Why I began researching mental health and wellbeing for art students
My journey in research began when I completed my undergraduate course in New Media Art (James Cook University, Townsville). During the degree, I had frequent chats with other art students about feeling inadequately prepared to be a professional artist. I remember being stressed not only about time pressures and work, but also about how people would receive my creative work (especially when I compared it with artwork created by other students or professional artists).
Just before I graduated, I found out about research being conducted in my university that was focused on building resilience in art students. The idea fascinated me; how excellent would it be if we can equip students with the tools they need to 'bounce back' from hard times during their degree and after they graduate? I decided to contribute to this research and began an Honours degree focused on resilience for visual art students. The objective of the research was to explore ways to better prepare art graduates to know what steps they can take to not only ‘bounce back’, but potentially thrive when they experience hard times.
During my Honours degree, I began lecturing and tutoring art students. This really opened my eyes to how other art students can experience the degree. I had multiple, and at times frequent, conversations with students who discussed their mental health problems. Reflecting on this time, I think that these conversations gave me more perspective on the diversity of challenges students can encounter and the ways that education staff can be prepared to help. I continued to realise how important research in the area of mental health and wellbeing for art students can be.
As a doctorate candidate, my current research expands upon ways to effectively and efficiently implement sustainable changes in art curriculum—to enhance the wellbeing of visual art students. Curriculum plays a vital role in a student's education so changing this to address students' wellbeing needs seems like a more direct way to improve their health. To be effective, this type of intervention needs to be based on evidence that specifically understands the mental health and wellbeing needs of the students. Hence, my research seeks to build an evidence-base that assesses visual art student's needs. You can find out more about the Visual Arts Wellbeing project here.