Studying an arts degree during a global pandemic

In this guest blog, Roisin Dowding graduated with a 2:1 in Drama and Creative Writing from the University of the West of England (UWE) in June 2020. Here, she reflects on the importance of the arts in these uncertain times.

Completing an arts degree during a global pandemic is a challenge that no creative undergraduate ever thought would become their reality. Moving back home and abruptly losing independence, or beginning an arts degree post-lockdown, whether from home or on campus, is a sudden and intense amount of pressure. How is any undergraduate artist supposed to find their inner motivation and voice during these unprecedented times?

Of course, the arts are just as valuable to society in terms of skills as any academic subject. However, many undergraduate and postgraduates within the arts still wonder whether the skills they possess will get them very far in society, particularly in the current circumstances.

As a postgraduate student completing a drama and creative writing degree during the national lockdown in March, I often reflect back on the past three years of my studies. Like many young creatives within any artistic and academic field, I found myself doubting my talent and work ethic as a young writer during my time at university. Within the arts, the impulse to compare our work with another’s is a highly destructive path to wander down, which I ultimately discovered. This is because artists not only create, prepare and study their work, but they live for it. This means that any sense of giving up that I experienced towards my art, because it didn’t feel good enough, was inevitably dangerous towards my mental health.

Then Covid-19 came knocking on the campus doors, forcing me to leave my new-found home at university and complete my performance degree from my bedroom. Surprisingly, I felt I could breathe again. On one hand, I was devastated that I and my fellow course-mates couldn’t showcase our performances after years of intensely motivated rehearsals. But, on the other hand, I fuelled my anxiety into my written work for my creative writing module, which I felt the most passionate towards, and developed a piece of writing that I proudly felt represented my true and unique inner voice.

It is often discussed that the class of 2020 creative graduates, and graduates over the next few years, will noticeably stand out more than any other year of post-grads. And this is because of the simple fact of endurance. They show commitment to their passion during extremely uncertain and challenging times, and often, the best and most impactful form of art evolves from our deepest pain.

Several months after completing my degree, I can now say that the shock of the pandemic has truly hit home. But instead of comparing myself with others, I have learnt to celebrate the developments of my friend’s careers since graduation. Even though going to university was the best experience and decision of my life, my time during lockdown allowed me to take a step back and analyse what I wanted to contribute to society through my written art. Fuelling the uncertainty I felt during lockdown to create my most fulfilling work yet, I have realised since graduation that success and motivation come at different times, in many different forms for different artists.

If you feel this way as a current arts student, avoid going through this journey alone. Why not collaborate on an artistic project with likeminded artists? Don’t isolate yourself! Help each other, and use the fantastic tools within social media such as Zoom, LinkedIn, Daisie and Meetup to connect and share your art.

Most importantly, keep safe. Make sure to abide by the social distancing rules when it comes to group meetings and be sure to ask your university and lecturers for support. Stay healthy, work hard at your degree and never give up on your passion! These are challenging times that we live in, but figuring out who you are as a creative individual at university will benefit you greatly towards building the foundations of your career.