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December 11, 2012
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This is an updated account on how things are going years after having left art school, the effects it's had on me, and my personal thoughts on attending. My views here aren't wholly different than the few rants I've had on the subject in the past, but it's one I believe I have to continue talking about to assist others in making the right decisions for themselves and their future path. (I should also mention that this is the viewpoint of an american in America.)

It's become increasingly clear to me over the last year that out of my 25 years on this Earth, there's only one decision I ever truly regret: and that was going to art school. Now, there's a good chance that I may not be saying this had I attended a different school, but there's no way to ever know, so what I'm really saying is "I regret going to the school I chose, not school in general." I feel as though I was let down by my school. I held up my end of the bargain (some $80~$90K in tuition) and failed to get anything in return that they had promised me on my open house tour 5 years prior. "Substantial experience in the major of my choice, incredible networking both on a peer and professional level, a career I'd be passionate about!" After reviewing that checklist years later, those three boxes remain unticked. (1. My school had poor curriculum. 2. I am better friends with artists met online through DA and Tumblr than anyone I knew at my school. 3. Boston has limited opportunities.)

Now, obviously I know just throwing money at an institution wasn't going to transform me into a powerhouse artist like an upgrade in a video game. But it's not as though I didn't put my work in and really try to come out with something to show for myself. My problem is that I feel as though all of that personal growth happened entirely outside of the classroom by my own curiosity, interest, and motivation. And I feel that my growing regret toward my experience there is more my fault than theirs: but only because hindsight is 20/20. I say to myself that I should have had the intuition to recognize all of the little red flags the school was presenting me with:
- Things like mandatory useless, distracting classes that had nothing to do with my major.
- Things like an atmosphere that was too sensitive toward criticism and rewarded bad habits through luke-warm "constructive compliments." -- Instructors have gotten fired in the past for being too hard (I say motivating) on students.
- Things like a course load that only had a fraction of a handful of classes that WERE relevant to my major, and even then instructed poorly with little direction.
- Things like giving me an expensive "internship" that was more something like a personal favor for a friend and had NOTHING to do with illustration.
- Things like recent previous-year grads now teaching classes with no more than 1 year of field experience.
- Things like no one else in my entire class (not even me) being pushed to give it their all and to prepare them for a future professional career in new and exciting media opportunities.
I tell myself I should have seen all of this and run, RUN for the hills, save my money, and go my own way, but... well, like I just said. Hindsight is always 20/20.

So, it's a choice I now have to live with, probably for well over the next 15 years of my life. I have the equivalence of a mortgage with nothing to show for it, and it's not a good feeling. It feels crushing, emotionally draining. As though it's over my shoulder mocking me saying "I'M GOING TO IMPEDE YOU IN WHATEVER YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS WERE FOR LIFE. NYAHAH." (That's a bit dramatic and exaggerated, I know.) But it really goes to show you how ill-equipped many of us, (ourselves AND our parents,) were when it was time for us to go to college. You know -- as we were always told by our parents -- you HAVE to go to college. "It's the ONLY way you'll get anywhere today!" Alright, maybe if you're going into business, medicine, or law, you wear your degree and high test scores on your sleeve. But ... for art?

It's amazing how art colleges will never tell you that the BFA/MFA degree you're working toward means shit in real life. Well it's not that surprising, really. Why would you disprove your entire offered product in one sentence? Still, I'm sure you've started to hear this more and more just as I have: people who hire you for art related jobs don't care in the slightest what your degree is, what your grades were, whether you had honors, etc. They want to see the work. If the work in your portfolio looks like it's good enough to be used as legal tender, you'll go places even having never stepped foot in a college classroom. "But!" you say, "I want to go to college to learn discipline, work ethic, and be exposed to group-based peer-reviews!" -- All right! That's fine! You just don't have to go to a huge expensive 4-year University/Institute to get that! Know where you CAN get that for a fraction of the time and cost, but with way more substance? Workshops. Trade-specific schools that hone-in on exactly what it is you want to develop. You'll get more experience in places like these in 1 year than you will in 4 years elsewhere, and get a serious ass-kicking to boot. You'll never receive a degree from these schools or programs, and they're fine with telling you that. What they will tell you is that what you will walk away with is something more important: skills and knowledge. Wish I paid more attention to things like these before I put all my chips on University. (By the way, if the school name has "Institute" or "University" in the name, you will be expected to take high-school level general education classes such as science, math, and history along with your art classes. DOESN'T THAT SOUND LIKE FUN AND A TOTAL APPROPRIATE USE OF YOUR TIME?!?!? At a college/university you usually attend a class once or twice a week for an average of 3 hours each session IF the instructor didn't randomly decide to cancel the class that day for no reason. At a specialized school, some as if it's a full time job -- one class, 5 times a week for over 6 hours a day. Now which sounds better?)

Crazy advice time:

I can't stress enough to anyone currently in high school to do your research -- ALL THE RESEARCH -- you possibly can on whatever school you're even remotely thinking of attending. It is SO easy at that age to just make a decision and roll with it without thinking twice about it. Make sure you have a direction you want to take with your art, like a career be it self or corporately employed. Time spent in school floating around not knowing what you want to do is time that could have been spent more wisely -- because remember, classes don't start the moment you figure out a plan. If you take until your final year to establish a career goal, that's three prior years you lost in school that could have been more appropriately allocated. No refunds, no free do-overs. And your college will NOT likely encourage you to make up your mind before advancing. College is NOT a requirement the year after you graduate high school. If you need time to figure things out, take it and don't feel ashamed of "taking some time for yourself." -- your future self could seriously thank you.

Research the school to its fine print. Look at every course path for your major. Ask for printouts of class sign-up sheets. Make sure the classes being offered are in the majority for what interests you. Make sure the teachers are reputable. Read public reviews for the school and even individual classes if you can find any. Find someone who has attended that school and ask their opinion, even briefly, on what it was like there. Do NOT settle. Constantly be aware of your surroundings in your classes, question whether or not the instruction you're receiving is satisfying your needs and standards, whether what you're getting is worth the money you're shelling out. If you start to see red flags in a particular class, see if the class is offered by another, more qualified teacher. Most colleges offer 2 weeks at the start of a semester to switch classes, don't take this grace period lightly. If you see red flags being set off in every class, this may be a sign that the school itself is a problem and evaluation is required IMMEDIATELY. If upon further inspection you find that you made the wrong choice to attend this school, you may still have the opportunity to leave and get a tuition refund. Worse comes to worse if you ride out the year, you'll have only one bad year instead of four. Take additional time to figure out what you want to do.

And lastly, know it IS possible to be a successful professional artist all on your own. If you take it upon yourself to be a badass indvidual, keeping inspired with a strong work ethic, you WILL do what you've always dreamed of doing in time, and for little to no cost comparatively. (Or, go to college for something COMPLETELY different to art and do art full time off to the side anyway. It's doable.) I'm not trying to instill doubt or fear if you're planning on going to school -- or indeed if you're even IN school right now. I'm not trying to tell you NOT to go. All I'm doing is trying to encourage people think more about the choices they're making, and know that they carry more weight than you might think years down the line.

Anyway, in the end, I have to live with this path I've made. I'm not stopping, no. It's tough right now but I can get through it. It bothers me that I COULD have made better choices in the past. You learn from your past mistakes. I learned from this one. It's just unfortunate that this is a mistake you don't necessarily get to repeat again in your lifetime, so it seems squandered. Thus, I offer these learned lessons to you.

That's that.
While I do want people to take my advice and experience seriously, I don't claim this to be the best advice for everyone. This is mostly me getting this pent-up rage off my chest. Take from this what you will. Current art school students and grads, your mileage will have varied from mine.
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:iconpepperseeds:
PepperSeeds Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I am still in highschool and thinking about going to an art university.My parents were strongly against it for a long time, and i never really got why. This is their side of the argument, and it's damn persuasive. But it scares me, that if by a long shot i do have the ability to go into the arts field, how do i show my credentials to possible employers without any proof of a legit education/background in arts?
Even more confused then when i started, but thank you so much for bringing up this topic.
Cheers.
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:iconfox-orian:
fox-orian Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Actually I answer that concern in the post. I'm not sure if things in Canada vary much from the States, but your credentials lie ENTIRELY in your portfolio. Develop a refutably strong portfolio, and I guarantee you'll find work. Many artists in the professional fields will tell you that under no circumstance have they ever asked about your education either in a job interview or in resume. Many job applications I see for art related jobs list "BFA education or equivalent portfolio." -- basically saying if you got the skills, that's all we care about. If you're looking to go into graphic design, sometimes a degree can be a point in your favor, but if your portfolio isn't stellar, a person with a great portfolio and no education WILL get the consideration over you.

It's a situation you're going to have to feel out. This is why I urge that prospective students try it on their own first JUST to see how it's going. Or, seek out skill-building workshops and schools who offer certificates in particular fields. Afterall, the skills matter, not the piece of paper "degree." Spent 1/4 the money on a certificate skill-building class, get all the experience of a four year college in one, and get going faster.

Otherwise, if you're not going to school for building skills toward a career, there's no reason to go because you'd be there for "personal enrichment" purposes -- which is a bit of a scam. Why pay someone tends of thousands of dollars to "personally enrich" you? You could do that yourself and feel more confident and proud of doing so all on your own. It's the equivalent of throwing money away at a life coach, hahah.

I would say to maybe listen to your parents a little bit, and make some seriously careful decisions, because at your age decisions that sound good now could be disastrous later on. Not to scare you, I'm just encouraging to think before doing and KNOW you're making the right decision. Research.
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:iconpepperseeds:
PepperSeeds Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
i kinda get where you are coming from, and there's little to argue with the point you are making. There are other opportunities for art students in Canada, like our school boards host student only galleries for us to get discovered etc,trying those out might also help,but in the end i guess research really is key. thanks a lot, fox.
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:iconfox-orian:
fox-orian Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
One last piece of advice then: if they have galleries and things to "get discovered," don't rely on that promise whatsoever to get anywhere in the industry. A lot of schools I know of in the states promise the same thing. Even my school had student galleries and opening nights where we displayed our work, not that it did a damn thing for any of us in the end. Job fairs can be mildly helpful if you school has them where recruiters come in from various studios in the area, especially if you're fine with taking anything, ANYTHING for a job within a remote area of your interest.

Take advantage of all the opportunities they give you, but don't be blinded by the promises from them -- your #1 ticket to success will always be your own intuition, tenacity, and determination.
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:iconpepperseeds:
PepperSeeds Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
so in the end,it's just like you put under your tutorials: "Get to work"
"your #1 ticket to success will always be your own intuition, tenacity, and determination."
i'll remember that. thanks, fox.
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:iconsteel-avatar:
Steel-Avatar Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Student General Artist
For the most part, I agree with you. I'm a junior year Graphic Designer and while my school has opened my mind, it hasn't taught me much if anything substantial in terms of skills. You're right - the teachers can skip out on class, and they aren't nearly as hard as they could be on students. I find that I give a better crit than my teachers do. Most if not all of my teachers are very close minded, and some teach classes that I literally have no care for.

Your advice to research research research is pretty much the same thing I would say. Since I feel obligated to go to college, if I could turn back the clock I would most likely go to school for a major that is in demand instead of design. My girlfriend is going for nursing, which is very in demand. As you said it's most likely more worthwhile to use the internet as a resource when learning art instead of school. I said this already but I'll say it again...It's fairly decent for opening your mind and a little exposure.
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:iconromansackboy:
romansackboy Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014
I understand your position and what is worst is that it really  terrorizes me the fact that I have to go to college, because my parents wants me to, because of the  graduation diploma that  you get on your final years, but I find it very upsetting, because I feel that I don't have the skills enough to be an artist... It is really disappointing. I only have 1 to 2 years  studying on college and I see the work of other people on the internet that are really amazing and are equally  the same age that I am.
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:iconsteel-avatar:
Steel-Avatar Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2014  Student General Artist
Everyone finds their way in due time. Persistence is what counts. More likely than not, they've been practicing way harder and way longer. As a result, having amazing art skills at a young age is usually the result of trading off time that would be spent doing other things.
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:iconromansackboy:
romansackboy Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2014
Well... maybe that would be true in a way because  I'm very creative at things  but sometimes my scientific and philosophical  views tends  to dumb down my skills and creativity(pretty much the result of a "worthy knowledge  public school system"), which unfortunately in my country gives art a really bad name, due to the simple minded idea that "art don't really sell" so.. yeah. Not to mention that the education that I received in my school wasn't the best, judging the idea that nobody in my country gives a crying importance to enhance the education of society... especially in art and creativity in general. I have been that weird obsessive nerd all my life and now that apparently is crushing me down due to the idea that my art is kinda dumb down way more than it is supposed to be. Well that's  what i think. :S
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:iconmysterycycle:
mysterycycle Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2012  Professional General Artist
You have my sympathies. I went to MCAD, which was a good school in my opinion - I learned a lot there - but years later I still question the wisdom of my decision to go. As neat as it was to learn the ropes of the comics world, emerging out the other side with a Bachelor's Degree in Comic Art means precisely squat in the professional world (as many of my teachers tried to warn me), and that combined with a massive student loan debt that I'll be paying off for the next 30 years...well, it doesn't contribute to my happiness, to say the least.
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