At this time of year my thoughts always turn to our graduates. They face the challenges and triumphs of turning the skills they have honed, combined, with the skills and abilities they brought to the college, into a career. Like their fellows from across the country, they have worked hard and learnt much, but face a tough world. They are youthful, full of hope and ready to make a contribution to the world, not just as assets to our economy, but also to our society and culture: it is a time of great optimism. Yet they face an unstable world where pessimism rules. The economic challenges facing all industries are forcing firms to reduce recruitment savagely and research shows that for the young who have yet to embark on a career, unemployment is most damaging. Yet, those coming from the London College of Fashion and, I believe, all art and design disciplines have a set of experiences behind them that will allow flexible and resourceful reactions to the complex situations they will find themselves in.
Hope combined with a belief that there are ways through any problem that you face is at the heart of the creative process. Over the years it is an attitude and approach that I have developed to build into the courses and institutions where I have worked. At the heart of this philosophy is the concept of the journey, both external and internal. This journey cannot be precisely planned, for while you might know your destination, both known and unknown obstacles will be encountered. Openness, flexibility, curiosity and the idea that for every choice or decision made, an equally interesting, difficult or adventurous option could have been taken is an attitude that needs to motivate any creative graduate. There are myriad ways to reach your destination, whatever you are trying to achieve, and I believe it is this flexibility of thought that enables graduates to test constantly their ultimate goals: giving them the chance to respond to the multiple opportunities offered without losing sight of the end of the journey and what it should achieve and where they want to go in their lives. This flexibility should extend to the end result, not as an excuse for under-achievement but an acknowledgement that as we grow and learn , what we want out of life changes. And sometimes our expectations or aspirations are unattainable and we must adjust to find an alternative fulfilling goal.
Exploring these multiple chances is at the heart of whatever career or life you wish to create for yourself: journeys both physical and intellectual. John Cage greatly influenced my thinking. He worked as an artist, composer, chess player, mushroom expert – whatever was relevant for that particular point in his thinking and creativity. That hunger for experimentation and knowledge is critical and pertinent to any area of the arts and education. Many of my female influences have taken similar approaches: Frieda Khalo, Julia Kristeva, and Simone de Beauvoir have all pushed the boundaries of their disciplines, challenging existing knowledge and conventions, inspiring us all to achieve new things whatever the difficulities.
Education should give students the opportunity to test, experiment, investigate and build a set of experiences to transform their thinking, like some form of alchemy, about the world around them. Such an educational experience should equip them with the confidence and abilities to move through their lives, planning and responding in ways which were previously inconceivable. I believe everybody is entitled to this personal journey and transformation.
For Sublime Magazine. Issue 18 People of Hope