November 18, 2019 | By Amanda Sieradzki
Welcome to the REAL WORLD
or How to Make a Living with an Art Degree
November 22 – 30
The Venus Gallery
“Honestly, what the hell are you going to do with a studio art degree?”
USF art professor Jay Giroux continually challenges his REAL WORLD class with this query. They will attempt to find the answer this Friday by hosting a pop-up exhibit called Decanting: The Process of Transference at The Venus Gallery in St. Petersburg.
The exhibition’s theme, title and contents were all conceived and driven by students. ‘Decanting’ is defined as a liquid moving from one vessel to another — a decidedly appropriate metaphor given the students’ impending graduation into the world.
“The reality is that being in a pluralistic, very open-ended interdisciplinary environment, you might get a degree in one thing but you’re probably going to do something completely different and that’s okay,” says Giroux. “That should be encouraged and not frowned upon.”
The REAL WORLD class has been a staple in the art department’s curriculum for decades. Giroux took it as an undergraduate student and is currently leading this semester’s cohort. He recalls the curriculum’s traditional focus on how to create a CV, make a website, approach a gallery and write a grant.
However, he recognizes art students today must also be entrepreneurial and prepared to pitch and market themselves. As a result, the works in the Decanting exhibit range in media and showcase a wide variety of skills in the fine art and commercial art realms.
Though the question mark hanging on the end of Giroux’s initial question haunts countless arts students who choose the path less traveled, his own career proves that the answer can mean anything and everything. After graduating from the University of South Florida, his work inhabited both the fine and commercial worlds — exhibiting in galleries, creating band posters and logos, and throwing art parties in alternative spaces — before pursuing his master’s at the University of Houston and returning to teach in the Tampa Bay area.
“The reality of being a creative is that it’s not that glamorous,” says Giroux, who infuses a healthy dose of reality with every lecture and class assignment. “You have to find some sort of contentment with the process and learn to really do it for yourself. Once you develop that sort of mindset — which it really comes down to mindset for me — and let go of restraints, all of a sudden you start finding community, acceptance and a way to make a living. It’s kind of magical.”
The Venus Gallery in St. Petersburg opened its doors to the community in May as a mixed-use creative space maintained and facilitated by the St. Petersburg Women’s Collective. Gallery manager Mitzi Jo Gordon says the pop-up exhibition grew from a conversation with Giroux about giving students practical, hands-on experience in organizing and installing their work in an alternative arts space. Gordon and Giroux exhibited together in nightclubs and coffee shops in their early careers.
“That’s how we cut our teeth,” says Giroux. “We created the space to show work. We’ll make it a party if that’s what people need to see the work.”
Gordon says Giroux’s approach to the class’ curriculum resonates given how her personal arts practices have unfolded. In addition to pursuing creative projects, she is a journalist, grant writer and overseer of the gallery’s day-to-day operations.
“Through this opportunity we wanted to impart some other creative avenues that [students] could pursue in order to be professionally successful,” explains Gordon. “Sometimes that means you are writing proposals instead of poems, and finding different ways of taking your creative skill and applying it to commercial practices to be fiscally sustainable.”
Gordon will take part in Friday’s talkback panel to share her insights on sustaining an arts career. She is looking forward to the gallery engaging more emerging and student artists in the future. Given Venus’ mission, she wants students to walk away knowing that everything they do in their professional lives can be just as valued and important as their creative art-making.
Similarly, Giroux is hopeful that his students will transcend the social pressures of “making it” and see the endless opportunities an art career can present if they are willing to break the rules, experiment and explore grassroots support.
“I teach because I am sincerely interested in students’ wellbeing,” says Giroux. “I am not afraid to talk about these things because I’m trying to mentally prepare them for the kind of fitness they’ll need to have, to make their work and survive.”