I swapped history for art lectures, and now I feel enlightened

A day in the life of an art student at Lancaster

As a humanities student, I get tired of my maths and science housemates complaining about their labs and their structured Uni lives where someone tells them if an answer is wrong or right instead of their lecturers saying, at the end of seemingly every lecture, but who really knows what history is?

But even I, a history and creative writing major-minor student, turned my nose up at art as a degree. Well, it’s just splashing a bit of paint around, isn’t it? I used to think silently as my artist housemate complained about how hard looking at pictures was, whilst I sat finishing essays.

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But, when her essay deadlines piled up and she started telling us about Plato’s caves, I realised that there was slightly more to it than wearing a peasant blouse and getting paint stains on my jeans for my Instagram. So I decided to try being an art student for the day, to see if it really was how I imagined it to be.

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Fine Art: not as easel as it looks

When I arrived at the lecture, it wasn’t just art students: theatre kids, dancers, and film students all put their hands up in turn as I sat awkwardly at the back, hoping my creative writing was enough to avoid being judged. The people themselves weren’t as “arty” as I’d imagined: apart from the standard blue and pink hair, there was the normal selection of comfy jumpers and tired faces I saw in my own lectures, just with better makeup.

Soon enough, as the lecturer started talking about phenomenology and art as experience, I felt the kind of mild confusion I’m used to in my own lectures. A minute later, this grew into full-blown, I-have-no-idea-what-anyone-is-talking-about panic, made worse by the nodding heads around me. These people weren’t even taking notes, they were just watching the lecturer and seeming to absorb everything he said about the noetic and chiasmic nerve.

Ten minutes in, and this is already harder than history – at least I know who Galileo is. I can’t even spell phenomenology. But I go with it, and, when Van Gogh’s shoes appear on the screen, I almost understand what he’s saying when the shoes are more than the shoes – I’ve certainly never looked at footwear like this before, not even in the Kurt Geiger sale. Maybe I should be switching degrees.

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A world of pure imagination

The studio was even more eye-opening. As well as having the most ducks on campus, it’s gorgeous inside and out. Instead of sitting at desks and watching the minute hand of the clock for fifty minutes like the rest of us conventional students, the art students went to their studio spaces where they spend hours – hours – at a time, painting, drawing, or simply creating.

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At first when I walk around, I think: this isn’t a fucking degree, this really is splashing a bit of paint around. But these people have progressed way beyond finger painting (even if Lauren found her “painting twig” when she was legally an adult), and their walls are covered in super-realism, geometric prints, and abstracts that seem good enough, at least to my uncultured eye, to already be displayed in galleries.

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I realised, after spending a day with them, that these people didn’t take art because they’d liked it in school, or they thought it would get them a good job, or they wanted to come to Uni and thought they’d pick an “easy subject”: instead of being the pretentious, slightly knobbish characters I’d been expecting, they were already artists. I wish I was an art student.

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Lancaster University