How To Survive Art School: View Art As A Lifestyle

For our friend Joey Phinn, Art School wasn’t all sunshine and green pastures. A lot of you will question the process, finding frustrations along the way. But you’ll also discover the networking connections worthwhile, and somehow, it will all make sense in the end; if you keep it as simple as possible, that is.

Joey Phinn is a professional amateur-tinker-tailor-hobo-whatsit who is interested in many things like robotics, sci-fi, minimalism and nice cheese. Mostly her artistic practice revolves around the fabrication of contemporary mythology, fiction and narrative, and their integration with science and technology through mediums such as experimental video, sculpture and installation. She graduated from Chelsea College of Arts & Design in 2015.

1. What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you started Art School? What would you have done differently?

Of all the pathways, fine art is arguably one of the most useless and most useful of degrees. Useless in the sense that there’s no job or even job description waiting for you at the end of the degree. Yet, a fine arts degree is also useful because of its very ambiguity. You’ll find that with a little charisma and networking and boozing you can probably weasel your way into various “creative” roles and hop onto jobs meant for other pathways, like graphic design or post-production or photography.

Is it worth it? I still don’t know. Many of us are emerging out of the art school cocoon in an increasingly volatile job and economic market to find that maybe we aren’t artists in a traditional sense, after all. Some of us are going on to study masters, others to procure residencies abroad. Some of us become net artists, or manage creative blogs and websites. Others are looking for new choices and new paths, because what art school taught them was that they weren’t meant for art school.

If you want art school to be worth your time, be a number of things: independent, proactive and inquisitive, with the capacity to learn and the will to actively search for ways to learn.

You have to take advantage of the great resources in the library, go into the wood/metal/foundry workshops from year 1 and become great friends with the technicians. Keep asking when you don’t know. Google your questions. And make friends. Make friends with everyone on your course and everyone else too, because fine art is really about anything and everything, and art school won’t teach you to be an artist. You will.

2. How did you get ambitious projects off the ground whilst at art school? What were the kinds of barriers that you faced?

The greatest barrier to fulfilling ambitious projects is always the clear dissonance between the glorious utopian aim or outcome in your head and the reality: 1) You don’t have enough money to buy the materials necessary, especially if it’s only for experimentation, 2) You don’t have the physical or digital skills necessary to achieve the outcome, and 3) feedback.

To make a project or an art piece have the best possible outcome, always plan. Put effort into it, plan a schedule for making or documenting it, use the best equipment and tools available to you. If you’re going to use the wood workshop, for example, don’t go in last minute. Do your research, find materials, ask for advice, and draw diagrams. You don’t have to be a great drawer but drawing is a necessary tool for basic visual communication.

And during this whole process, never stop thinking about the audience/participants and how they’re going to view or interact with your work. It’s so easy and typical for a piece of work to have so much research behind it and so much work put into it, and the presentation is it just being on a plinth or on the floor somewhere sandwiched between all the other works. Think about the space you’re in, and don’t work against it.

3. What do you do now?

Currently, I work as the Technical Assistant of the Central Loan Store at Camberwell College of Art. So actually, I’ve returned to the warm amniotic fluid of art school. It’s been great doing lots of various creative roles through UAL’s ArtsTemps, which is also how I got my current role.

Probably the most exciting thing to come out of art school has been my partnership with my friend and former Chelsea peer Saskia Little.

A year ago we formed Freyron Collective, which we hope will eventually develop into a multidisciplinary studio of collaborative freelancers interested in exploring applications of science, technology, aesthetics and new media philosophy in conjunction with various practical skills and outcomes such as coding, 3d modeling, clothes, woodcraft, drawings, films, podcasts, books, etc.

We’re currently in the process of visualising our first project, which is to conceptualise our ideal utopian studio. We started with a desire for Freyron to go beyond the studio or workplace. We wish to create a sustainable community of writers, artists, designers, filmmakers, technologists, scientists, programmers, etc., combined with the mythological elements of our own branded fiction.


Freyron is also working extensively with the newly formed Digital Maker Collective based at Chelsea and run by Chris Follows.

We have a small room where a core group of members are constantly making new work with micro-controllers, programming, virtual reality (we just got a HTC Vive), 3d printing, the possibilities are endless. We’re participating in Mozilla Festival and early next year will be enacting a sort of digital intervention in the Tate Exchange space at Tate Modern.

Soon, I’ll also be applying for creative/post-production/interactive studio roles, and am also looking to travel to various countries on working holidays (Berlin, Japan, Hong Kong, etc.) where I can network, do artist residencies, work on a farm (WOOF) and figure out how one can survive and thrive post-art-school.

The answer is: one step at a time.

Leave a Reply