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Art graduates facing the future

  • Written by Maxim Hua
Last year, 6.1 million Chinese earned diplomas, up from 1 million in 1999. However, while graduates are increasing, jobs are decreasing. At Nanjing Normal University, Maxim Hua checks out a graduates' exhibition to get students' impressions about entering the workforce. {xtypo_dropcap}F{/xtypo_dropcap}rom May 25th until June 4th, Nanjing Normal University's Xianlin Campus is holding an art exhibition, where graduating students present their achievements over the past 4 years.

In total, 212 pieces from 13 art-related majors are on display (traditional Chinese painting, oil painting, sculpture, pottery, photography, calligraphy and so on).

I went there on Wed. the 26th to check it out and found it very quiet. Both floors of the exhibition hall were pretty much deserted – few visitors, students, or artists!

The journey to the campus was almost two hours long (on the eastern side of Purple Mountain), so despite the small number of people, I decided to do my best to dig a story out of it. {typography box_white left=300px}Graduate job prospects

According to World Bank researcher Albert Park, the urban unemployment rate for college graduates increased from 6.3 percent in 2000 to 11.9 percent in 2005.

In his opinion, "many college graduates have been disappointed by the salaries for starting positions, but the costs of waiting will force graduates to accept available job offers.

But are sufficient jobs available? The economic crisis certainly reduced the job market for recent graduates, but evidence suggests that the Chinese economy has bounced back." {/typography}

An uncertain future

I found Tao Xingzhi (陶幸之) hanging around the exhibition. A Suzhou native, she just finished up her second year, majoring in traditional Chinese painting.

I asked her if she was worried bout finding a job after graduation. She answered that she doesn't really think about it, but mentioned that only one or two out of the entire class might be able to continue their major as a career.

Others might go on to graduate study, others will take on jobs as assistants in arts studios, and the rest will take on any kind of job they can get.

She walked me around and gave insights on several works, but shyly refused to let me take her picture for this story.

Continuing as an artist

Zhou You (周游) is from Hunan. He was a lot more outgoing, and we enjoyed a spirited chat about his past present and future. When I asked why he cose to major in fine arts, he told me that he wasn't very book smart. To get into arts school, you don't need good grades, and the test is just to draw a sketch.

When he started his freshman year, he found that he really enjoyed his studies, and step by step he began to excel. He repeated several times that he owes a lot to his teacher. He's in his 40s, but he still only has 'teaching assistant' status. Said Zhou: "He's harsh in character, and he's not good at playing guanxi."

Further, 80% of his words to students are negative, he's especially harsh when students submit lazy or copied work. However, "most students respect him, they think he's better than professors who don't put passion into their work." In Zhou's opinion, universities need many more passionate teachers.

"...I just have to go both ways: focus on creativity on one side, and focus on making money on the other side..."Regarding his future, he plans to return to Hunan and get a job in a studio, or else try to crack into Tsinghua University for graduate study. "I know what I love, and I wish to pursue that dream while I am still young."

Is the idea to produce art as a career folly? In his view, there is a gap between creation and reality. He told me a story about a professor who was commissioned to make sculptures for Nanjing City. The sculptures were not good, but the city officials said they were fine, and the professor got paid handsomely.

"Maybe I just have to go both ways: focus on creativity on one side, and focus on making money on the other side."
The exhibition runs from May 25-June 4. Click here for the HN event listing, click here for the Chinese event listing.

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