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Is Art School Worth It?

Here's a question that every individual interested in art has asked themselves: "Is art school worth it?"  Art school is a common consideration for every up-and-coming artist.  Should I or should I not go to art school or pursue formal art studies?  Is it going to be worth my time and money?  Will it help my art?  That is our topic of discussion for today.

Art studies are very common.  You can go study art at a specialty school or at a regular high school/college setting.  You can pursue degrees from an associates' degree up through a doctoral degree if you choose the right institution of higher learning.  There are definitely options out there if you want to pursue art for higher education.  Now, whether or not pursuing this field of study is worth it is a different question altogether.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of an institute of higher learning or a college or university building devoted to fine art

Gain Inspiration and Broaden of Your Horizons


If you are looking for a good way to broaden your horizons in art, you couldn't choose better than to attend some kind of formal art education.  There you will be exposed to lots of different kinds of art from all over the world and all over time.  Your studies will include primitive art all the way up to modern digital design work.  You will be exposed the the great masters of different art genres along the way.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of ancient Native American pictographs carved on the rock walls of Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

If there's a particular kind of art form or technique you wish to study more, art school is an ideal place to go.  You can get lots of one-on-one instruction and critiquing if you know who to talk to.  There will also be plenty of exercises to teach you the technique(s) you wish to learn.

If you want to do a better study of art history and evolution than what Wikipedia can give you, art school is an ideal place to go.  You can learn about lots of different art movements and how those movements affected society.

Vincent Van Gogh's fine art painting of Wheatfield with Reaper
No formal art studies would be complete without touching on artists like Van Gogh
If your learning style, much like mine, benefits better from formal classroom instruction rather than purely going with what feels right, then you will probably enjoy art school and what it has to offer you.

Art School Culture


If you do decide to attend art school, then there are a few points that you need to be aware of.  While art can be some of the most amazing and horizon broadening stuff out there, artists themselves can be some of the most closed-minded and rigid individuals you will meet.

Sadly young people like these will be some of the more open-minded kinds of people you will find at art school.
I did some formal art study in college.  It was mostly in the music department but I did have a few visual art classes as well.  I took an introduction to art class as well as some photography classes.  During my time there, I met my fair share of open-minded individuals and close-minded individuals.  Sadly, the former tended to be students and the latter tended to be professors.

Artists, specifically instructors, tend to have a high but fragile opinion of themselves and their art.  If you shatter that opinion in some fashion, it becomes a personal insult.  If you're considering art school, then you probably already know what it feels like to have someone reject your art: it feels like they are rejecting you because you put so much of yourself into creating it.  Some don't take well to that insult.  The bigger the ego, the harsher the insult is generally taken.

If you make the mistake of insulting the wrong person, no matter how innocent, you might just find your academic career being limited.  You might find yourself being graded down and not being given help when you need it.  You might find yourself being ignored and passed-over for opportunities you deserve and could benefit from.  I had this happen to me.

Then again, you might find yourself in a bad situation like the photography students at this university.  Their professor crossed over the line between provocative and inappropriate in assigning homework which was highly inappropriate.  Most professors will not ask you to come near this line but you never know who will until it's too late.  I never experienced this during my formal art studies.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality fine art nature photograph of a purple crocus flower with green background in Pocatello, Bannock, Idaho
If you enjoy taking or making pictures of flowers, art school might not be right for you.  My teachers sneered at such photos and told me how cliché such efforts were.  I was forbidden from presenting them as my homework before I could even ask.
If you are more of a free spirit when it comes to art, creating what feels good when it feels right, then you will not find art school to be worth your time.

You will be expected to create but most of your assignments will be ONLY what the instructors deem acceptable.  You will be expected to create art on a schedule (assignment deadlines).  You will also be expected to learn and demonstrate proficiency in some of the classic techniques.  This alone can be a real grind-fest if you don't have the interest nor the skill.

If uninspiring "approved" topics, deadlines, and grind-fests just aren't your cup of tea, then you will find art school to be torture and inspiration-stifling.

Very sadly, you will find that much of art school will be about enhancing your professors' egos.  Challenges will not be looked on kindly.  If you are willing to put in time brown-nosing for the education and practice, you might consider art school as a viable option.

Career Options Afterwards


The one thing which you will never hear in an art school setting is what kind of career options you have with your art studies and art degree(s).  There's a really good reason for this.  Really and truly, if you don't know what you are doing in business as well, then there's only one career path for you and that's being an art teacher.

If you want to sell your art, you must learn marketing and sales no matter your choice of art.
Think I'm joking?  My father, with his bachelor's degree in piano performance, has expressed to me more than once that he wished he had known this when he went to college and chose his major.  He's currently a piano teacher at a private music school.  He has few options in the way of career advancement: become the head of his own music school or go get a Master's degree and become a college professor.  That's it.

Art skills, while highly marketable in the graphic design field, have very little application in the real world job market.  Music, while still very much an art form, has even fewer job market possibilities than visual art does.  The music industry is only interested in cute young people and cookie-cutter pop songs which will sell quickly but not require skill to create.  They don't care about your college degree in music at all.

The market is hyper-saturated with lots of artists, some new and some with years of experience, who are desperately trying to sell their work.  Most don't know how.  There's a very good reason why the term "starving artist" came to be.  There's also a reason why the phrase "Those who can, do.  Those who can't, teach." came to be.  Most artists out there don't know how to make a living on their art so they end up becoming teachers or leaving the field entirely.  My father went into computers for several years just to feed the family.

Cramer Imaging's graphic of fine art with a high price tag attached to it
It takes business knowledge and skill to price out your work to make a profit and then to sell at that price point.
The one thing which you need to survive as a professional artist is the one thing that art school will not give you: business education.  They will refuse to offer advice or courses designed to help you make money off your art.  To even suggest that this is necessary is insulting to many art instructors out there.

If you want a career as an art teacher, then art school is definitely the right place for you.  Institutions of higher learning will be more interested in your academic credentials than in your portfolio.

Human Resources departments (the ones who interview and hire you) at school districts, colleges, and universities are trained to look at your academic career.  They don't have time to judge if your art based on its merits.  They probably haven't studied that much art to begin with.  They want to see a resumé and they want to know what degree(s) you have and from what school(s).

Conclusion


Art school can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to your art.  If you want a good grounding in art history and classic artforms, then it's the place to go.  It does come with the harsh realities of possibly being a toxic atmosphere for you and your art in addition to not properly preparing you for a career in art once you graduate.

It's up to you to decide if art school is the right path for you.  Ironically, it ended up being the right path for me, even if just for a while.  I ended up learning the basics of photography there and that helped me build towards my current career as a professional photographer.  After I learned the techniques I wanted to use in the future, I left early.  I needed far more study after I was done with my formal art studies, but art school did end up launching me in the right direction.


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