Amber Speed, Corporate Development Manager at the National Portrait Gallery
"I love going into a meeting and being able to talk about an exhibition using my own knowledge from my history of art degree."
Why did you choose History of Art?
"I studied history of art for A level and art for GCSE. In GCSE art we studied the history behind an artist. While it is a very small part of the GCSE, I found that glimpse of looking at the history of art interesting."
What are the main skills that you gained from your course?
"Communication. This came from seminars and the fascinating discussions we had. The seminars allowed us to challenge the meaning of art and looked at the reasons behind why an artist chose to do something.
Very early on, I felt confident to put my hand up and give an answer. I became assertive in using my voice and sharing what I thought.
Another skill that improved during my course was the analysis of artwork and delving deeper into context. I still use that skill now in my work."
How did you choose your optional modules?
"To start off first year we learnt about Renaissance art all the way up to the modern day, it was a whole overview and I loved that. It was great to go to each of those early sessions and it would be completely different to the last one, looking at a variety of genres.
I prefer modern and contemporary art, so that narrowed the field as we went through the years as to what modules I could choose. Third year was my favourite year of modules, as they were more specific.
I chose things that sounded engaging and unique. Reading all the module descriptions and thinking ‘Is it similar to something I’ve done before? Is it going to teach me something new?’, I remember that being a fun way of choosing."
Any staff shout-outs?
"Lucy Bradnock was my dissertation supervisor and I absolutely loved all of her lectures, especially the modules on American art. Also Lara Pucci, I remember having amazing lectures with her, and Gaby Neher.
Gaby specialises in Renaissance art, which wasn’t my preference for lectures, but as a person she was incredible and definitely stood out when we did our Berlin trip in second year.
Our visit to Berlin was the highlight of my whole degree. Gaby led it and she was so passionate about Berlin.
Gaby stood out as being such an advocate for everyone and whatever they wanted to choose."
Did you do any work placements, or volunteering?
"I worked at the Lakeside Arts Centre as a Saturday job at their morning arts and crafts workshop. It started as a couple of days volunteering and then became a paid position, which was good experience and looked great on my CV when I was applying for internships in third year."
What was your dissertation on?
"Titled ‘Branding in pop Art’, I looked at how artists turn themselves into brands and consumer goods, for example how Andy Warhol branded himself in very unique way which impacted his artwork.
Loads of pop art featured iconic brands, and I explored how they were interpreted in each artwork and what that meant about America during that period of time, exploring aspects such as the ‘American dream’. It was fascinating to read around."
Did you always know what career you wanted to move into?
"I knew I wanted to do something in the art field, but didn’t necessarily know what area. I initially thought auction houses was the route I wanted to go down. I did a lot of work experience to help me figure it out.
A small commercial art gallery in London gave me work experience when I was 17, which led to paid work during university holidays. I also did work experience at Christie’s and Bonhams auction houses."
That was a big factor in helping me get a job later on, finding relevant work experience. Having explored different areas of art definitely benefitted me.
What’s the best thing about your current role?
"I love the combination of using my business brain combined with my art history knowledge.
Last year we exhibited an amazing David Hockney exhibition. I learnt about the content of the exhibition and found myself picking up all the skills and language that I used during my degree to talk explain the exhibition to corporate supporters. It made me feel confident in my role.
I love learning about the Gallery’s collection too and tapping back into bits of my degree."
What are your future career ambitions?
"I want to stay at the Gallery for the next few years.
I am quite young to be a manager at the Gallery, so I still have a lot to learn. I am being challenged every day and still evolving in my role.
Eventually, I would quite like to go back to the corporate side. Corporate institutions have the opportunity and ability to support all sorts of organisations and up-and-coming artists. It would be amazing to use my knowledge and be able say 'Yes, we want to support these cultural spaces that need it.'"
What does ‘success’ look like to you?
"Being happy and comfortable with where you are. The money side of it will not equal success."
Any tips for students considering this degree?
"I got my first internship out of Nottingham through alumni fundraising as a student telephone fundraiser. You call alumni from the university and fundraise for University of Nottingham. That really helped my communication as I used to hate talking on the phone.
We were matched with individuals who have similar interests to ours. One person I called was a woman who had the most incredible career path. We had a great conversation and I asked for her email address. We met up later in London and she said the gallery she worked for would be looking for interns in September. It was Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Mayfair. I had a 3 month paid internship with them."
Anyone who’s in an industry you are interested in, chat to them and promote yourself, and they might think of you when they have an opportunity in the future.
Study History of Art