Nearly every artist confronts the Big Question: should I go to art school? For some, the answer is obvious; for others, it’s a nebulous question mark filled with self-doubt, researching and a little bit of faith. What makes the decision more complicated is that art is so deeply personal and subjective that what works for one artist might not work for another. Never-mind the financial constraints, creative limitations, and time commitment. However you look at it, the stakes feel high. So, how do you decide what’s right for you and your craft? What path will you choose? Writer Angella D’Avignon tapped the greater artistic community to bring us some insightful opinions and anecdotal advice about the pursuit of an art degree. Turns out there’s no wrong way to be an artist, all you can do is get informed and feel empowered to do what’s right for you.
The Cost of Education
Money is often at the crux of conversations about higher education, especially in fields that are not guaranteed to be lucrative post-graduation. Is the high cost worth it? Can you find ways around a huge college price-tag? Here’s some things to think about:
Save Now, Spend Later
“I usually recommend that undergrads pursue their degrees at state schools and save any major fiscal investment for a grad program (where they often would have the chance to have tuition waived).” Jessica McCambly, artist and educator
The Cost of Home
“Opportunity for jobs in the arts that utilize the credentials of an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) often mandate that you live in some of the most expensive regions in the world.” Matthew Bradley, artist and Exhibit Coordinator at the New Children’s Museum in San Diego
It’s an Investment
“I am definitely bound by my payment schedule now, but for me it was a necessary investment that I do not regret.” Kathryn Zazenski, artist and US Fulbright Researcher to Poland, 2015-2017
The Real World
“There is no education on how to be creative with your own career, and how can someone make money with art if they have no idea how to do so? It’s very strange that the school system seems to teach everything about making a painting, but nothing about how to sell it.” Bruna Massadas, artist and educator
Honing Your Skills
There’s no doubt that studying art can increase your skill level, but it’s up to you to decide which skills you want to sharpen. Do you have the discipline to be self-taught or does an academic environment spur you to progress?
“I studied Mass Communications, Photography and Advertising…and upon graduation I realized that I had no technical skills to work in the [art] industry. Transitioning to art has taken me years and I wish that I could have had a better understanding of college majors and chosen art originally.” Claudia Cano, performance artist
“I’ve played with every material and considered myself a painter, crafter, mixed media artist, woodworker, and a fiber artist. Without all those phases that were so fleeting and whatever-I-wanted-to-obsess-with-in-the-moment, I don’t think I’d have the focus and determination I have now in my current creative process.” Tracy Ann Ball, regional manager of Artist and Craftsman Co-Op
Practice Makes Perfect
“If you wanna paint – paint. Paint all the time. Maybe take classes at a community college if you want to learn some [extra] skills.” Frenemy, artist and illustrator
Define Your Expectations
It’s important to think about end-game goals for your college experience. Maybe you want to make inspiring friends and great connections or maybe you want to master a completely new medium. Ask yourself – what exactly do you want to get out of art school?
Stability vs. Passion
“This is the struggle I see: students having to navigate the practical and very real need for stability and security with their passion and excitement for creating. They are struggling to understand what this thing is that they are doing and where does one go with it – where does art school/ being an artist fit in [a] world filled with the practical needs that pull at them daily?” JM
Know the Job Market
“The chances of an MFA-holder breaking into wealth via a successful career selling/exhibiting work or becoming involved in the handful of high paying gallery/curatorial positions are about as good as the chances of making it big in the music industry. It happens, but rarely.” MB
“There is no one way to do this, and it is really important that each person seriously break-down their goals as an artist before they enter into the throes of grad school. There are tons of alternative programs available, and tons of ways to be a part of the art world, it really boils down to what you want for yourself at the end of the day.” KZ
In almost any profession, an uplifting and critical community is essential for success. What kind of people do you want influencing and critiquing your art? Will studying fine arts surround you with the kind of people that matter most to you and your work?
“It’s difficult to get useful criticism to refine my work. Everyone is eager to congratulate you and say how much they enjoy x or y, but not many are quick to say why z doesn’t work. I’m sure that’s the missing piece in my [lack of] collegiate experience, criticism.” TB
“I wanted an education that was more varied so I chose to focus on math, science, and history in my academic studies. I [now] choose to interpret these fields through my art. Art as the foundation, the lens, the filter of everything that [is] presented to me. As a performance artist my art is anchored in my embodiment. I didn’t need art school to anchor me to that…because I am the only one who can access that space!” Maria Mathioudakis, performance artist and Program & Artistic Coordinator at AjA Projects in San Diego
“I needed to really invest all of my time and energy in my practice, but I also needed to build a solid community, to receive critical feedback, and put myself in a position to be competitive for the whole professionalization side of things: grants, fellowships, exhibitions, jobs, etc.” KZ
Our very own Society6 artist Frenemy, sums it up best:
“Art school or not – if you are not willing to put in the long hours, the late nights, the work it takes to get better and better at your craft – the dirty work – you should probably find something else that you want to pursue. If you want to get anywhere with your art it takes a ton of hard work and dedication. It takes passion.”
Any thoughts or sagely wisdom on your art school experience? Share in the comments below!
Artwork by Chad Wys.