On Making the Move

Charis Poon - September 19, 2018 - 0 comments

This is the answer I give people when they ask me why I’m going to London.

I want to teach design at a university level and I got advice from two current professors at leading art and design schools that having a Masters degree would greatly aid me in my eventual job search.

At this point most people nod their heads in agreement. However, I’m not actually sure that this is the real, legitimate case for things in art schools. Now, I’m too terrified to do further research to find out if this really is true. I’m certain to a degree that if I put effort into it I could find a position at some higher education institution on a part-time basis. I’m a full-time practicing designer with experience in the kinds of design that I think universities want to teach (graphic, branding and identity, websites and apps). However, I’m also fairly certain that holding a Masters greases the wheels.

I’m even more certain that simply knowing the right person is the key to getting in the door since both of the aforementioned current professors said that they would be able to help me get hired. I don’t think this is a terrible thing to say out loud. I think I’m a good candidate for teaching. I want to teach and I know I’m good at teaching. It is, I admit, unfair to think about the fact that there are many candidates like me out there who don’t know anyone and this gives me an edge. Is it called irony when you’re going out to hopefully get a degree to teach young people to work hard to acquire the careers they envision for themselves when the career you envision for yourself was enabled by many people lending a helping hand?

I barely believe in higher education. On principle I think it’s ludicrous that a piece of paper (read: diploma) should confer credentials. I am uncertain that the postgraduate degree I’m about to embark on when earned will give me legitimacy to teach. What I mean to say is that the concept of certification does not by itself suggest ability to teach or serve as a guarantee of proficiency in a subject. I’m not sure what the guarantee of the postgraduate program really is.

I did not say any of these things in my application to Goldsmiths.

This is what I wrote in answer to the question, “Why/how do you think this MA at Goldsmiths particularly aligns with your future goals/aspirations?”

I’m attracted to this MA Goldsmiths offers, Design as Expanded Practice, in particular because I’m not looking for a program that will teach me more technical skills. There are many good Masters programs out there that are technical that do not match with what I’m seeking.

I still find this to be true. I still tell people who ask me why I’m moving to London that it was a process of elimination. I was initially planning on staying in Hong Kong, but I learned that the school with the most reputable design programs, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, only offers degrees that take a minimum of two years (I have since learned that this is not true) and that I wanted a program that was shorter. I was also encouraged by my ever non-traditional parents to leave Hong Kong and study somewhere else. They love Hong Kong as much as I do (more than I do) but they are frank about Hong Kong’s flaws and are under no delusions when it comes to the education system in their hometown. (Hence why I did pre-K through first grade in the States, the rest of my primary and secondary education in an American system international school in Hong Kong, and then went to New York to get my BA and BFA.)

My thoughts then turned to returning to New York. I thought about the Yale Fine Arts program like so many others do. But do you know how much Masters programs cost in the States? I have enough self-confidence to be convinced I would have been admitted to the schools of my choosing but not confident in the slightest that I would have earned any scholarships or qualified for funding based off merit.

In narrowing my choices further, I know myself well enough to know I may be brave enough to leave home to go to school but I am not brave enough to leave home for a country where I do not speak the language. This then left me, in my estimation, with Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Ultimately, I picked Goldsmiths because I wanted to explore the United Kingdom and Europe the most and because I did not want to go to the Royal College of Art or Central Saint Martins.

I’m looking to learn how design applies widely to the world and relates to societal change as opposed to using design as frosting on a cake or being part of an insular design industry that only chats among itself. I am ready to know what design can be when integrated into projects for greater good.

I didn’t want to go to RCA or Saint Martins because in my mind, they are similar to Parsons (not a negative comparison to me) in that they are practically minded. In my experience, whether or not they deliver on the promise, the promise Parsons and similar schools make is to fully equip you to enter the design industry. I was looking for something that wasn’t interested in making the stance of, “This will get you a job.” I realize this means that in my pursuit of a postgraduate program I intentionally looked for somethingunpractical. I have been using the euphemism of “theoretical” when I describe my program.

I am not really part of an “insular design industry” as I described. If anything, the circle I find myself in both online and in real life is media and entertainment. Still, I am indeed interested in knowing how design can lead to greater good. I have always thought myself as being honest about my pursuit of money. More and more, I wonder what I can do with my talents that contributes to something greater. Having been a freelance designer for the past three years has allowed me to use my free time to do things that I find meaningful: mentor high school girls, do charitable design projects, and spend quality time with friends in conversation. However, I have never considered the bulk of my work to be meaningful in and of itself, unlike that of a heart surgeon for example.

A goal I am working towards is to empower others. I want to help light the path for young people through teaching design at a university level. I know I’m not done learning myself, but I’m ready to teach others and learn through teaching. My undergraduate degree taught me technical skills and strengthened my eye for design. I am ready to embark on a graduate degree that stretches my perceptions of the world, how design fits into it, and challenges me to think critically about my motivations.

The comment about “light the path for young people” makes me cringe now. Without using such a tired metaphor and in more frank honesty I would say that I may not know much, but I do have more experience than a 17-year-old entering art school and I think sharing that experience with wisdom counts for something.

I forgot that I’d written about wanting something that “challenges me to think critically about my motivations”. I would wish this for myself in any moment. I would wish this if I wasn’t going to London and was not about to start a postgraduate program. What are my reasons for going to school? Throughout considering applying a year ago, sending out my application nine months ago, doing a Skype interview with the school five months ago, I have been questioning myself as to why I am taking these actions. Perhaps, “to think critically about my motivations” is the best answer so far.

I think this MA at Goldsmiths will shake me out of complacency and require me to determine what I can do with the skills I have beyond executing the visions of clients.

It comes across to me how tired I sound here on the subject of freelance work. I have enjoyed working with the vast majority of my clients these past three years. I have been extremely fortunate in the circumstances in which I meet my clients and work with them. I have almost no horror stories of the kind you see on design blogs. Still, the nature of freelance design work is at its heart receiving the brief of others, interpreting their goals, and creating work that will best achieve those goals within the set limitations and personal capabilities. I consider my freelance design work to be successful when I have met my clients’ goals. I do not think of myself as a tool like a Photoshop wizard or a breathing Pinterest board because I know my clients hire me to have a point of view and to think critically about the objectives of the project at hand. All the same, I am at the service of someone else’s goals. What are my personal creative goals?

I am at a point in my practice where I recognize I need to make more things. As much as I desire to fit spontaneous making into my schedule, it continues to fall on my list of priorities due to other pressures. It is time for me to be deliberate and cause a break in my routine. I imagine that 15 months freed from a regular schedule, surrounded by designers and practitioners who are similarly motivated, living in a new city, and, most importantly, dedicating the bulk of my time to question myself and society is the change I need.

Perhaps I should be doing a Masters in Philosophy. I seem to want to spend most of my time observing, thinking, and writing. I’m not sure where the design figures into this. I think I intentionally used the word “making” instead of “designing” because I knew that what I wanted to think about and achieve might not ultimately take the executable form of design.

I have so much hope that a new city, new people, and new routine will bring about new thoughts and new growth. I know that even in London at Goldsmiths with a program full of cohorts, even waking up early and doing regular exercise and cooking for myself (things I do not do now), that doesn’t change that I’m still me. It will still be me in London and if I cannot confront certain things about myself in Hong Kong, changing locations doesn’t guarantee that I will be able to confront those things about myself there.

I am moving to London because I am hopeful that all of the external differences will bring about internal differences.

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