There is never an opportune time to graduate from art school.
My peers and I finished grad school at the start of the Great Recession, into an economy that had no place for us and an art world that was coming off a period of extreme excess. Having spent too many years entrenched in war, our education in the mid-aughts was constructed around conversations and critiques of violence, the proliferated image, surveillance, and spectacle, while the world, art and beyond, was an overwhelming sea of white and male thinkers and makers and millionaires. It is not that much different than now, I suppose.
Even though it was a world we did not see ourselves a part of, its rejection of us at our professional emergence was a loss that was to be felt for years to come. A great deal of us did not make it through, without the privilege to wait, as artist-run and non-profit spaces absorbed into one another or closed completely, as studio spaces with unfixed terms opened up in precarious buildings but without any promise of income to secure them anyway. We worked smaller and less in the parts of this life that we loved and too much in the parts of this life that we hated. Time passed and somewhere along the way our bodies changed with it (willfully or not).
But, hindsight. There is no romance about that time, as there will not be a romance around this. What brought us to then is exactly what brought us to now: racial neglect, greed, class violence, the failure and collapse of this healthcare system, unchecked power, and capitalism, capitalism, capitalism (like an incantation that is willed to make it disappear and it never does). If we think of then with closer precision we are reminded that everyone was unpaid and underpaid (still), and the millionaires were not yet the billionaires. There also was not a public record of accountability: about financial investments and the impropriety of relations that exist between board members, museum directors, and their patrons; about the climate crisis; about racial inequity and rampant sexism and sexual misconduct in institutions. Our progress is painfully slow, but to deny its existence is an affront to the work.
The landscape you are launching your careers in is, in a multitude of ways, much worse, and in a multitude of ways much better. While it may be hard to see beyond the despair (& disappointment & fear & anger & anxiety) of this moment, it’s necessary to keep in mind there is always work to be done, and your battle is different than ours, and should be different from those who follow you, if we are all doing our jobs right. Terrible endings birth inconceivable beginnings and terrible beginnings can birth impossible endings.
For countless reasons this is a terrifying and lonely time to finish school (or to work, to live, to breathe). So much of what makes this life worth living are the people we develop relationships with, whether it is loved ones or strangers, and to leap into this world without each other feels like a free fall, especially without the capacity to even touch one another. If there is no one around to see you, to hold you, to be witness to your work, does it exist?
The answer is of course, yes. Because it is important to recall there is a collective understanding and memory of this life—many things came before you and many things will come after, and while we do not have knowledge of what is to come, in the innumerable tomorrows that are our potential fates, it is crucial to remember that we are all part of the work, part of this life. And this life (ours, together) is long. Just as much as there is time to feel loss, there is time to grieve, and with time from grief, something anew. And eventually, what you do will reverberate through our bodies in ways that we have yet to imagine.
The future is yours, take care of it for us.