What is a Degree Show? Questions Answered

Having recently completed her BA Fine Art degree at Winchester School of Art, Katherine Wells explains the mysterious world of the annual degree show.

If you haven’t studied an arts-based course you may not know what a degree show is or for what they for. As it’s just been degree show season, and as Summer Ambassadors we’ve just recently completed our own BA Fine Art show, we can share with you the ins and outs of what happens, from the opening night, set-up and what it actually means to put on a degree show. 

Fashion Degree Show at WSA

What is the purpose of a degree show?

The main purpose is for final year art students to be graded. It’s not commonly known that the degree show is our final body of work at University that is to be graded and becomes our final overall mark, percentage wise anyway. Another reason for the show is for students to experience at least one exhibition in which to present their work.

Photo of Sculpture during set up- floor painting in progress, photo from WSA_sculpture Instagram

Its humbling to finally understand the work that goes into the galleries and exhibitions that people put on, having experienced it yourself . You get to understand  the financial cost and time, as well as the effort, that goes into putting the work on display. You never really consider all of these aspects around your work, well not until after you do it for yourself.

How do students get allocated an exhibition space?

Initially you write a proposal form for your lecturers stating what you wish to show as well as where you would like to display the work. However, in university, with lots of fellow students, that normally that means there are space restrictions, many people want the same space and there are potentially lots of different things going on in a given space. 

Visitor playing on a Games Design Students piece in the Degree Show

So, the lecturers, working artists themselves, deliberate what artworks would work where the best and who would need to compromise their space for someone who needs it more. It is an interesting process that I’m not sure happens at every university but it does so at Winchester School of Art. It’s a week-long process of talking it out and then we get given our spaces and we can then (the students) discuss further and if we want, to swap some spaces around so to make space for bigger works or different sound pieces.

After allocation, there is the prep time. This is where the rush begins.

As students you are expected to paint your own exhibition space, whether that be the ‘White Cube’ gallery white or a different colour entirely depending on what your body of work is.

3rd Year Student Painting walls.

Then you need to paint the floors again, since the ‘exhibition spaces’ throughout the year are artists’ studio spaces. Often there is paint, glue and a number of other things stuck or drawn on the floor. After creating your ‘clean canvas’, you can then begin installing your work in the space.

After painting and hanging up work, most people were done. Then there were those who had spaces that needed to be filled for their works to be completed, or in one case, water the earth for their grass to grow! (This year one student created an amazing piece that travelled through the sculpture studio and down the hallway which had to be sprayed with water nearly every day during the two weeks set-up so that the grass could grow.)

Laura Fletcher, Degree show 2018

Everyone had so much to do, from sticking down plastic grass, building a fake wall to resemble a church archway, hanging over 20 sets of fairy lights, making a rope net, melting and pouring scented wax over a wall. With so much to do in those two weeks the students would come in before 9am and leave after 8pm and it was amazing.

Opening Night, what is that?

So, just like any other exhibition, show or other celebrated event. There is an Opening Night! (Echo: Night night night…)

Yes, well students invite close friends and family to come to the launch of the show. There’s usually snack and drinks and everyone finally gets to see the artworks and has a great time. That is the opening night. 

Opening Night, Degree Show at WSA, Sculpture Studios

Oh, and we also have other artists come and view the show and sometimes the local newspaper comes to and feature the Degree Show in the next day’s issue. It’s just the beginning and celebration of everyone’s hard work. It’s a fun night for everyone to enjoy themselves and finally relax after ‘hand-in’ and officially completing your degree, a beautiful evening with your classmates and friends.

Speaking to the recent Arts Ambassadors, they talked about their favourite works and what they thought about the whole experience. Arts Ambassadors: Gabi and Ben, smelling Sianie Marshall’s Wax Room.

Gabi and Ben really enjoyed the whole experience and found it very interesting to learn about what art students do for their degree show. What goes in and the outcomes. Their favourite work was Sianie Marshall’s work- which was a room covered in scented wax.

Graphic Student receiving an award for their work and dedication over the last three years.

All this goes towards our grades, making it an amazing final experience at University and lets us appreciate everyone’s dedication- from every department.

Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton.

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Whether you’re a student, staff or from our wider community, there are plenty of exciting cultural opportunities for everyone through Arts at University of Southampton.

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