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Thea Smith

MA Critical Writing in Art & Design, 2014–

I studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths. In my second year, I started writing as part of my art practice and it became a real interest of mine. Along with some friends from Goldsmiths, I co-founded a feminism and art journal called SALT. as a counterpoint to the art writing I was doing. After graduation, we kept the journal going, and I realised that was what I wanted to do in the long term.

At one of the SALT. events, I met someone who told me about the Critical Writing in Art & Design programme at the Royal College of Art, and I was really interested. I saw the books in the Show and there was some really exciting work. There were two years between my BA and the MA, which enabled me to save up some money, but also means I really value the time I have now to dedicate to my Master’s.

I’ve continued to work on SALT. as well as other projects, for example recently I’ve been working with Deptford X festival. It’s hard at times, to balance work and study, but you just have to learn to prioritise and manage your time. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

The first few weeks were a bit of a shock, coming back to study, and going from a fine art education to a more in-depth and fast-paced learning environment. The introductory tours and talks were really good. Being introduced to all the support available was really important; I was struggling to keep up with the workload at the beginning, so I sought help and found out I have dyspraxia. It was a big adjustment, but the support here was good.

In the first term, we did a workshop on the catalogue essay in conjunction with Raven Row. We visited the gallery and discussed the function of the catalogue essay in that particular context. We had to consider multiple factors including practical considerations, audience and research into a little-known artist, so it was a multifaceted and satisfyingly meaty brief. Our major first-year project is called Archaeologies of Criticism, and that was a real stand-out for me. I found a radio programme that hadn’t been aired for 50 years and I was able to really explore that. I was looking into the work of a novelist and poet called Rosemary Tonks who produced a radio show in 1966 called Sono-Montage, in which she set poems to experimental sound. Many of the pioneers of experimental sound were women, but that’s been largely forgotten; now, people are increasingly aware of the work of Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, for example, but there were many more. Having the opportunity to research a topic in so much depth and write 8,000 words on it was invaluable, and something I’d never done before. I hope to continue the project in the future.

We have lots of visiting lecturers, but we’ve been quite vocal in pushing for greater diversity. The programme have been really responsive to that, and will always do their best to realise worthwhile ideas.

The format for our projects is that we all read each other’s work and discuss them together. That is a great opportunity for a writer and it’s one of the main things that attracted me to the programme. It can be time-consuming to read everyone’s work, but it’s a fantastic learning process.

I was one of two editors for Arc magazine last year. It was a lot of work, and I’ve learned that it’s important to not take on too many projects, and that’s a valuable lesson. It was a really exciting experience though, especially working with designers from the Visual Communication programme. Meeting contributors, managing a team and production schedule, and editing to a high level were all elements I had experienced before, but relished pushing to the next level.

You’ve got to enjoy this opportunity for what it is, and not worry about what’s going to happen afterwards. It’s important to get the most out of every project; there are times to fight the brief, and times to run with it – sometimes the ones that are the hardest to grapple with can lead to you learning crucial things.

"It’s important to get the most out of every project; there are times to fight the brief, and times to run with it – sometimes the ones that are the hardest to grapple with can lead to you learning crucial things."
Thea Smith
Thea Smith