Art comes in many suits – or in this case, style, as conventional ideas and perspectives have been pushed and prodded after a few less than conventional years.
Enter Gladys Lai. A final year law student, she has just completed her double major in Art History and History as part of her combined Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law degree. Currently the digital content producer at Vogue Australia and GQ Australia, Gladys wears many a stylish hat as she melds a love and knowledge of art history to bring a unique lens to her role.
“I chose Sydney Uni because I’d heard a lot about the law program there,” Gladys explains of her decision to study at the university. “The breadth of Arts courses at the time, particularly for history, appealed to me.”
Despite being a native Sydneysider, the talented student found her first foray onto campus for her studies quite the shock which quickly settled into ease.
“My first day—scratch that, year—on campus was pretty confronting actually,” she recalls.
Going from seeing the same 150 people every day at high school to a crowd of 70,000-plus strangers is quite the leap. It took some time to adjust, but eventually I settled in – the pizza at Courtyard helped massively.
With dreams of working at internationally renowned art galleries and museums, Gladys initially had her heart set on becoming an art curator or museum director – a goal that still remains close to her career aspirations to this day.
It was an epiphany spurred by a conversation with her loved ones that shone an unexpected light on pursuing journalism.
“Writing was something I did all the time, and loved—so why couldn’t I make a career out of it?” she says.
On the first day of my internship at Vogue, when I wrote that first word for my first byline, I remember feeling so energised. Few things have ever felt so right.
Going from history and art history to fashion journalism may seem an unconventional trajectory, but Gladys is thoughtful when asked how the arts degree has shaped her approach to her work at Vogue magazine.
“I feel like people always tell me that they think of art history, history and fashion as completely separate areas of culture,” she says. “And while I get the presumption, I’ve never quite understood it. I guess I’ve always looked at the arts in general as this beautiful, amorphous web of creativity.”
I wouldn’t be able to write a fashion review without labouring over visual analysis for three years in my art history classes, nor would I be able to cover issues like Afghanistan without a knowledge of history. Everything feeds into everything.
For Gladys, balancing topics in varying, diverse, and enriching measure is something that always shines in the mind.
“Make the light topics smart, and the smart topics light,” she says simply, sharing a wonderful colleague's advice. “The same person can read John Berger and be an avid fan of Love Island. The high-low is not just fulfilling—it’s essential.”
In her fifth and final year at the university, Gladys’ time – especially in the age of the pandemic – has felt equal parts long and short, where five days can feel like five years and vice versa.
“I started working full-time a year ago now, after a year of freelancing and a year of interning, and it has been the best time of my life,” she says. “[It’s] exhausting, challenging, non-stop, and invigorating.”
I am constantly inspired by the people around me, who are stylish, of course, but more than anything, are witty, sharp and kind beyond belief. My team is hands down the biggest highlight.
A second generation migrant, some of her work has gifted opportunities to explore and write about things dearest to her.
“I wrote a piece in late 2021 called Lost Homes, a reflection on the special grief that migrants experience during lockdown,” she shares. “And this year, I sat down with my colleague Jonah Waterhouse to discuss the unique anxieties that young people growing up post-9/11 and post-pandemic are facing, and often by themselves.”
Driven and endlessly inspired, Gladys says that news doesn’t have set hours – and nor does writing.
“The best thing about journalism is that even though everyone begins their day with a set amount of hours, what happens in between the 9 and 5 is left mostly up to fate,” she explains.
“In general though, it’s just a lot of writing, at least three thousand words a day,” she says. “That’s not including sourcing the imagery, photoshopping collages together, interviewing talent, answering emails, and all the other work admin that might occupy your time.”
And on getting a foot in the door? Internships, internships, internships. “The worst anyone can ever say is no,” Gladys says.
Just put yourself out there and take that leap. Write on the side, build that portfolio. And never, ever, ever stop reading.
There are often many misconceptions about how arts degrees or creative qualifications don't get you a job that matters – and frankly, Gladys has heard them all.
“The funny thing with being in the arts is that people you meet will feel very comfortable telling you that a) it will be hard to get a job, and b) that if you have a job, it’s not a real one,” she recalls. “I don’t think it ever gets less hurtful, though over time I’ve become less insecure about it. Sticking doggedly to your passion is so hard when it feels like no-one around you believes in what you’re doing, the success it will reap, or the value of it.”
Despite her youth, Gladys knows a wise thing or two about being your own cheerleader, especially when everything appears to be telling you otherwise.
“I promise it’ll work out and that good things will come," she urges. "Because they’re wrong, you know? Or at least misconceived.”
Art is everywhere. Where would we be without poets or directors or playwrights or painters? Those of us who don’t just look at the world, but through it, to the core, and bring back something different each time? Those who dream and interpret and imagine? How poor the world would be without that beauty.
“Not everything is quantitative,” she says to the idea that the arts don’t hold value in the workforce. “In fact, the most important things rarely are.”
All images courtesy of Gladys Lai. Words by Margaret Tran.