Professional Practice: 20 Questions

PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE: 20 QUESTIONS – Interviews with UK undergraduate Fine Art staff exploring how students are prepared for life after art school. 

Interviews collected and edited by Jo Allen and Sarah Rowles
When it comes to an undergraduate fine art education, what is professional practice? How are students prepared for life after their course? How might attitudes and approaches be shaped by factors such as location, the wider course philosophy, and the cultural and political climate?

Professional practice is a contested area. Quite how fine art courses prepare their students for exit, and what they are preparing them for, has long been a matter of tension and debate. And this debate has intensified amidst the current climate of rising tuition fees, reduced maintenance grants, and an increased government emphasis on employability.

In ‘Professional Practice : 20 Questions’ we ask undergraduate fine art staff from around the UK to unpack this topic and share examples of their own approaches and philosophies to preparing students for life after art school.

This book sheds light on the important question: What and who is a fine art education for? It is essential reading for anyone teaching art at secondary level and above, sector professionals, and for anyone who might be thinking of studying fine art at undergraduate level.

Launch Night Speech by Dr. Dean Kenning

Q-Arts Professional Practice: 20 Questions. Book Launch, Hauser & Wirth. 18th Nov 2016

This will be the fifth in a series of Q-Arts book – they function as historical documents, presenting a detailed map of fine art education across the British Isles at a time of rapid change and uncertainty about the future

Their method is very simple: ask a series of basic questions in order to open the lid and focus attention on the fundamental issues, which are also the ones that are least often discussed publicly. These include: how galleries choose which artists to represent; how the art school crit operates; the specific methodologies employed in fine art education; and now the question of ‘professional practice’.

The idea of ‘professional practice’ still appears as incongruous and uncomfortable for many working in fine art education. Objections may be raised from a bohemian or a political position, or perhaps both at once. What comes across in the interviews presented in the Q-Arts book are pragmatic responses to external pressures and the needs and desires of students as they leave university, alongside a critical awareness of the potential pitfalls of conforming to other agendas.

I would say that these pressures come from two directions. On the one hand from a contemporary art system which is increasingly professionalised, concerned with promotion and self-presentation, and where artists are spoken about in terms of clearly laid out career trajectories. On the other hand from government agendas designed to instrumentalise higher education in terms of national economic growth and personal financial investment. Fine art courses have to deal with the reality of student debt and the potential impact of graduate earnings and employment metrics, whilst maintaining a critical distance from neoliberal employability and enterprise agendas.

Some course leaders attempt to deal with this by maintaining a clear line of separation between the fine art curriculum and university professional practice modules, whilst others seek to fully integrate professional practice into the course. It seems to me that the provision of professional practice potentially allows broader issues to be incorporated into the creative and critical thinking that constitutes the fine art curriculum: issues such as employment and pay, sustainability, the role of the artist in society, and the specific benefits of a fine art education beyond a career as a gallery artist.

As is clear from the conversations in Q-Arts’ book, preparing for life beyond art school should not have to mean adapting oneself to reality in a way that forces a splitting between one’s professional artistic self and one’s critical and political artistic self. Ultimately as fine art educators we have an ethical responsibility both towards our students – to allow them to survive and thrive ­– and towards a culture of art which can be non-conformist, inclusive and collective. These two ethical aims are not contradictory in nature, even if they can be made to seem so by a culture organised around competition, and conformity to a certain model of success.

At a time when courses are compelled to compete with each other in order to survive, this book encourages transparency and dialogue across the sector, so we can learn from each other whist highlighting different approaches.

Dean Kenning

a-n Research Paper by Sarah Rowles

Sarah Rowles unpacks the findings of Q-Art’s new publication, ‘Professional Practice: 20 Questions – Interviews with UK undergraduate Fine Art staff exploring how students are prepared for life after art school’ in a new a-n research paper.

Reader feedback and case studies

‘Teaching has become a big part of my art-making aesthetic or maybe it’s learning.  This is why I love your publications they have a sophistication about the discipline and philosophy of teaching art with very down to earth hands on stories and approaches by real people in the field. Dianne Pappas, Art Tutor, Massachusetts

‘Had a browse through the books which arrived yesterday and can already tell you this is one of the best investments I’ve made recently!! Extremely informative, I’m very happy I came across them. Thank you very much for doing such thorough and honest research.’ Art Graduate, London


Featuring interviews with staff from the following institutions: Arts University Bournemouth; University of Brighton; Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London; Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London; University of the Creative Arts Farnham; Edinburgh College of Art; The Falmouth School of Art, Falmouth University; The Glasgow School of Art; Goldsmiths College, University of London; Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University; Isle of Man College; Kingston University; Lews Castle College, University of the Highlands and Islands; Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University; Newcastle University; Open College of the Arts; Plymouth College of Art; University of Salford; Southampton Solent University; Swansea College of Art, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, University of the West England; The University of Wolverhampton, School of Creative Arts, Wrexham Glyndwr University.

The book has been supported by a-n, Kingston University, Swansea College of Art – University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and The Glasgow School of Art.  ISBN: 978-0-9564355-8-3  PP. 438



Buy E-Book/ PDF for individual use: £12

Buy E-Book/ PDF for use in Teaching: £24 *



Hard Copy £15 + UK P&P **
Hard Copy £15 + EU P&P **
Hard Copy £15 + Non EU P&P **

* Please purchase this higher priced version of the e-book if you are a staff member and are planning to use the e-book in teaching/ share the content with your class. As a small organisation we rely on the money made from the sales of Q-Art publications to print further books and fund our next research projects.

**E-books are emailed within 24 hours of purchase



See our 'team' section on the about page or reach us at [email protected]

Not for profit

We are an independent organisation. Any money we raise feeds back into the running of the organisation and helps us deliver on our mission


Sarah Rowles
Jo Allen
Karen Turner
Rachel Wilson
Krishen Kanadia
Jheni Arboine
Katie Tindle
Isabelle Gressel
Maggie Learmonth


Company Nr. 08587499.
Q-Art is an registered Community Interest Company.