Should you go to art school?
There are many different reasons to go or not to go to art school. It can be a great idea for some and not great for others.
My art school story
Before we dive into the topic of art school let me give you a summary of my path through art school.
I graduated in 2009 with a BFA in Character Animation from the Disney founded CalArts.
After graduating high school in 2002 I immediately started community college that summer. I took all the general education classes I knew would transfer over to most colleges. I did this for two years.
In the second year of community college I started taking life drawing classes. It was then I decided to become a professional artist. To specifically become an animator.
I set my sights on applying to the Character Animation program at CalArts, but knew my work wasn't competitive enough to get in. As the acceptance rate at the time was less than 15%. So I dedicated year three of community college for getting better at life drawing and building up my portfolio to get into CalArts.
After getting accepted into the character animation program, I could have graduated in two years.
However, I received enough scholarships to pay for my last two years in full. So I stayed all four years at CalArts to keep on drawing and making films.
What do you need to know to be an artist?
No matter what kind of artist you want to be: fine artist, illustrator, photographer, graphic designer, or filmmaker – you need to understand your tools and medium extremely well. Essentially, you have to learn the basics of your medium.
Once you learn the basics, you have to make strong enough work that you are able to generate an income. Which is essentially a strong body of work that appeals to a specific group of people. Whether they're collectors or commercial clients.
For example, if you're a fine art painter, you need a body of work that appeals to a niche audience who will value it.
If you are going a more commercial art route then you need a portfolio of work that shows you can solve a specific problem at a highly professional level.
When you're deciding on going to an art school you have to know what you're going to get out of it after you graduate.
Just know that simply having a degree doesn't guarantee you collectors or clients. You still have to have great work.
Everything in the arts is dependent on you making great work. Not your art school degree.
Applying to the right kind of art school
Before you start looking for art schools to apply to you have to understand that not all art schools are created equal. Remember, you have to learn the basics of your medium somewhere. Then you have to get your work up to a competitive level. I recommend getting the basics done before even apply to an art school. This is dependent on your situation. You could get the basics done in high school, a community college, online courses, or private workshops.
The reason you want your basics in your selected medium down is because you only want to apply to art schools that require a portfolio to get in. I feel like there are a lot of normal colleges that have an art degree program, but no track record of pumping out great artists. They're only offering the degree in art because it's easy for them to offer it.
I'll leave it to you to do the research for selecting a school. Simply look at their alumni and whether or not they require a portfolio to get in.
Creating your own art school
Even though I went to an art school, I'll be the first to tell you that you don't have to go to art school.
Literally, the only other use for your art degree is to get a normal job. Your art degree can act as a signal to potential employers that you are qualified, but they're still going to look at your work.
If you choose to make your own art school it will be helpful to find a mentor or someone to be honest and critical with your work. You need someone to tell you when something isn't working and how to specifically improve.
You can find someone online to do this. Any in-person training will have this element built in.
Not only do you need this critical someone – you need them on a regular basis.
You can create your own curriculum and training by seeking out the best teachers for online or offline. Grow from their insights with applied hours of thoughtful practice.
Being an artist who makes great work has nothing to do with your degree. It has everything to do with the hours you spent getting better and spending time drawing, painting, photographing, animating, or whatever your medium of choice is.
Do you really need to go to art school?
If you dig down deeper, really what a lot of people are asking is if you need the degree to be an artist.
The answer is no.
But you need to learn the skills and fundamentals.
It also depends on what type of person you are.
If you're the type of person who is strict about drawing and painting every day. You seriously dedicate hours everyday to your craft and know how to find the right training to help you progress in your medium of choice. Then you're well on your way to becoming a successful artist without a degree from an art school.
If you find yourself procrastinating and going for long periods of time without drawing and painting, then going through a formal program may force you to avoid procrastination. But probably isn't worth the cost. There are other options like ateliers and in-person workshops you'll have to find to get the over-the-shoulder guidance.
Going through a formal program also exposes you to things you didn't know about. Maybe a new medium, style, or way of making art. Or even suggestions on new classes and teachers to learn from.
Essentially, an art school degree isn't a requirement.
But seeking out training in traditional art fundamentals in your medium of choice is.
You can get training in the basics in a variety of ways. From online courses from individual artists, local community college, and private workshops or ateliers.
Is art school worth the price?
A major detractor is the crazy cost of art school.
In the US, an art school degree can cost over $30,000+ per year. Which means shelling out over $120,000 for an art degree. With no guarantee of making a living from selling your art after graduation.
In a community college, you're saving money at the beginning of your traditional art education. Learning the basics. Giving you more money to travel to workshops, conventions, or take online courses.
Crafting your own art basics training enables you to learn exactly the kind of art education you want. Without having to take classes for things you don't want to learn.
You can learn at your own pace. Even while working another job on the side.
Final thoughts on going to an art school
There is a lot to think about before making the decision to go or not to go to art school.
Essentially, you need to achieve two things:
- Learn the basics of your medium of choice
- Learn how to make professionally competitive work that will generate an income for you
I learned the basics at community college and other workshops then went to CalArts to learn how to create commercially competitive work. The CalArts Character Animation program is super niche and gives you many professional advantages in the animation industry. Which is why I chose to go there. To me it was worth the price.
Knowing if you want to go the commercial route path or you just want to create your own art business and sell art online can help you decide.
The path you take is up to you. You can create your own curriculum and seek out courses and instruction from individual artists. Or you can go to an art school that will give you a clear path as well.