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.
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…
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).
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