The discussion of whether or not it’s a good idea to go to an art school, is one I have read, overheard and been involved in many times. It’s a difficult question, one with a potentially very expensive outcome. In some areas of art, I do think it could be a good idea to go to art school. Photography, graphic design as well as 3d animation have very technical aspects to them that can be cleared up from higher education. One could possibly teach themselves all these aspects, but it seems more likely that higher education will really help these disciplines. So for the sake of this article, I’m taking fine art and illustration as a kick off point.
Reasons: So first of all we should figure out what the reasons there would be to go to art school to begin with. Of course the main reason should be learning new skills and honing the ones that you have. If you are lucky and don’t have to work while you go to school, you get the perk of being able to work on your art and thats it. Another perk that I have heard a few times is being surrounded by other artists. You get inspiration, learn tricks and form friendships with people that can alter your career for the better. Many colleges, such as the Academy Of Art claim to provide job placement once you are done with your stint there. Private art schools are also a good place to learn how to display your art, present it to potential clients and be prepared for the business side of the art world.
The Costs: The most important detail about going to school, is ultimately how much you will be paying for it all. It is not cheap once tuition, living expenses, materials and health care (which many schools demand you have) are all added up. You could be pushing $30,000+ per year. On top of this, some schools such as California College of Arts add one extra year on, so if you already have your A.A. your looking at three years until you get your B.A. Not too bad really, one more year of learning can really help your craft but that one extra year will be very expensive. Another thing that I have noticed is that many of the best art schools are located in very expensive cities. San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Pasadena and others. If your aren’t living in a dorm the cost of living in these cities is really high.
The Negatives: Everything has negatives, the idea is to minimize them as best as possible. Of course the cost of tuition is a big negative, but what are some of the other possible problems you might encounter? One of the main concerns I have had and one that I have heard from many others is getting stuck with bad teachers. I can think of nothing worse than spending all that money only to be taught by someone who shouldn’t be teaching. I have had some teachers that were quite hard to deal with, but they were still competent and very talented. I’m referring specifically to those teachers that follow the old saying “those who can’t do, teach”. Why learn from someone who in essence is a failed artist? You can help to avoid this however by checking out what others say about the teachers on sites like Rate My Professors.
What about those schools that offer job placement? Academy of Art offers this and supposedly their success rate is in the upper 90%. I would love to see what kind of jobs these are and where they are. When I took a tour of the Academy of Art I asked about the job placement and they were very vague about the details, and it seemed that if you did get a job it would be right in the city the school is at. So if you want to stay in the city you learned at, then you might just have a job waiting for you. As far as fine art goes, a degree from an art college will not guarantee your success in the gallery scene. I have seen artists with no degree sell out shows, and artists with degrees bomb. It’s about the art and area really.
The Alternatives: If you still feel the need to get a degree you could always go to a state college and concentrate on art there. Many state colleges often get overlooked and many have very good art programs. San Jose State University is a great example. They have classes in a huge variety of mediums and I have yet to hear bad things that would really push me away. The tuition is also 1/10th of the price of a private art school. There are also Ateliers that you can learn art, the most popular one is the ConceptArt Atelier, these are very hard to get into. So ConceptArt puts on these weekend learning workshops once a year. The industries best artists share their tips and tricks there and you get some hands on training. Shawn Barber stated that “these workshops are superior to any education you could ever receive in four days, anywhere. It rivals a four year experience”. I would go to these weekends anyway, every artist I have talked to so far has said that they learned the most on the job as opposed to in school. So these workshops are kind of like that.
There are also sites like Imaginism Studios and Entertainment Art Academy where you can learn online from some of the best in digital illustration. But what about the perk of being physically around other artists and forming friendships and learning skills? You could always start a drawing group in your city, see if there are any life drawing groups or maybe even a Dr. Sketchy’s. If there isn’t one Molly Crabapple (the creator) can show you how to start your own.
When it comes to the business end of art and displaying your your work, you don’t need an overly expensive art school to teach you how to do that. Learn from others who have gone to art school. ImagineFX magazine also has a lot of articles dealing with this, and you could always join forums like the ConceptArt forum and ask around there.
Conclusion: Regardless of what this article may come off like, there are positives to going to art school and I have met many people who are happy with their decision to go. I just want people to be aware of the possible negatives and to know that this is not a necessity. Many artists do quite well without ever going to art school. If you feel that the extra education could help, maybe give the state college a try or check out one of the alternatives I have listed above. If you have any ideas that I might have missed out on, please feel free to leave them in the comments area.
Edit: I would like to add one thing that has come up recently. In my own experience in looking at local colleges, many of them don’t have programs setup to really take advantage of what is going on in the art world right now. Digital illustration, advanced computer arts programs and so on. Many of the schools are also filled with teachers stuck in the 70’s. You don’t need a professor that will paint or draw like you want to, but you also don’t need a professor that might have skipped out on some good lessons so that they could further their style which is now dead. Private art schools often have young fresh teachers, and many programs in computers and illustration.
Image: Abandoned Art School by Tiffany Bailey. 2011.