Accidental A-levels -How I became an Art Student

While working on ‘reframing failures‘ and delving into strange decisions from my past,  I found myself retracing steps in my education, wondering how I ever got started in Art. There’s a strong ‘artistic gene’ in my family and while I sought to prove myself the exception, ‘Art’ in some ways felt inevitable.  I didn’t choose to be an art student, so much as it chose me. Be wary of your back-up plans! I made the mistake of thinking mine would be easy.

Artwork by 17 yr old Me

When I started out with my A-levels, my top 2 choices were based on my favourite high scoring subjects at GCSE, English Literature and History. I wanted my third A-level to be Psychology, which hadn’t previously been an option. But fate intervened when English clashed with Psychology on my time table.

Suddenly I needed a plan B, so I picked something fun that came easy to me. Art seemed the obvious fall-back choice. Despite having little to show (I’d taken Drama not Art GCSE), I made an appointment to see the tutor. He admitted me based on reputation, having already taken two siblings and my  dad successfully through the exam.  And that’s how I came to study Art with the legend that was Barney…

Barney Mc Cormick- Alevel Art 1995

I gained A-level Art practical in my 1st year, and took on an extra A-level, Art History, in my 2nd year. Barney encouraged me to repeat Visual Art for a higher grade, but I held fast. I still had my ‘core’ subjects to work for, and something had to give. That something turned out to be A-level History, with its dry 19th Century syllabus.  It’s not surprising I flunked in the end. With only so much head-space to spare, the subjects that held my attention got me the grades.

I am proud that studied at a technical college where success or failure came at your own efforts.  But flunking history, knocked my confidence more than I ever admitted. I’d let myself down, and lost confidence in my smarts.  Now I recognise this as one failure in dire need of reframing. With retrospect I can finally cut myself some slack. I was a kid at the time, with little support and a lot going on. Not being able to ‘do it all’ was never was a reflection of my academic ability.  So what if I got one kind of History exam instead of another? I still got from college what I went in for, 3 solid A-levels (in grades A,B &C).

The Tea pot piece was part of my actual exam!

Often we imagine we have more control than we do, and it’s interesting looking back on my education and noticing  how many choices were made for me by circumstances and chance, and to some degree the influence of others around me. I’m also astounded that my focus was always on my weaknesses and not my strengths. (Like how did I fail to see English Literature was far and away my strongest subject?) I hope you’ll join me next time when I take a look at how not to choose your degree course!

How did you choose you’re A-levels? Did you ‘know’ what you were doing? Or was it pure chance? Or like me, do you look back and realise you didn’t do so badly after all? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This post is part of series, click here for more:  I was a 90’s Arts Student

 

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6 comments

  1. You were lucky to inherit the “artistic gene!” I dabble in mixed media (or used to) but I lack the depth perception needed to draw or paint realistically.
    It’s interesting how you arrived at the decisions you made. I changed majors several different times and usually based my choices on practicality and circumstances. (I also wanted to avoid advanced math as much as possible.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not sure I’d call it ‘lucky’ 😉 And my decisions get even more messed up on my way to university. I hear you on making choices based on practicality and circumstance. I tried to avoid subjects too (like art) and look were that got me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne Gregory · · Reply

    I got suckered into the “real career” trap and I was really envious when, in third year of my undergrad, I met someone who’d found a way to make an art minor work (I’d thought, based on first year scheduling, that the two programs would have incompatible schedules). I then had a bit of a reprieve, thanks to my mother’s illness – I went back home to be helpful, and managed to get into the Marine Biology program. This, I think, numbed the disappointment of not doing art because it was another passion of mine. But, “real career” reared it’s ugly head again when I realized that my options were grad school, boring lab jobs, or living contract to contract on near-minimum wage for the rest of my life. I knew I wasn’t compatible with the latter, which was hard to admit because that was where all the jobs I was passionate about lived.

    I guess I could sum up my whole school career as being too afraid to follow my passions.

    I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. But, I know that it needs to involve art and I should have always looked for a way to be doing some art somehow.

    Like

  3. I got suckered into the “real career” trap and I was really envious when, in third year of my undergrad, I met someone who’d found a way to make an art minor work (I’d thought, based on first year scheduling, that the two programs would have incompatible schedules). I then had a bit of a reprieve, thanks to my mother’s illness – I went back home to be helpful, and managed to get into the Marine Biology program. This, I think, numbed the disappointment of not doing art because it was another passion of mine. But, “real career” reared it’s ugly head again when I realized that my options were grad school, boring lab jobs, or living contract to contract on near-minimum wage for the rest of my life. I knew I wasn’t compatible with the latter, which was hard to admit because that was where all the jobs I was passionate about lived.

    I guess I could sum up my whole school career as being too afraid to follow my passions.

    I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. But, I know that it needs to involve art and I should have always looked for a way to be doing some art somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you described as the life of research scientist is virtually the same as the life of the jobbing artist. Scrabbling for funding, and teaching between jobs is very much an artist’s bread and butter. Are well off you end up financially is down to luck and competition.
      I know you feel regret about the lack of art in your life but you have to realise it’s never too late. And I’ve said it before but It bears repeating, making art for a living is not what makes you an artist.
      It’s ironic that you say you were too afraid to follow your passions, when I think the mistake I might have made was following someone else’s.
      Regardless of what went before, Right now you are looking for a way to make art (what ever that is) an active part of your life. That is as valid as anything. x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just realized, maybe after more than a year? that you gave a like to my About page. I came to your blog and I love it! I did art in high school and got a good grade to the subject at my A-levels but then chose to learn languages. However I have never stopped drawing! Gonna have a deeper look at the content of your blog. XXX

    Like

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