and follow a neat path already tread by hundreds, and honestly who among us truly wants that? We’re a different breed, and we have to blaze our own trails and create our own projects. The art market is a multi-billion-pound economy, and the limitations are where we place them.
A perfect example of this type of creativity is an organization I came across recently called Arts&Heritage. If you’ve ever fretted about the relevance of your love of beautiful old things this is an amazing and super-creative answer to the problem. Essentially a U.K.-based art consultancy group, Arts&Heritage organizes the placement of modern art installations in historic settings around Britain in a way that utilizes historical spaces and allows artists to investigate context and history. They’ve facilitated installations such as “House of Beasts” at the stately home of Attingham Park, “Foghorn Requium” a musical performance featuring an armada of British vessels offshore, and “Everything Old Was Once New” held in the medieval home of Greyfriars House. Their future projects include the Brontë Parsonage Museum and Chetham’s Library- the oldest in the English-speaking world. Being able to imagine, execute, and profit from original projects like these should be every art historians dream goal, and the perfect case study of how think beyond the narrow space others tend to think our field occupies.
As the year draws to a close I’ve been researching and applying to positions that have made my friends studying Spanish, or International Relations, or Accounting turn pea-green with envy: research assistantships at world-class museums, an exhibition specialist for an ancient library, an archaeological team member in a sun-soaked villa in southern Italy. While all of these are competitive and by no means a sure thing, they make me excited about the future, and are a damn good reason to get up in the morning, hit the library, and work hard. So essentially the moral of this story is to not be like the crazy me of last year. Be proud of what you do and feel lucky that you have fallen in love with something that that not only fills the hours of the day, but makes life worth living. Not everyone has that.