The Work of Artists

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate this year’s graduates of the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art), and their teachers, on their success.

RMIT University prides itself on achieving ‘work ready’ graduates. The students who complete our programs are seen as future leaders in, indeed the shapers of, the ‘world of work’. For RMIT, these outcomes are based on the interweaving of making and thinking - traditional techniques alongside contemporary, conceptual approaches - as identified in the institution’s founding moto: ‘A skilled hand and a cultivated mind’.

But what do we mean by the term ‘work’ in the field of contemporary art? Do we mean the work of art itself; or, work as practice? Is this working for the betterment of society; or, supplying the art market, that supports artists’ and gallerists’ livelihoods? Do we mean work undertaken in the wider ‘creative industries’, an increasingly important dimension of national and international economies; or, in so-called ‘cottage industries’ - local, often not for profit communities of practitioners that focus on felt rather than theoretical issues, to develop their own models of exchange and sustainability.

The 2018 study for the World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs Report, identified ‘analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, creativity, originality and initiative’ as three of the most important skills for the global workforce of 2022. Similarly, innovations in approaches to health point to the benefits of both producing and experiencing art. Perhaps more than ever before, art students’ practices of making and thinking are central to our future economies and wellbeing.

They emerge into a field of art expanded as never before: where art works across media, cultures, industries and economies, often simultaneously. As Jeremy Deller comments “I don’t make things, I make things happen.” This widening horizon of practice is matched by an increasing emphasis on collaboration between the artist and those who engage with art: embedding practice in society. The challenge ahead for these graduates, then, is not just how to engage, but what to do with that engagement: how to collaboratively re-think the world through art. This, too, is no small undertaking; as Hannah Arendt said: “There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous.” Here we find perhaps the most important work of the artist: negotiating risk to think anew.

Whether they continue to explore their chosen field as contemporary artists, or, the wider frames of society that are similarly calling for creativity and innovation, their ability to re-imagine has the potential to change the world. As esteemed alumni of RMIT University, we wish them every success. Congratulations and good wishes for your, indeed our, future.

Professor Kit Wise, Dean of School