Header Image: “Formes” by Danielle Siegelbaum
So you’re thinking about applying to art school. Who doesn’t want to spend paint-splattered days in sunlit studios, or long afternoons reading about contemporary masters. Maybe you’re changing careers or are fresh out of high school. Or maybe you have big dreams of being the next Damien Hirst or just want a great job as a graphic designer after graduation.
Whatever the reason, art school is pricey, and the time commitment isn’t anything to sneeze at. Like anything, there are pros and cons, so we spoke to 10 working artists about their experiences, plus collected a few tricks on how to learn the same skills on your own.
Go for… the resources
“Art school gives you other precious gifts: Time, tools and resources to actually make art. You have many opportunities to experiment with different media and different techniques. Many students develop important relationships with teachers who become mentors, and with other talented students.”
Go for… the intense focus
“I was at art school from 1991 – 1994 and had the time of my life. It was the only time I spent purely on my practice not thinking about bills, working and the future and what it held. It was such a luxury and very valuable.”
~ Julie Read, Portfolio Oomph
Go for… the inspiration
“Going to art school is still the right choice because hopefully there will be that one teacher that will inspire you for life, and that will change everything – open your eyes, show how much fun life can be when you find your talent and enjoy what you do.”
~Marina Willer, Graphic Designer and Pentagram Partner in this article
Go for… the community
“Art school also allows you to immerse yourself in a community that supports art. If you come from a family or environment that’s baffled (or even threatened) by your artistic attempts, this immersion can be powerful stuff. You may feel like you’ve finally found ‘your people.’”
“Strong community is very important for artists. Sharing ideas, finding inspiration, receiving critical feedback — these things don’t happen in a vacuum. The best artists over the generations have always worked in a strong community. An MFA program is a way to build community, immerse yourself in the dialogue and history, and set aside a couple years for intense focus. I think there are a lot of ways to be an artist, but an MFA program is a solid way to get your career going.”
Go for… the training
I just graduated with an MFA in photography and I am very happy with my choice. In the program I learned so much and my work improved tremendously. It was challenging, but totally worth it. When I look at how much I have improved I know I made the right choice.
~ Ana V. Ramirez, AnaRamirezPhotography.com
Don’t go for… the debt
“Think long and hard whether you’re willing to pay student loan companies every single month for the next 10 years. You don’t have to go to college to be an artist. Not once have I needed my diploma to get a job. The education is all that matters. The work that you produce should be your sole concern.”
Don’t go… to only have credentials
“I’ve never heard of someone coming into an art gallery and saying ‘Do you have anything by an RA?’ As a frequent juror, I can assure you that letters cut no ice with me. Art is greater than letters.”
~Robert Genn SFCA in this post
Don’t go for… business training
“An artist has to learn how to sell in order to make a living. This requires action and real life knowledge of the dynamic world around us. I’m skeptical that the information I continue to learn about social media, web, technology, marketing and sales is something that is offered at art school. If it is, it’s probably out of date. The landscape changes fast each day. These are a whole other skills set that an artist needs.”
~Sheila Tan, Funky Portrait
Don’t go for… the practical
“Go to art school if you have a huge scholarship or disposable income and you want the college experience. Alternatively, if you want to be an academic teacher go to college then on to graduate school, but be aware of how debt will impact your life. If you feel like making art that is salable compromises the integrity of you and your work, then by all means, go to art school, but don’t forget the practical side of art.”
Don’t go for… a sure thing
“Art schools/universities can give students the false impression that there is fame and fortune just waiting for anyone with a degree. Almost anything you pay big money for in the arts at a university, you can learn for less in at your community college.”
~ Beverly Solomon, Beverly Solomon Design
Alternatives to Art School
At the end of the day, only you know whether art school is the right choice for you. Whether you’re itching for permission to just make art all day or crave the supportive network of other students, working artists and teachers, art school can be a great investment. Don’t discount the impact of investing the time and money in yourself and the work you truly want to do.
However, if you’re looking for more practical advice on how to make a living as an artist, consider taking business courses and practicing your skills using online tutorials, local classes or finding a working artist to be your mentor. There are many ways to amass a network and going skills, you just need to get a bit creative.
“Consider artist led workshops as an alternative to college courses, and becoming a protégé of a working artist to learn the ins and outs of everything relevant to being a working artist,” said Jamie L. Luoto. “Most importantly, whatever you do, practice as much as possible because talent will only carry you so far. The extra hours you log are what will carry you beyond talent to mastery.”
Above all else, make sure to continue pursuing your passion. There is no set path to achieving your goals or realizing your dreams.