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A practice-based investigation into the emergent professionalism within visual arts practice in the UK today, charting the progression of professionalism that has developed during the past 30 years, with a focus on changes in art education, frameworks of creative and artistic labour in the context of the ‘professions’ and in policy developments within the widening creative industries and cultural economy. Developments in Fine Art education are discussed as greatly influencing the situation, expectations and labour constructs of visual artists that emerge from art schools, highlighting an alignment with professional awareness, outlook and conduct in art school educated visual artists. Specific art schools are investigated, analyzing qualitative and quantitative information on course structure, content and outcomes.

The relationship between the creative industries, cultural economy and the visual arts is explored in its socio-political context through engagement with the work of Theodor Adorno, as well as Angela McRobbie and Gill and Pratt, but also Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of creative autonomy and liberal labour practices. Concepts of labour and work in the context of the visual arts are studied through the political theories of Hannah Arendt. The visual artist as ‘professional’ is illustrated through the sociological analysis of Magali Sarfatti Larson, whereby the concept of the professional project she developed as a model for understanding the professions is overlaid onto the visual arts as a mechanism for developing a theory for understanding today’s professionalized visual arts practice.


German ManSarah graduated from Kingston University in 2004 with a BA in Fine Art, and is a practising artist, as well as arts manager and MPhil/PhD candidate. Before, during and since her BA, she has worked across many of London’s art galleries, organisations and institutions, in the private and public, commercial and not-for-profit sectors. In 2011, she completed her MA in Arts Policy and Management at Birkbeck, with the thesis, The Importance of the Artist Community in Contemporary Urban Planning, before embarking on her MPhil/PhD in 2013. Sarah regularly exhibits her artwork and presents on related topics in London and across Europe.

She is the winner of the 2014-15 Student Competition, with the symposium Artist Identity, and co-editor of Special Issue: Artists Identity, Dandelion, 6, 1, (2015)

Sarah Scarsbrook