• Millie Throp

My Third Year Art Degree In A Third National Lockdown

As I sit on the sofa of my family home, 6 hours away from my University home in Manchester, a voice I had become accustomed to was nearing. Mr Johnson. ‘Stay at home’ he says, ‘exams are cancelled’, ‘schools are closed’. But the words I was waiting to hear never surface. What about universities?

Taking to the depths of Gov.UK it became apparent that students not adhering to ‘essential work’ were not permitted to access university campuses. Students such as art students. While it was recommended that we were to stay in our family homes while rent bubbled away up north, I used my ‘common sense’ to take myself back to the city in which I feel most able to create.


Now that term is well underway once again, tutors are trying. Questions have been answered and uncertainties lessened, but as I approach the penultimate project of my final year, I still imagine what my portfolio would look like in what I guess we would call the ‘old normal’.


Not to mention that my portfolio is currently inexistent, so far this year I would have nothing but a few ‘theoretical’ and ‘conceptual’ images to include. The challenge is not to blame anyone, to stay connected to others, to be ‘resilient’. So while in this blog I have mainly had a good old moan, there are positives to be found in every situation.


Lauren Raspberry, a fellow final-year student at Manchester School of Art had only positives to say on behalf of her graphic lecturers, “They’re getting a lot of stick at the minute but the tutors on my course have been utterly amazing.”. She mentions in regards to her own work, “It has been really difficult and students are really having to band together.”, an important aspect of collaborative practise that we must work to revive.


Lauren does also state how ‘awkward’ tutorials can be. I heavily relate to this as tutors are being stretched across courses, allowing a mere 15 minute 1-1 to be booked per week. This has meant that we, as students, must engage in team sessions and ask for peer feedback consistently. Fortunately I am fairly confident in speaking-up virtually but this is not the case for those of us impacted by the unfamiliarity of it all. Admittedly, we have all ‘gone inwards’ from time-to-time and this does not commonly end well so it is crucial to contact those around you for support at a time when we are all feeling the pressure!


As a Fashion Art Direction student, my practise is multi-disciplinary, allowing my work to adapt considering selective resources. Final year fashion-design student, Swarlipi Nagora, has an entirely different situation on her hands. “I was supposed to be working on a 6 look collection, but without the supplies it is not easy to produce even a single garment. It was supposed to be exciting, but everything went down the drain. Getting everything supplied online seems easy but I am the kind of person who likes to go out, roam and go to museums and exhibitions for inspiration.” Swarlipi is an international student from India and had chosen to travel to the UK for her studies, dare we mention the dreaded ‘9 grand’ debate…

In terms of inspiration, even being in a different household can trigger this for me, whilst in my family home I was able to generate concepts to continue back in Manchester but it can be hard to do this within the same four walls. Emily Taylor, final-year Fine Art and Art History student shared her experiences, “With studios now being completely inaccessible, we’re being forced to continue with no knowledge of if there will be any safety net or no-detriment policy put in place. It’s so hard to be inspired when the space you live, eat, sleep and relax has become not only a space for lectures, but also your studio.”. In agreement with Emily I struggle to hold my attention span during lectures, often caught out half-way through painting my toenails for the fifth time that day. As for the policies in place to ensure our grades reflect our circumstances, these remain unclear.


I have attended a few ‘webinars’ recently and find these fairly captivating, I have a habit of watching them in the bath (camera off) that I’m sure will catch me out someday soon. Amongst this, a positive of the pandemic has been that I am forced to learn skills I may have never attempted. As an art director, I often curate a team consisting of a photographer, a role in which I now have confidence in after hours on ‘Linkedin Learning’ and a camera borrowed from uni.


Other than skills self-taught, my course now encourages us to utilise digital skills more. We have learned how to generate AR graphics, use sound editing software to create ‘glitch’ imagery, realised our dining room tables in Sketchup and use mock-ups to become pro product designers. It feels good to still be learning at a point in my degree where I would typically be ‘honing’ my skills, instead I am being resourceful and becoming a ‘hybrid’ practitioner. Understandably, many others would like to be specialising in their practise and refining this but I personally feel that if there is a time to be experimental, this is it. Who knows what the job market will look like come summer? We must try to create the best opportunities for ourselves because god knows creatives have never had it easy.

I think the key word there is ‘try’ and we do. We are tryers and we are grafters.


Fellow FAD student, Megan Parrot states, “Young creators, like me, who are wanting to use design to shape what the future of the UK looks like. That in itself, is incredibly inspiring; that creativity persists in spite of everything. In truth I am terrified to graduate in the current job market, especially knowing the government want me to ‘rethink, reskill and reboot,’ my career. But I am incredibly proud and excited to be part of a sector that contributes billions of pounds to the economy, (even if Boris doesn’t think so.)”


On a final note, if reading this resonates with you and makes you realise that so many others are feeling similarly, may it also remind you how resilient and amazing we are collectively, creative or not.

MILLIE THROP