Finding a Fine Arts Internship: Interview with BFA Student Samuel Holzberg

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A Gallery View by Azka Firas

Because finding an internship is never easy, Fine Arts student Samuel Holzberg is sharing his professional experience, as well as giving some advice on how to make the best of your studies and how to put yourself on the job market.

Can you introduce yourself, your studies, and your professional interests briefly?

My name is Sam Holzberg. I am from Toronto, Canada, and I am 21 years old. I study Fine Arts at PCA, and I am currently in my 3rd year. I have a main focus on sculpture and a secondary focus on video. In terms of my professional motivations, I would like to stay in Paris after I graduate and try to develop a career within the art scene here. It’s still early but that’s my main goal.

What aspect of the art scene are you most interested in?

I would like to be an exhibiting artist but there are other areas of the art world that interest me. The couturial or critical side is also of interest to me. I studied visual and critical studies at an art school in Toronto, so this is also interesting to me. While I do have a background in writing about art, my main goal right now is making and exhibiting art professionally.

Tell me about your internship. How has the experience been so far?

I’ve been very lucky so far; lucky that I’ve even gotten this internship and for what came after.
The way that Shanta Rao works and approaches our work together, our relationship, and our dynamic is very cool. It is a very cooperative environment, so I feel very comfortable sharing my opinion. It’s a safe space really. We often work in French because I work with her and her partner, David Cousinard, who doesn’t speak as much English. So, when we all work together, we do it in French. I am by no means fluent, but even though I make errors all the time, they are always encouraging me and trying to understand me. It’s a really nice environment.

What are your duties like day to day?

It’s hard to say because it depends on the day, and we’ve also only worked together for a month out of the nine months. The day to day, goes from creative tasks to more construction tasks. For example, I was helping them paint, install shelving units, and metal elements to help set up the space. Moving forward, I will also have the chance to help Shanta with her work. The work we have done so far, which has been mostly construction, has been really great because I’ve gotten a good sense of their work methodologies and how they approach what they do. They have a unique way of thinking about materials and thinking about the relationship between us and the materials that we’re using. This has been a great learning curve.

Did you have any expectations going into the internship? Has it lived up to them?

No, because I had never worked for an artist before. There was a part of me that was very nervous because of the language and because I didn’t know what to expect. However, they have been very kind and welcoming to me. I really do feel like they have taken me under their wing, so it absolutely has lived up to my expectations.

How did you find this internship? What drew you to this one?

It was almost a stroke of luck to be honest. Something I always do is try to foster relationships with teachers that I find interesting. I ended up getting this job through a teacher I had last year, my painting teacher, Eva Nielsen. After the first lockdown in Paris, I emailed Eva to ask if she knew anyone looking for help over the summer. She emailed me and said she didn’t know anyone since it was a hard time but that she would pass my information around. A couple weeks later, Shanta emailed me and said she was looking for help. However, due to COVID-19, we didn’t start working together until November.

From my experience finding this internship, I would like to give advice to students by saying: “don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask for help. Make relationships with your teachers since they are professionals and have connections in their respective industries”. This is not to encourage anyone to make relationships just to take advantage but just to say that teachers are here to help. Usually, people are more open to helping than you realize. I’ve really learned that through this experience.

What does it mean to foster relationships with your teachers?

Sometimes people see their teachers as just their teachers and they forget that they are also people that have careers. They are often really cool people! In the Fine Arts program at PCA, there is a lot of younger faculty. Because of that, I have felt very confident talking to my teachers and felt more understood by them. Rather than thinking of your teachers only as evaluators in the classroom, realize that they are also people and artists who are here to help with your work. That’s how I felt comfortable reaching out to my teacher and was able to get help from her. It can really open a lot of doors.

Has this internship experience influenced your career path in any way?

It has only in the sense that it has alleviated some of the pressure that I put on myself. I am a very career-motivated person and I have this idea that as soon as I graduate, I need to be at a certain level. I have this expectation to just “go-go-go” so I can be at this level but it is not really realistic. This internship has shown me that there are jobs that I can do along the way that are still within the field even if they are not exactly what I want to do later. I can be an artist assistant for a while if I’m not yet at the level I want to be at and that’s okay.

For people in Fine Arts, the question of career is very undefined, and it can be thought of as not lucrative or stable. Really getting your foot in the door as early as possible is essential. Coming to France as a Canadian, loving Paris and realizing I want to make my career here has made me more proactive because I have to think, “how can I make this work?” I can’t really wait until I graduate because then it will be too late. I need to get my foot in the door and take the initiative now so when I graduate, there will be a few more doors open for me and I’ll be more connected. It’s not about pressure but it’s definitely about motivation and getting the ball rolling early.

What’s one thing from your classes that has really been helpful in your internship?

Certain elements from my sculpture class have been helpful. But more than anything, the CAP program has been very useful. I had a CAP position in the 3D lab. This is where I learned the majority of my carpentry, metal working, and industrial processing skills. Therefore, that was definitely my most relevant experience prior to this job and it has carried over. There are definitely some skills from my sculpture class and others that apply. I was nervous at the beginning that I was underqualified but actually, every artist has their own specific way of working with materials and their own best practices. There are some overarching processes but just being an artist or artistically minded is a qualification in and of itself.

What was the most valuable thing you gained from your internship?

The way that I work has always been associated with some impatience. I always want to get things done as fast as possible and not always as best as possible. This has often created a lot of problems for me because I end up rushing projects or messing up without thinking it through. The way that Shanta and David work, their methodology, is the opposite of that. They take their time getting to know the materials and what they are working with. For example, I was painting some metal armoires and shelving units with a specific metal paint. I kept messing it up and I couldn’t figure out why, but I also knew that I was rushing in a way. They were nice about it, but they kept stressing the point that I needed to figure out how this material works. I needed to figure out how the material interacts with the paint, get familiar with that, and adjust my technique. That kind of moment has been a valuable learning experience.

Would you recommend this internship to another student?

Yes, for sure. I think this kind of internship is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing because every artist works differently, makes different work, and has a different scale of operation. The artists that I work with have never had an assistant before and they aren’t working on a huge industrial scale like other artists might. So, it is different than working with anyone else. The best thing is just to work with someone in the industry or to shadow someone. It’s very beneficial and enlightening. I am learning a lot about how things work, how having a show works, how selling things works, and all the various little things that go into these. As I said, it’s very case specific but overall, I do recommend this kind of internship.

Connect with Sam on Instagram.