Maybe a bit of background history would not go amiss.
When I left art school in the summer of 2000 I felt pretty cynical about my degree; it had cost me three years of my life, not to mention the proverbial blood, sweat, toil and tears, and a great deal of money I could ill afford. By contrast, my previous college experience, a two-year foundation course leading to a BTEC in General Art and Design, had been terrific, two of the best years of my life. But the degree course had in large part been grim. As a figurative landscape painter in a provincial art college determined to move itself into the leading rank of proponents and producers of Conceptual Brit-Art, I had had a rough time of it, and I was tired and depressed by the time I eventually emerged clutching my degree certificate.
I was lucky enough to get a small break straight away; a family friend was organising a fundraising exhibition in aid of the local branch of UNICEF, and asked if I'd like to put a couple of pieces up, with 30% commision on any sales going to UNICEF. I said yes, and a month later I had made my first sale, and could list an exhibition on my cv. It gave me a hell of a boost. All my college friends (that I was still in touch with) were either up to their necks in new career-type jobs or else sitting around at home, despondently complaining that there was no system for them to get exhibited and no established pattern for them to follow to move into being practising artists, and that they didn't know what to do.
We had been told at college, about three months before graduation, that statistics show that 96% of Fine Art graduates, unless they go on to do a Masters, give up producing any art within two years of leaving art school, and never go back to it (the cynicism of telling us this fact at that stage in proceedings appalled me, though it was par for the course at that particular college). I remember this as one of the defining moments of my adult life. I looked around the lecture theatre, to see faces falling, expressions of horror and disbelief, slumping shoulders and sour grimaces, and I realised that most of my fellow-students were thinking "Oh shit, that's me done for then", and were giving up mentally right then. Whereas my reaction had been to think "Okay, so how do I get to be in the 4% who manage to carry on?" To my immense surprise, it was a minority reaction.
It became my focus. How was I to get to be in the 4% of art school graduates who carry on producing art? And for five years I worked my arse off to try and achieve this.
I'll go on tomorrow; my lunch hour is over...