Rachel Munford
Apr 22 · 6 min read

If at first you don’t succeed, fail a second time and reflect on all of your past decisions.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

If anyone told me I would be reapplying to art school in my mid-twenties, I would have told them they were crazy. Not to sound cliché but even after I graduated with my first degree in journalism, I never considered going back to university.

After being rejected from art school at 17 years old, I didn’t really fancy going for round two until 2018.

When a family member passed away, too young at the age of 21, something snapped inside my head and told me that if I didn’t try to get into art school again, I would regret not trying.

Truly, no one knows how long they have left on this planet so why not give it your best shot while you still can?

In August 2018, I decided to give art school another go.

I started to create a portfolio of work, attend local exhibitions and connect with people on the course I wanted to do. I went out of my way to experiment with photography and try to incorporate my writing into my artwork. I participated in the local darkroom. I followed every artist I could on social media. I went all in.

When you’re older, applying to university no longer feels like a huge obstacle. I had to produce a portfolio of work, a personal statement and have two references. These were all sourced easily without any form of stress-induced panicking. I worked a full-time job but whenever I had a spare afternoon or weekend, I would work on my portfolio. It seemed like I was on top of things.

Throughout this whole process, numerous friends and family members had asked why I was doing this. You don’t need to go to art school to be an artist so why was I trying to go and potentially put myself in debt?

[It should be noted, I live in Scotland where your first undergraduate degree is completely free if you’re Scottish and that means my second degree would have meant a tuition fee loan]

I was in this privileged position that I had graduated from my undergraduate degree in journalism and creative writing with no debt.

I had wanted to go to art school for as long as I could remember. I had spent months in art classes as a child to develop my work. I had taken every art qualification in high school. I had even studied photography at high school. I had told my uncle, an art school graduate, that I had wanted to study at that school and he said that I would.

Photo by Trevor Brown on Unsplash

I had tried to get into art school the first time too young and felt like I let myself down in the interview stage.

As I was only 17 and not yet had a job, I had never been through an interview process for anything. I could barely say two words in the interview and failed to sell myself in any helpful way. The two assessors were as confused as I was by why I was there. There was no consistency or explanation in any of my answers. I just failed to communicate why this was important to me. I had hoped it would be self-evident because I had simply applied.

I got my rejection two weeks later and cried for at least 2 days. It was the first time I had been rejected from something I really wanted to do.

I was devastated.

Therefore when I got into the prestigious journalism and creative writing course, I took it somewhat happily. I had produced a portfolio for that and not been rejected.

I was in a class of 60 in my first year which then decreased to 25 by the time of our graduation. I felt at home but still not as at home as I had felt with the art school’s walls. I had enjoyed my journalism degree and clearly didn’t suck at it but it had always felt like something was missing.

This became more evident when I got my first graduate job.

I had all of these skills in different areas that just didn’t seem to fit in the workplace.

I was good at design with no official design qualifications, I could write well just not in the way my Gen X and Baby boomer employers wanted me to, I was a decent photographer, and I could visualise data in a creative way.

I had all of these design and visual skills that employers didn’t want to pay me for officially but were more than happy to make use of these skills in a lower paid specialism. I wasn’t one thing and for some people that I’ve worked for, that was a problem.

What people don’t tell you about the majority of workplaces is that they like people to fit neatly into tick boxes.

You trained in this and got this grade so you will always do this.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I had been working for nearly 2 years when I had decided to reapply to art school. My reasoning was sound and when I got past the initial portfolio check, I thought I had made the right choice.

I had made a full portfolio of photography work in 4 months by myself, I had researched the course and attended open days. I had prepared interview answers in advance.

I had done everything that I could to do the best job.

And it still didn’t matter.

After a tense and rushed interview with a member of the academic staff, I received my rejection a month later.

While I’ve said before patience is key so is being able to cut your losses and just… re-evaluate.

Sometimes you need to fail at something to remember who you are and what you want.

I wanted to do photography but after my second rejection, I knew that it was the best and only outcome. Once I had received my invitation for an interview, I had stopped making art. Every time I tried to develop any film, I messed it up. Any prints I made came out wrong.

I just stopped doing art the second that I got through to the interview. The world was telling me this was the wrong way. I was too strong-willed to see it.

When I thought that I was going to face four years of intense photography and art study, I just stopped doing photography for fun. I was trying to prove that I was good at it to everyone else around me. I was trying to prove I was good enough to people who didn’t know me and didn’t care.

I wanted to prove that I was an artist, when I technically already was one.

This experience has taught me that just because you want something doesn’t mean you should do it. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean everyone is going to like it, or get it. I had tried my best, created work I was exceptionally proud of and still ‘failed’.

But had I really failed?

I had tried when so many people don’t. I had stared rejection in the face and just accepted it. I had held onto my confidence in myself to create wonderful things despite someone telling me I wasn’t good enough.

I had developed a strong sense of self and even when that rejection letter came into my inbox, I knew that I was going to be fine.

I had wanted it so bad, but it didn’t actually matter. When I received my rejection, I felt relief. Throughout the application process, I had become someone I didn’t recognise and didn’t like.

When I got rejected the second time, I didn’t have to pretend I was something I wasn’t anymore and I could just be me.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what qualification you have. It matters what you leave behind and sometimes the best thing you can leave is just kindness and honesty.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Rachel Munford

Written by

Freelancer. Writer. Poet. Scottish. https://rmunford.com/

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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