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Submitted on
July 20, 2011


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Q&A: Is Art School Worth It?

Journal Entry: Wed Jul 20, 2011, 10:07 PM
This is a question that I get pretty often, and I'd like to start this by saying I honestly have no idea. It's such a hard thing to gauge due to there being so many external and internal parameters that there's no do-all end-all answer. I'm still not sure if Art School was completely worth it even for myself. If I don't know, surely I must not be the right person to ask.


I can provide you with some tips from experience about things you could consider, should you be considering higher education. (And by that, I'm speaking about full four-year style colleges that offer full-time curriculum for a Bachelors or Masters degree.)

Now, as I mentioned above, this is truthfully a touchy subject. I don't want to be held liable for ruining anyone's future. So take what I say as opinion, not fact. Also my opinions come from being raised within a middle-class family. Not YOUR family.

I'd also like to take this moment and disclaim I wrote this very late at night while watching Top Gear and feeling very drowsy. I think this all makes sense, or something.


Don't go to Art School just to get your degree like it's some right-of-passage ritual like College has become in the USA. You're coming near to the end of High School or something, you're expected to go College right after. You're interested in art, so you decide it would be a good idea to make it your major. But is it really something you're interested in deep enough to warrant spending tens of thousands of dollars on? Unless you're one of the lucky few to get a free ride, you will without a doubt have substantial student debt by the time you graduate, (IF you graduate.) In my opinion, going to art school for reasons not related to career/commercial media learning is a complete waste of your time and money. (It's not uncommon to see the type of art in that previous link in schools. Sorry, I just don't think you need to spend $20,000 a year to produce introspective thesis work like THAT.) Simply put, I don't think personal enrichment shouldn't cost you a small fortune. You'd be much better off going to college for a more lucrative skill, something else that interests you, and developing your personal art alongside it with self discipline and continual motivation. If you ever want to hit it off as a big-name fine artist, determination and studying can make you every bit as successful as a college degree -- whatever you need that for in something as broad and amorphous a topic as "fine art" anyway. Something that could be an even better idea is to look for someone who could take you on as an apprentice. I can't speak for cost about that, but the quality of instruction you'd get could be immense, and WAY more personal. Either that, or make a friend who does what you want to do. It can happen!

However, if you're looking to get into the fields of a more industrialized art, such as graphic design, animation, illustration, or photography, you might just want to put some thought into just how much your interest in the topic as a career weighs against the cost and hardships of actually GETTING there. Hear me out: it's no easy task. You gotta make sure you're up for the battle to the winners circle.

Just like Fine Art, you don't always need a degree to actually be successful in the industrialized art world. One will definitely help you along, especially to get crucial experience-building internships, but it's not a 100% do-or-die required. It's not 100% uncommon for some college students to find their skills have outgrown the capacity of what their school covers, in which case they'd best consider arranging a meeting with their department heads to figure out whether it's a good time to leave before they rack up more needless debt. Artists do not have the same trials as, say, a business student where their grades make up a pretty good bit of their resume. They don't have the benefit of a PORTFOLIO. As an artist, your portfolio is a direct "Here's the facts, folks," tool that says everything about you. If your portfolio impresses, (really impresses,) you don't need a degree. If you can prove you can do it, they'll want you for it. (Edit: Though every employer is obviously different. Some people get lucky through connections. Some don't. A good looking resume never hurts. Having a degree definitely adds a gold star -- but it depends on who's looking.)

Now, a lot of that may sound pretty "anti-school," but it's really not. It's really something that applies to those who have the drive and motivation themselves to skip it entirely. It's meant for those who may not know what they want to do yet, to consider that a completely AIMLESS entry into art school can be dangerous and damaging especially if you're one of the many who, by their senior year, STILL don't know what they should be doing, or want to be doing. (That's a scary experience. No joke.)

However, if you are the type who wants to enter the industry, accepting the hardships, is genuinely intrigued by the process, has a direction and major in mind, and can't wait to get in there hands-on with everything, then by all means, you have every reason to go to art school. If you remain proactive, you will make friends there, countless professional contacts, you WILL have an experience that would be hard to repeat again at any point in your life. You need to make every best use of every little bit of it you can. Squander nothing. Because it will do nothing for you if you do nothing for it.

That said, definitely do your research and talk to people who graduated from the school you're looking to attend. (Really, email them. They're not hard to find through google or through the school's established alumni listings. They'll be more happy to help you than you think.) Make sure you're going to a school that caters best to what it is you want to be doing as a career. Look at current working professionals in the area of what you'd like to be doing. Where did they go? (If they went at all.) Is it feasible for you to do the same?

Remember that in the art world, the quality of your instruction can be every bit more important than the degree you get at the end. Don't think about the degree. Think about YOU. If you go through college, learn nothing, and get a degree as a pat on the back, did you really wind up with something worth keeping? At what cost?

And last but not least, DO. NOT. RUSH. IT. If you're JUST getting out of high school and you're REALLY not sure what you want to do yet, but you're REALLY sure you want to go into art school, don't rush in and make the wrong decisions. You have time. Breathe. Get a summer job. Think about it. Research it. Make an informed decision when you KNOW it's what you want to do. You'll thank yourself later for not plowing through, crashing, then burning.

Edit: What this really comes down to is the fact that art school, like many schools, is terrifyingly expensive. Much more than many kids realize, and they end up tallying horrifying debts. If it were affordable for everyone, I'd wholly suggest everyone go to art school. But this is not the case. For your own protection, give it good thought, and do your research as to whether or not it's for you.

Agree, disagree, whatever you like!

(by the way, please don't ask me which schools are good. I seriously can't tell you that.)

Add a Comment:
joy-ling Featured By Owner May 24, 2013  Student Digital Artist
I feel like I'm necro-ing an old conversation but there are two art schools that I know of that offer full scholarships.

One of them is in the Cooper Union, which is located in New York, NY. It's one of the most selective schools, however, and from what I've experienced they're looking for students who are into that contemporary art thing. :P They specifically told me that even though my work was technically proficient, they weren't looking for students with my skill.

The other is the Muse program in Hunter College, which offers full scholarships to New York City students and partial scholarships to non-New York students. Even if you get a partial scholarship the price you have to pay is not substantial. It's the program I am currently attending and it consists of illustrators, photographers, musicians, dancers etc. I'm actually very happy in the program and I got to experience many artistic things in the city (free trips to Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Broadway and art museums kind of stuff). You don't even have to major in art if you change your mind. It's a very non-rigid program. Every year they accepted about 40 students out of over 3,000.

Those are alternatives, if you're willing to move to NY. :P

Still, I think the best way to improve your art skills is to constantly work at it... I've been refining mine for almost 15 years. Although I am mostly self taught, I think that becoming an apprentice or a student would help my skills skyrocket.
Angelic-Alchemist Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2011
whaa..this is helpful....i m at a stage where i have an option between an art school and an engineering one and was in such a dilemma....i'll go with information technology...cuz someone instructing me ways to hold my pencil doesn't sound that goood to me =_="
rooster82 Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2011   Digital Artist
I studied art when I was in college and I value everything I was thought. I was very lucky to have excellent professors and the knowledge and exposure I got from them still helps me as a creative individual today. In the end, that piece of paper I earned, that degree, has helped me get jobs in other countries. Companies are more willing to support employment visas for a foreigner with a degree. So in my case, I believe art school helped me a great deal.

With that said, I also agree that one need not necessarily attend art school to break into the business. I have amazingly talented colleagues and friends who are doing very well for themselves as creatives and they did not study art in school. One of my mentors during my college years used to be a textile salesman before becoming a painter and sculptor. Painting was his hobby, and now he sells art for a living! He always reminded me that you should never be a starving artist. :XD Eat first! Create art later.

In the end, whether you go to art school or not, I think dedication and hard work is the key to breaking into the creative industry. If you can't take the projects assigned by a professor in college or handle their quirkiness, I can't see how one would be able to survive in the professional creative field.
SaraV-Art Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2011  Student Digital Artist
this journal has covered everything I have been reflecting about for the past few months. I want to do animation, but have decided not to rush it, I might just find something that attracts me more than art in general, like say: Forensic Chemistry and DNA Profiling <3
zakaz92 Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2011   General Artist
Thanks for sharing this. And from many points I would have to agree with you as I have a family member my uncle who has worked for DC Ubisoft and capcom that didn't go to art school for his work He simply made himself a great artist by drive determination and will. Art schools are very expensive as you pointed out and I firmly believe alot fo young people rushes to jump into an art school not just for the degree but because i have had alot of people tell me that they believe they will improve and become supreme artist quicker when thats not the case at all I haven't went to an Art school and I believe i have improved in a major way since starting from my younger days to now am I perfect no way but the fact that I was able to improve just by associating myself with other artist with the same mind set wanting to get better, alot of people don't have self determination and they may think a schoo will change that but like I have always been told if you dont do it for your self no one else will either and the thing about it is that really all you need to become a better artist or pro is just read study get help and most of all PRACTICE!. and I know you don't always have to have a degree to get work sure it will look better for you but my uncle and myself for that matter is proof that all you truly need is the skill and will to do the job once someone sees that its only a matter of time from that point. Again thank you for this journal entry it was informative to read.
BloomingLotus Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Very nice journal.
I wish DA would design a +favjournal button XD
TheArta Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2011  Student General Artist
There is :+fav: journal option, maybe it's not out yet for members, but dA has designed it! ^^ I think it's gonna be out soon. C: I can already fave this and it has 5 faves until now. I guess it's only for beta testers at the moment~
BloomingLotus Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
ah.. I can't see it yet :D hope it will become public soon! :)
aruzza Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
my my, that link you give is... O_o

and thank you for this journal! it's really true! art is subjective, and i'm afraid if i entered any of those art school, i'm gonna making 'good' art in the professor's eyes rather than to make art like how i wanted it to be. i'm no expert, but i do think art should come from yourself. being in art school could probably gave some kind of impact to the student.

and despite getting degree, if people in the industries don't see your work as impacting because you've gone too abstract, you would likely end up as an unemployed. but if you get into another degree with promising prospect, and still maintain your artistic activities, it's saver that way. when your art is appealing, people will come and hire you. believe me, i'm one of that lucky person to have small art business along with my friends :D
youlootamax Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
I find it interesting the number of artists who feel like art school isn't worth it. Hmm, you get networking, face-to-face critique, access to tools you otherwise would have no hope to even get close to at that early in your career, introduction to tools you didn't know existed or wouldn't have touched had you not been exposed to them, and so on and so fourth. I may not have become the next big thing coming out of college, but I feel like every penny put into my education was worth it.
My opinion is, if you truly love something and want to get as good as you can in it, go to school for it. It shouldn't matter the price on something that you're passionate about. For me it was no question that I wanted to go to art school. Who cares that I could have learned some of the skills on my own? I wouldn't have learned them nearly as quickly, and I wouldn't have been introduced to things like traditional inking, which is now one of my favorite things to do.

And I won't like to you or anyone about this: I've ALWAYS hated school, and by the time I was done with college, I was more than ready to be out of there. That's just how I am. But I wouldn't trade that education or the things I learned there for anything else.

Then again, I also want to get into a professional industry. And you know, a degree counts for work experience. Also, if your professors are doing their jobs, they've exposed you to as many opportunities to get hired as possible. As was said though, it does take initiative, but seriously, anyone who goes into anything like that expecting a job to just drop into their lap, no work put into getting one whatsoever, is an idiot. Anyone who expects to be amazing -just- because they went to school is also an idiot.

Sure I'm going to be knee deep in debt for awhile, and sure I'm not going to be able to buy a lot of the things I wish I could, but that's the same no matter the degree you'ld be going for, even if you go to a different school not related to art. Art school may be more expensive than regular school, but COLLEGE IS EXPENSIVE NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO. Other schools -really- aren't that different. You won't magically get a better paying job just because you got a degree in something else: you still gotta work at it no matter what.

Anyway, that's just my two cents on the matter. If someone isn't passionate enough about their art, and only just dabble in it for fun, or they're picking it simply because they think it's the easy way to a degree, then I agree: they shouldn't waste their money to go to art school, because they probably won't even last the whole way through anyway because they won't be able to handle the stress it brings. But if they take it seriously, and can't see themselves doing anything else, then there's no reason they shouldn't go, even if they end up freelancing in the end. Just because someone thinks they're going to freelance, doesn't mean they'll still want to after going through school. They might decide it'd be really fun to work at a company. There's just no way of telling how you're going to feel when you're done with it.

My high regard for this may be slightly colored by the fact that I went to a very good school for what I majored in. All of my professors were part time, and actually worked in the industry and went out of their way to bring in people from various companies that the students could show their portfolios to. A large portion of my class in my degree were already working by the time we graduated. So that's just where I'm coming from. Not all schools are as good at giving those kinds of opportunities to their students.
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