Art School, Is It Worth It?
Deciding on art school is a major commitment of time, money, and effort. But if you're a passionate aspiring artist, it can be a fantastic choice. I've learned a lot from my own art school experience and want to share key insights to help you make the most of it. Whether you're on the brink of this decision or already on the path, my goal is to provide invaluable advice for a fulfilling art school journey.
Stay till the end to read my list of 55 exciting art fields of study.
Opening Doors in the Art World and Elsewhere
When choosing a school, prioritize widespread name recognition. Smaller, pricey private schools may lack this, so consider larger institutions like the University of Kentucky. I attended there, and it greatly benefited my career in California. Non-art professionals often hire artists, so your alma mater's reputation matters beyond art circles. Keep this in mind.
Take the Technology Courses for Guaranteed Income Post-college
In art school, you'll acquire invaluable skills across various visual mediums, which is essential for building your artistic foundation. However, to ensure a more stable income right after graduation, it's crucial to complement your artistic expertise with courses in technology and design.
These additional skills can open up immediate employment opportunities in fields such as graphic design, web design, or digital media production. This practical approach allows you to start earning a living while you continue to develop your fine art practice, which often takes time to mature and become financially rewarding.
It's essential to recognize that banking solely on becoming a famous and wealthy visual artist is a risky path. The art world is unpredictable, with success depending on factors like institutional support and changing public interests.
Many working artists find it necessary to diversify their income streams, especially in the early stages of their careers. This diversification can involve taking on design or technology-related projects, teaching art, or participating in commissioned work.
Developing Studio Practice: Nurturing Artistic Growth
Immerse yourself in a rigorous art practice. With the guidance of experienced faculty members, artists are pushed to unleash their creative potential in typically 4-hour hands-on class sessions, followed by coursework that keeps you in the studio much longer. The structured curriculum instills discipline and cultivates a strong work ethic, crucial attributes for success in any creative field.
At my university, BFA students were granted private studios in the art building to create their works throughout the year. We had 24-hour access to the art building, often working late into the night and engaging in collaborative projects. This immersive environment fosters a sense of camaraderie and encourages students to push the boundaries of their creativity.
Access to Equipment
Art schools provide access to state-of-the-art facilities and specialized equipment.
Whether it’s book-binding labs, metal studios, weaving rooms, painting studios lined with masive easels, each classroom is a gateway into a new world, like the rooms in the movie Encanto.
Mentorship, world-class professors and office hours
Art school offers a unique chance to witness the dedication of MFA students and accomplished faculty in creating major installations. Professors, often internationally recognized artists, explore the intersections of various artistic mediums due to the university's diverse art practices and programs. Don't miss the opportunity to meet with professors during their office hours for personalized mentorship on your artwork and questions. It's an invaluable resource.
Building Connections for Future Opportunities
The relationships forged with fellow artists can lead to collaborations, exhibitions, and ongoing support throughout your artistic journey.
These connections are not to be underestimated. In your 20s, a formative time of self-discovery, surrounding yourself with like-minded young artists can be transformative. Spend as much time with your peers as possible. Engage in campus events, explore clubs, and immerse yourself in the vibrant artistic community.
Moreover, art schools within larger institutions offer unique opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. By being a part of a larger university, you can explore the intersections between art and other fields. Joining clubs, including Greek organizations or other campus groups, allows you to expand your horizons and engage with diverse perspectives.
I was able to do a year long exchange to Humbold State University to study stone lithography.
Stone lithography, is a ancient printmaking process with roots in ancient Mesopotamia, where limestone tablets were used for writing and image printing.
During my exchange, I also had the privilege of studying advanced painting and creative writing under the tutelage of the world-renowned Jim Dodge.
Not only can you explore exchange programs within the United States, but you also have the opportunity to spend a year studying at a school overseas.
The best part is that your tuition remains the same and all your credits transfer, making it an enticing adventure.
Personally, I chose California because it houses one of the rare stone lithography studios in the world, despite the abundance of limestone in Kentucky. It was a decision that opened doors to a realm of artistic possibilities and expanded my horizons in ways I could have never imagined.
Exposure and Critique
Art schools offer opportunities for students to showcase their work through exhibitions, showcases, and critiques. This exposure helps artists gain valuable feedback, refine their artistic voice, and develop a professional portfolio.
Outside of art school, encountering a proper critique is a rarity.
Critiques are crucial for sharing and receiving feedback on artwork. They involve presenting your work for a thorough examination, getting constructive suggestions, and defending your artistic choices. This hones your ability to analyze and express thoughts clearly.
Not to mention you present in front of your class, including professors so critiques teach public speaking as well. A little scary but ya just dive right in!
Completing a Degree
Validation and Professional Opportunities
Completing a college degree is a testament to your strength, resilience, and commitment, qualities that employers value and that you'll be proud to see in yourself.
It signifies the achievement of something monumental, surpassing the person you were when you first embarked on this journey and triumphing over the challenges that unfolded during your time in school.
Moreover, having a college degree becomes a lifelong checkbox on countless forms, whether related to employment or not. It's a nice-to-have credential that opens doors and enhances opportunities. Plus, it brings joy to your family, giving them the bragging rights to your well-earned achievement.
Personally, I almost didn’t finish college. I took time off to help with my family business which ultimately fell apart. Then I waited tables for a while to get back on my feet, did some substitute teaching and within a year, finished my college degree, with a December completion date.
I don’t recall if I walked at the spring graduation ceremony but I do download my college transcript from time to time to revel in the glory that it really did happen and I’m so grateful.
Art schools frequently foster relationships with galleries, museums, and creative organizations, offering students the chance to pursue internships, showcase their work in exhibitions, and establish meaningful connections within the industry.
This wasn't my personal experience, but it's true that art schools offer valuable industry connections that one can take advantage of. Maybe if I had stayed in Kentucky instead of rushing off to New York right after my BFA solo exhibition, I would have tapped into those resources.
Art school is a transformative journey that fosters self-expression, creativity, and personal growth.
Within its walls, you'll find a supportive community of kindred spirits who share a deep passion for the arts.
I firmly believe that each of us possesses a unique creative genius, and art has an uncanny ability to draw it out. It's all about the art practice, delving deeper into the creative process.
I truly believe that everyone should have an art practice as a means of self-discovery. But for those of us who have dedicated our lives to art, we strive to unlock the boundless possibilities it offers to the world.
Through our work, we aim to create impactful pieces that inspire and challenge people's perspectives. We want to demonstrate that art can permeate every aspect of life, regardless of one's occupation or circumstances. It's incredible to witness how our hearts expand to embrace art and the profound connections it fosters.
Confronting the Cost
Evaluating the Financial Burden
It is crucial to confront the cost of art school. Tuition fees, materials, and living expenses can add up, resulting in a significant financial burden. It’s important to consider the number of semesters the degree will take, the cost of books and art supplies, housing, if you’ll have the time to work during school to pay for it.
In the United States, for example, the average cost of tuition and fees for a four-year undergraduate art program at a public institution for in-state students can range from around $10,000 to $30,000 per year. Out-of-state and private art schools often have higher tuition fees, ranging from $25,000 to $60,000 or more per year. These figures do not include additional expenses such as housing, art supplies, textbooks, and other miscellaneous costs, which can add several thousand dollars to the total cost.
Getting a 529 set up early
A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings tool specifically for college expenses. You can use it to cover things like tuition, books, and housing. To get one, talk to a bank or investment firm. They'll assist in opening an account and choosing investments. Starting early is key due to the power of compounding interest. It's a smart way to save for your future education.
Scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options can alleviate some of the financial strain, but it is essential to have a realistic understanding of the investment required.
Other Ways to Learn Art
There are infinite reasons outside of cost that art school may not be the best fit for you at this time in your life. There is nothing wrong with that and art school is not the only path to becoming a successful artist. There are alternative ways to learn and grow as an artist, such as :
Many community centers, art organizations, and local colleges offer art classes for all skill levels. These classes provide an opportunity to learn from experienced instructors and interact with fellow artists in a supportive environment. Most cities have live figure drawing sessions where you can sign up online ala cart. Figure drawing is the fastest way to learn to draw. Period. And drawing is the foundation for most artwork.
Online Tutorials and Courses
There are numerous online platforms, such as YouTube, Skillshare, Domestika, MasterClass and Udemy, that offer a wide range of art tutorials and courses. These resources provide access to instructional videos and step-by-step demonstrations from professional artists.
Several Ivy League schools offer online art courses for free. It's important to note that while these courses are free to access, they may not provide college credit.
Additionally, availability and course offerings may vary, so it's recommended to check the respective university websites or online learning platforms for the most up-to-date information. Here are a few examples:
Harvard offers various art-related courses through their online platform, Harvard Online Learning. You can explore subjects like architecture, photography, design, and more.
Yale offers free online courses through platforms like Coursera and Open Yale Courses. These courses cover topics such as art history, photography, and visual arts.
Princeton provides free online courses through platforms like Coursera. While they may not have specific art courses, they offer courses related to creativity, visual thinking, and design thinking.
Columbia offers online courses in areas such as art history and visual arts. Some of these courses may be available for free through platforms like Coursera or edX.
Cornell offers online courses in art and visual studies through platforms like edX. These courses cover topics like digital art, animation, and visual communication.
Workshops and Retreats:
Look for workshops and art retreats hosted by established artists or art organizations. These intensive programs offer immersive learning experiences and the chance to receive guidance and feedback from experienced practitioners.
One of the most meaningful art experiences I’ve ever had was a week-long visionary artist intensive with Alex and Allyson Grey at the Omega Institute in the Catskill region of NY.
The lectures were out of this world, the community of artists from all over the world was thrilling. We meditated together, drew live models, were encouraged to share our work and paint late into the night together.
Another really moving experience was a week-long night photography class I took through CCSF with friends I made at City Art Gallery, and artist cooperative in San Francisco. The class was in the High Sierra. We’d sleep until noon and take pictures in the forest until 5am each night using lighting and camera settings that captured the Milky Way.
Cooperative Art Galleries:
A great way to learn how to sell art and about art business in general is through a cooperative art gallery. I showed at City Art Gallery in San Francisco for a year before I moved to Oakland. I interviewed to get in, showing a showcase of my artwork. Requirements for membership were working a four-hour shift per month, attending the gallery opening and attending the monthly meeting and of course hang day where you get one 5’ section of wall floor to ceiling to display your art for the month.
During shifts, you represent all the artists work in the gallery. You learn what customers ask, how they browse art, buying habits, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn the gallery business.
Seek out established artists whose work inspires you and inquire about the possibility of a mentorship. A mentor can provide valuable guidance, critique, and personalized instruction to help you develop your skills and artistic voice. This is hard to come by because people are so busy and often private when it comes to making art work. If a mentor agrees to work with you, cherish this experience.
Art Books and Magazines:
Explore art books and magazines that offer instructional content, artist interviews, and insights into different artistic techniques and styles. Building a personal library of art resources can be a valuable self-study tool.
Online Art Communities:
Engage with online art communities and forums to connect with other artists, share your work, and receive feedback. Platforms like DeviantArt and ArtStation and Facebook groups provide opportunities to showcase your art, participate in challenges, and receive critiques.
Art Exhibitions and Museums:
Visit art galleries, museums, and exhibitions to observe and study a wide range of artworks. Analyze different styles, techniques, and concepts, and take inspiration from renowned artists.
One way to challenge yourself as an artist is to embark on self-directed art projects. Consider putting together a show of your artwork to exhibit at a local cafe, like I did with my first show outside of art school at Third Street Stuff and Coffee. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the show nearly sold out. It taught me a valuable lesson: the people close to me genuinely wanted to see me succeed, and through my art, they gained a deeper understanding of who I am. It highlighted the profound human impact that art can have.
Another idea to explore is creating a children's book. The long format of storytelling in a book requires a continuous artistic practice, which strengthens your resilience as an artist. Moreover, you could organize a personal art exhibition in your own home and celebrate it with a lively party. This allows you to share your work in an intimate and comfortable setting, connecting with friends and loved ones who appreciate and support your artistic journey.
The point is to create and keep creating.
Look for artist residency programs that offer opportunities to work and learn in a supportive community of artists. Residencies often provide studio space, access to resources, and the chance to collaborate with other creatives. Wonderful residencies exist everywhere. I’ll update the list on my Adele’s ArtOp page on the website regularly to highlight my favorites.
Art Collaborations and Groups:
Join or form art groups, collectives, or meetups in your local community. Collaborating with other artists allows for skill-sharing, group projects, and mutual support in advancing your art education.
After art school my roommate and Sarah started an artist collective called the Burrow Society after reading Kiki Smith’s The Guerrilla Art Guide. Guerrilla art, also known as street art or urban art, is a form of artistic expression that challenges traditional art spaces and takes art to the streets. It involves creating and displaying artwork in public spaces without seeking permission or adhering to the conventional art establishment.
We would flier the neighborhood, commit Random Acts of Kindness, we created a paper crane gateway for people crossing the parking lot from the nearby bus stop. We seed-bombed ugly parts of town. It was thrilling to see art at work.
55 Art Fields of Study
Remember, when it comes to pursuing artistic skills and knowledge, there are various paths you can take, including formal art school education or alternative approaches. It's important to customize your approach based on your individual goals, interests, and available resources. Without delay, here's an intriguing list of art specializations you can explore both within and outside of art school:
- Environmental Art
- Graphic Design
- Fashion Design
- Art Education
- Art History
- Film and Video Production
- Industrial Design
- Textile Design
- Jewelry and Metalsmithing
- Visual Communication Design
- Game Design
- Art Therapy
- Curatorial Studies
- Digital Media Arts
- Book Arts
- Mural Arts
- Concept Art
- Experimental Art
- Sound Design
- Virtual Reality (VR) Art
- Performance Art
- Community Arts
- Typography Design
- Installation Art
- Medical Illustration
- Visual Effects (VFX)
- Exhibition Design
- User Experience (UX) Design
- Architectural Illustration
- Visual Development
- Web Design
- Art Criticism
- Paper Arts
- Sound Art
- Art and Technology
- Costume Design
- Comic Art and Sequential Illustration
- Art Journalism
- Visual Anthropology
- Fine Art
- Mobile App Design
- Public Relations for the Arts
- Art and Environmental Activism
- Cultural Studies
- Art and Entrepreneurship
- Art Law and Ethics
- Art and Gaming
In conclusion, it's time to let your creative aspirations guide you. Take a moment to contemplate what resonates within your artistic and practical soul. Consider the growth you seek, your current circumstances, and the vision you hold for the future—both in the next five years and beyond.
Assess your financial situation and establish a reasonable budget. Explore the admission pages of nearby schools as well as those in places that ignite your imagination. Keep in mind the distance from your family, weighing the additional costs and potential lack of accessible support if you venture too far.
Have conversations with admissions counselors at the institutions that pique your interest. Seek their guidance on making their program work for you. Discuss possibilities for scholarships, grants, housing, and even childcare if needed. Don't hesitate to ask any burning questions that may arise.
Ultimately, the decision of which path to choose in order to fulfill your dreams and shape your desired life lies in your capable hands. Trust your instincts, for they are the compass that aligns with your unique journey. Embrace the path that feels right, and embark on an artistic adventure brimming with potential for personal fulfillment and creative triumph.