Should You Go To Art School? We Asked 8 Experts To Weigh In

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. Nevermind 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

Should You Go To Art School? We Asked 8 Experts To Weigh In

Composition 496118

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?

Missing Link

"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

Self Taught

"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

Goal Oriented

"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

Should You Go To Art School? We Asked 8 Experts To Weigh In

The Absurdity of Looking

Community Influence

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?

Constructive Criticism

"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

Stay You

"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

Header: Garage Sale Painting of Peasants with Color Bars


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DistinctyDesign commented on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 4:03pm
artist commented on Thursday, May 26, 2016 6:10am
rob art | simple commented on Friday, May 27, 2016 7:06am
OK, some nice comments put forward there, and I would also argue that art is a form of communication. Its as our first form of communication in fact. People were making marks on walls long before speaking coherent words. However, all that said and with the Darwinian approach to life, both language , art and cultural life has evolved. We are now in a phase were art is thrown at us in so many directions that it almost seems like a free entity rather than a possible career opportunity.
The increase in internet market places has actually destroyed one tier of art. There is the tier that is untouchable unless you can afford the millions requested for a art piece, then there is the cultural tier of affordable art. Below that is the tier of amateur and "stick it on the fridge door" art. Now, as TB seems to say there is not enough criticism, then let me say, there is too much of the lower tier of art being marketed as commercial art. This is down to many factors; economic status in global economies driving people to believe they can make a living putting anything that constitutes art on the internet market place, and also, not enough curated criticism to make people realise that art is not about making a mess and hoping someone will buy it. Art is about composition, colour structure, emotional values, semiotic influence, and a plethora of other things. Most of which are away from "that's fashionable and must sell, let's copy it and make some money."
People who do art just to make money are NOT artists. They are misguided opportunists. It's sad, unfortunately to say that a great deal of POD sites allow this ability, and so the web is being fed a load of dross that is popularised by unmonitored or unrealistic voting/promotion systems, that then makes bad art a forefront instead of art for what it is.
Making a discussion about "should you go to art college?" retrospectively means that it is a potential career choice, but do people NOT go to college to do other careers. Think about it. If you'd like me to answer the top question (as an artist who went to art college) then I would say that technique is one thing. You can bash away at it for ten years and be good at it, or go to college and get guidance for three years. But that will make you a technician. Art is exploring something else that not everyone has the aptitude to do. Why force that? Another quote"
“Popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong.”

~ Oscar Wilde
Jens Jensen commented on Friday, May 27, 2016 7:32am
thanks for putting that up- indeed a crucial question! all in all I go far with Mrs Mathioudakis- "stay you" is a crucial point on the other Hand ! You might learn crafts, skills and varying techniques on art School but when it comes to the point of your art being "judged, professionalized, changed" or even "commercialized" it will only loose in power. If God gave you talent and you belong to those who as a child began to paint a Portraits of granddaddy, draw a flower for Mama or Experiment on a snippet of paper while telephoning, it is something that is "just there" and cshould and can not be changed. Anyway, after years of just Money earning in some boring factory or Office, you might find youself asking "where did my art go?". Further, every Artist lives in circles between crisis ("there is no use in it") and sudden outbreaks ("it just came outta me, I needed and deeply felt it") and this might hamper "regular money earning". Taste of the audience, trends, current preferences are another point. Finally I see most artists struggle for paying the next rent, but somehow cling to it. Art School might bring you some references and connections, but not much more concrete I guess. Except for the few who "somehow made it". You´ll always end up "try and go your own special way".
ALEX A. AKIRA commented on Friday, May 27, 2016 10:02am
I entered RISD at 17 with a portfolio of yellow #2 pencil drawings, a drug store watercolor set painting and a burning need to draw animals. I came from a broken home and drawing was pretty much how I communicated, so to say I was naive is an understatement. I credit art school to exposing me to the vast variety of techniques, mediums & styles of art that I could wallow in to my heart's content. And also to educating me on the history of art and the rules of the game..which I then learned to break. That said exploring and learning and entering the art world after RISD became just as vauable as what I learned there. Without that foundation, I'm not sure I would still be enjoying the world today. I can honestly say RISD taught me to see the world with "art-colored glasses. If I am having a bad day, making art puts my world in perspective. But then again Art and the need to create is all about Passion... my little #2 pencil drawings netted me a full scholarship and I'm pretty sure it was because they revealed my passion and hunger to create.
Eugenia Loli commented on Friday, May 27, 2016 11:13am
My opinion is that unless you don't need to get specific technical skills (e.g. how to draw, or how to use expensive and difficult 3D apps), or to get a degree just because a job requires it (e.g. artist at Pixar rather than freelance), then you don't need an art school. Art schools can't teach you how to be creative, and most importantly, they can't tell you how to market your artworks. In the internet age especially, where galleries don't have to be middle men (in my experience, most of the time they wouldn't pay me), you take marketing in your own hands, using social media.
Erin McGean commented on Friday, May 27, 2016 12:09pm
As an art educator I believe you can teach someone how to tap into their creativity. There are many techniques and activities I use with students to get them thinking in new ways, making art in new ways, and thinking and accessing their right brains more. Art making can be automatic (expressive) and can be technical and thoughtful (classical). Either way there are soooooo many techniques that can be taught. Sure you can watch You Tube videos and we do in my class, but the students still have the benefit of me being there to demonstrate or help with the techniques directly on the students art. There's no feedback from a YouTube video. And certainly a teacher or prof who knows anything about social media can help you market yourself. I've helped a few students set up accounts right here on Society 6....During class time no less :)
I think it depends on the individual...if they need school or not. A degree in anything can help you get a job and is certainly the more secure way to go. But I see some students who do seem held back by school and it's limitations....and who blossom after school is done.
Education isn't the be all end all answer for everyone...but I do believe overall it is more beneficial then not.
Lore Singer commented on Saturday, May 28, 2016 9:25pm
Writing I pursued through schooling which was excellent as English is my second language. With photography I chose the creative way, because it is so defined already. I can write stories and poetry and my imagination takes over, it needed curtailing, whereas nature presented me with perfect images and cameras where so advanced that learning about the medium became a secondary pursuit. I have to admit, even though I am a very practical person, my imagination/creativity gets the better of me.
Danielle Arnold commented on Sunday, June 5, 2016 1:32pm
I did an Art & Design foundation course which I now somewhat regret. Whilst it helped me with developing my photography, it came at the cost of my drawing and painting skills. (Apparently drawing accurately is a terrible habit and must be stopped). The pressure of deadlines and physically being in uni made my anxiety disorder 10x worse and now I still get frustrated with anything I draw :( It's a shame, because I did learn a lot. I did like the different techniques we learned, and the encouragement to try new ways of doing things. I just prefer doing things myself, in my own time and way.

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