It strikes me that, back in Scotland at least, this is the time of year when the art schools hold their traditional final exhibit degree shows; even now, more than a quarter century after my own BA show, the thought makes me surprisingly anxious.
The degree show is exactly what it sounds like: the final show of the work you’ve been doing for the entire year, upon which you’re judged by the teachers, tutors, and whoever else is roped in on what grade your final degree is going to be. (For my school, it wasn’t only the exhibit that you were graded on; you could file supporting work as well. I did, and in the three hour window between getting my grade and the exhibit opening to the public, was told by tutors to put some of it in the actual exhibit, and remove some of the work originally in the exhibit because it wasn’t good enough. It was a lesson in self-editing, as well as a lesson in ego death.)
Even now, I can remember vividly how stressful preparing for the degree show was: the feeling that this one event would define the result of your last four years of life and work is a curiously masochistic experience, especially given the increasingly hands-off attitude displayed by art school staff in the final year leading up to it. More and more, you find yourself on your own as the final date moves closer, thinking to yourself, don’t fuck it up don’t fuck it up.
A year and change after my BA degree show, I was at it again with my MA degree show, the result of what had been at that point a sustained 12 months of work and self-directed exploration. The pressure on me for that show was, if anything, even greater for a number of reasons, but I remember feeling far less stressed about it, and far more convinced that I was doing the right thing, no matter what grade I got.
Somewhere out there as I type, there are likely kids like I was back then, feeling as if the weight of the world — and more importantly, their entire future — is on their shoulders as they prep their final exhibit. I hope they have more confidence than I did, and the perspective and self-belief that I didn’t get until my MA show.