How to: Survive your final show

This time last year I was contemplating my future in a pretty serious way. Desperate to make every decision under the sun, I was convinced that failure to do so would equate to total failure at life (har-har).

I began graduate employment on a part-time basis whilst juggling three work placements with my dissertation, and preparations for the final show were well underway. It was stressful, exhilarating and exhausting all at once.

And what of that? ‘The Final Show’…
It FLEW by.

Like all private views, it was over as quickly as it began, full of hustle and bustle and blurry introductions. Looking back now I wonder whether it was really worth all the stress and all the friction, then I wonder whether there’s a point to wondering about that seeing as there is no escaping it.

A sentence plucked from the brain of part-time final year student at University of Worcester Carolyn Morris, as she contemplates last years show, pretty much sums up my point: “A part-time undergraduate… always standing at the side looking in… and next year I finally roll to a halt. Dread.”

What a thing to say.

‘Rolling’ to a halt as though all momentum, hard work and angst have been relentlessly and tirelessly built only to come to a stop.

The fault is in the name, no?

It’s not really a ‘final’ show; it’s the start of many. Aren’t we taught that as a process, art has no end? That the ‘final’ result is actually insignificant and irrelevant, if such a thing exists at all?

Is this where the pressure and stress that art students face, (and in my experience, as a unanimous and collective whole) stems from? Where, to quote Morris, ‘prize winners are on a high [and] non prize winners are stripped of their hopes and confidence’, the prizes poignantly described as ‘continual reminders that all life [is] a competition to batter you from [now] on’?

Is this the kind of attitude that will lead to lead to success?

I am wondering how three years of support and growth can be shattered by one ‘final’ or ‘end’ semester.

In my thoughts I am reminded of terror; how frightening that this is the END.
An underdog facing a gigantic battle, set to fly solo.

I don’t think such thoughts should be allowed to enter the minds of student artists and I’m fairly certain lecturers (should/) would agree. But, I worry that as long as the ‘final’ show, as opposed to ‘graduate’ or even ‘celebratory’ show (why not ‘The Beginning’?) exists, it’s likely that the pressure, and consequential fear and stress will continue.

So, for those facing the run up to their shows, the final stretch, the last hurdle, whether nervous or not, here’s some honest and considered advice gathered from the hearts and minds of ex-students who all know what it’s like to be totally freaking out right about now….

1. Relax and regroup
With the final show comes a lot of tension and friction. The key to avoiding this, or at least keeping it to a minimum, is to recognize ‘you’ as being a collective. The show that you create will be good or it will be bad – you must decide which it’s going to be and then strive to hold your end of the bargain. Win or lose, you’ll be in it together.

2. Communicate (with a capital C)
Following collective decision-making comes effective communication in order to prevent stress. New Art West Midlands Artist Sarah Sehra says: “A lot of arguments can be avoided if, as a group, everyone chooses to take control. It’s about team work [to make] a shared vision happen”. Understand that no one’s view is more or less important than anyone else’s and everyone must be as honest and open as possible to achieve group success.

3. Make your own decisions
If I could scream this I would. Maybe I should write it in capitals (it surfaced regularly in my research after all)…


You must remember that this is your show. Don’t be pushed into surrendering your vision for your work because it is yours and you have the right to the final say. Take control, make your voice heard and be respectful. Though now is not the time to release your inner Sasha Fierce, it is the time to put your foot down. There is absolutely no reason why you must let your tutors make any final decisions. Keep a cool head, explain your reasons and remain professional. If you’re ideas are rejected at least you know you tried.

4. Preparation is key
Think about what you really want to say and do your best to say it. Figure out how much time you need to get the job done, and don’t forget to factor in things like cleaning the studio or publishing a catalogue. A last minute job can be spotted a mile off.

5. What’s done is done
The run up to the exhibition is not the time to question your work. Think logically: where are your doubts coming from? Who can you discuss them with? Do you have time to make new work?

Contrary to what you might be feeling now, you are not defined by the work you make for the show, and what’s more, if you’ve come this far without dodgy looks from your tutors or tactful questions from your peers, you work is probably pretty good. Breathe.

6. Enjoy the ride
To reiterate what you’ve probably been taught from the beginning, this is just another part of the process. Despite the threatening name, there is little finality in the final show. You will actually see your friends again and you’ll probably still talk to your lecturers. Most importantly, you’ll keep making work and you’ll continue to grow as an artist, if this is what you really want.

Middlesbrough-based artist Sophie Brown said: “The most important thing is for students to remember that this is the start of their careers. There’s no point striving for perfection because all it really boils down to is a journey or a starting point to progress from. If they can recognize that then they have nothing to lose.”

Of course, there’s a whole list of wise words that could be written with careful consideration to guide you through the actual show, but I’m not going to write it. The show is yours to create, yours to share and yours to experience.

That said, here are three gentle reminders to help you enjoy the start of your professional career:

1. Make the most of it
Though not filled with negative finality, the show does mark an end; three years of hard work, growth and achievement that you won’t experience again are to be celebrated, emphasized by a statement from photographer Antonia Lyon: “Students should try to enjoy the opening and relish as many seconds as they can, because before they know it, it will be over!”

2. Network
Now is not the time to be the shy and retiring type, however endearing. Talk to anyone and everyone about your work, spread the message and hand out business cards.

3. Give yourself a pat on the back.
You made it; now the real fun begins.



2 Comments on How to: Survive your final show

  1. Interesting stuff Becca, I’m taking all the advice on board 🙂 and very much agree about the name – Final is so….final!!
    I’ve watched six final shows come and go and seen people on a massive high and also seen people utterly shattered by their experiences – sometimes it’s taken years to recover and start making again. It does need rethinking. I’d be very interested to hear about experiences at other art schools. And I’ll report further when I’m done… (ps: I’m not in a state of dread all the time. Only every other day!)

    • Thanks for commenting. It does need rethinking – it seems to be a pretty big contradiction. That’s good to hear – you’ll feel so good when it’s over! 🙂

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