Friday, December 24, 2010

Is Art School Worth it?

-By Eric Fortune

First off, I'm not downing formal education. I'm just asking if it's worth getting into $120 thousand dollars worth of debt not to mention the interest for four to six years of college. Especially in our current economic state.

So what does school offer us? Hopefully, teachers and peers who can assist in pushing us to be better than we are(ultimately we have to be our hardest critic). There's also access to facilities and opportunities to produce and experiment in. But these are really just opportunities the student can take advantage of not. You can't force someone to get better. It's a choice to pursue, a decision to push ourselves, to be on time with assignments, to stay after class to finish the still life or do extra reading etc. There's an intrinsic incentive for us to master the craft of our choice. We all know of self trained painters, illustrators, and musicians who are amazing at what they do.

Today we have more access to information than ever before. Let's list some:

- illustration tutorials on dvd that deal with technique process, business aspects etc
- illustration workshops like "Illustration Masters Class" where you may pay a fee for a professional ass kicking and intensely constructive experience.
- art books, the library is free
- video demos online( learned a lot about Photoshop from CMYKilla)
- all types of online art forums where one can get critical feedback from the art community of the world(take everything with a grain of salt}
- art blogs, personal and collective... I'd list some but I'm blanking out right now.
- attending conventions, lectures, and demos to observe, ask questions, and get feed back from professionals
- taking advantage of museums and galleries to view original works
- online classes such as "Schoolism"
- private internships
- You can also find the contact information of your favorite artist and ask some specific questions. I try to answer as many as I can fit into my schedule as well as email others for advice.

Thankfully, there are scholarships to help kids with paying for school. I could be wrong but I would assume the kids who get the scholarships are the same kids who are drawing and producing art even when they don't have to because they want to get better.

Even if you were interested in a Masters Program you could look up the list of professors that you would be learning from and read up on literature written by said professors.

My point is there is an abundance of information out there. You have the same options you have in art school. You can take it or leave it. The choice is yours. We all know people in school who didn't take the time to do the work. School is only as good as you make it. Going to the best art school doesn't make the best artist.

Is staying at home or even with some of your art buddies and learning/practicing via these alternative methods(the same methods artists use even after graduating college)as good as going to an art school? Maybe not. Maybe so and it's just a different learning experience minus the debt. Again, it depends on how much the individual is putting into mastering their craft. The art school environment is great and if art school wasn't so expensive I wouldn't be writing this blog post. Can you get educated for a lot less than it cost to attend art school? What are your personal school experiences/regrets? Would you do it differently if you could?


  1. Make me a nude pic and I will tell you if you have talent and let's all save us 120 thousand

  2. I didn't attend art school, but if I hadn't gotten a 4-year degree in Music I wouldn't have known the first thing about how to learn a new discipline.

    I picked up cartooning at age 31. I'm still learning art, but I'm doing it for a living so I can afford (sort of) to take my time.

    My point? While it's possible to learn almost everything a good art school can teach you outside of art school, pretty much any college degree can teach you what you need to know about learning how to learn for the rest of your life.

  3. I can always tell when someone has been to the Art Center College of Design. There is a fantastic slickness as well as complexity to their art and their art is filled with exciting perspectives. I don't know if you can learn that "look" outside of art school. This "look" must be a key to illustration success because I see it published everywhere.

  4. It is wonderful that we live in a world where there are so many resources available to students. The trouble is applying a good method of development to those resources. It can be very helpful for students to get a college education to help process all that info that's out there now. It can also get in the way. The trick is in finding people that are worth studying with and then learning to use them as resources for your development. Universities certainly aren't for everyone, but they've been helpful for me. And I've been fortunate enough to have fallen into good company with the teachers that I've had. The other thing that a university can do for you is broaden your horizons a bit more through the general education courses. None of it, especially at the undergrad level, should be seen as a finisher though, because there are inherent weaknesses in the universities, like the arbitrary system of semesters. A good school gives the student a basic understanding of design principles, well founded drawing and painting skills, and the ability to self educate. From that the student can go out and seek deeper methods and a more focused career. The networking and camaraderie that you develop with other focused students can also be a career booster and can bolster your development both in and out of school. No school makes the artist in the end though, but while they are there, there are teachers to counsel with, students to engage with, and opportunities to draw and paint from the live model. All of these things become very difficult to find once you're out on your own. Even though I've recently gone into some serious debt pursuing my mfa recently, I (so far) do not regret the strenuous and difficult course of study and criticism it put me through. The debt levels for art education are insane and any student should take that into serious consideration before embarking on that course. That is, are they really serious about this career path, are they willing to sacrifice their social fun, so that they can stay up late nights week after week perfecting their craft. There are much easier ways of making a living after all.

    High schools (and now many universities) fail too often in their responsibility to help students develop as self educators. In the classes I teach, I make focusing on how to self evaluate a decent sized portion of how I teach a course.

    If, however, a student is a great inherent self educator and can create great access to life drawing/painting and develop a network independently, then from that person I am sure we will see profound and laudable success.

  5. I am a self taught artist. I took out book from the library. I visited artists All over the contry adling for advice and in the end I just went Pro. I would have loved some teaching and systematic tecnical help. All I am saying is it Can be done ón your own. I just guess it is harder and more lonely.

  6. You've got a point. Education doesn't come cheap, these days. And as you've summarized, there is no dearth of information from which anybody motivated enough can learn, improve and excel.

    Where I come from (India), the job market is immensely competitive. Firms, in general, have to deal with thousands of hopefuls for far-too-little slots. Because of this, they use criteria like qualifications and degrees, simply to sieve out the lot.

    I know a few good people who lost out on jobs in creative divisions in advertising firms, because the rest of the lot had one more diploma in their resumes.

  7. I have to agree with Howard on that one. The most important things I´ve learned in art school wasn´t from the instructors, but rather from my peers, the discussions that came from passion taught me to ask everything, even the status quo. And I´m thankful for this experience, as it keeps me learning and growing from others.

    I think, if its a good art-school and great teachers make their name for themselves, so if it would be me, I´d always choose a mentor / teacher first, not a school.

    But we live in a world of "manual-readers" and those want to see the master, bachelor or diploma degree in your signature, curriculum vitae, etc. otherwise (so its written in the manual) you are nothing more than what your resume has to offer.

    The problem with art schools is, that some insist of putting a stamp on the students, this is dangerous. They don´t teach them how to survive in the market, because of a lack of teaching the important stuff like marketing for example.
    But the "stamped" name makes them a sell.
    And those artists rarely can jump out of that wagon, even if they want to.
    Without doing another job its not possible.

    The result are artists that spread the name and ideals of that particular school, not the artists vision.

    What does this make of an artist? A Franchiser, if you ask me.

    Always search an art school that supports the artists ideas, not the other way round.

  8. Well I start art school in March, so I'm hoping it's worth it. I'm in Australia though, so a 3 year undergraduate degree is going to cost me around $18,000 with a well structured debt repayment scheme. It's not really the same issue over here. Up until now, and until March, I've been completely self taught. I don't so much mind the learning from books but I am really looking forward to the presence of peers.

  9. This is definitely some "food for thought" that I am also trying to process and assess right now as I am considering a career in Art.

    I have been painting since I was really young and have attended full time Art Programs in high school, but I always felt that I did more on my own and criticized my work more than I was in class. Though most teachers offered :technical advice", only a few teachers offered true inspiration and motivation as an artist to enhance yourself beyond the "school curriculum".

    So I do have to agree that you can only learn and intake as much as you are willing to- in the sense that if you are truly passionate and dedicated to your craft, you will learn in any way and every form you can to enhance and mold yourself as a better artist. We were all taught the same things but we all developed very differently.

    I think my conclusion is that while a degree seems to be important at times ON PAPER, true talent and dedication to your craft shines through, and it is a better experience to learn and work with your mentors, and through courses, classes and studio work as much as you can.

    Criticize and analyze your work with fellow artists at the studios/classes, get inspired from each other, find your weak points and understand your strong points and learn how to learn and enhance yourself further all the time.

    Never stop learning.

  10. Great topic. Definitely one which will be brought up more and more in the future. I am currently a Junior at Ringling College for Illustration. I have drawn most of my life, but not seriously just for fun. Prior to Ringling I had very little traditional art experience. One class in Community College showed me that I really do love drawing that is why I draw all the time. So I decided to do some research on schools. At this time it never occurred to me that I could learn how to become an artist without school.

    Even so I must say that the teachers at Ringling have given me a lot. I doubt I would appreciate NC Wyeth the way I do now without them. Ringling has given me a good environment with friends who work hard and taught me many things. I do have a lot of debt and I think about that a lot. Is it worth it? Well, I won't make that call until I am out of here for a few years.

    I will say, Art College will do NOTHING for those of you who won't do the work for yourself. How do you know what pace to be working at outside of art college?

    When I was a freshmen I attended a program called FEWS (figure enhancement workshop). FIgure drawing that happened 5 nights a week. I attended a few times a week, and one of my best friends now, who was a total stranger then was drawing there. He was also a freshmen but very good. I asked him,"how do I become as good as you guys? I feel like i'll never get there." and he said,"you have to be here every night." and so I was. Every night after 6-9 hours of class plus hours of homework I would draw for another 3 hours. All of my weekends were packed with homework or some other art making like the landscape painting group I started.

    Anyhow, I think what and TAD offers is amazing. Their streaming classes are packed with a ton of information, but to make art at home you have to be very self motivated. I know personally I have no one around my parents house who is serious about becoming an artist, and not even figure drawing with 2 hour distance. Definitely try to find a community of artists this will make the process easier and more enjoyable.

    Best of Luck


  11. I echo what Sakievich said. I think there are opportunities in university or art school education that are very hard to replicate without the access you find at a university. For example, I look at the times I have drawn from live models outside the school setting vs. in a school setting and it doesn't come close to matching up. Could I have searched out more private opportunities? Sure, What I am getting at is, part of what you pay for in a formal education is the ready access to facilities, professionals and opportunities that you might not get if you try to study on your own. For most people I would bet that having all that at your fingertips would be desirable. That said, I credit most of my success on hard work and there is nothing that can replace that. I have been teaching university art coursed for several years now and I am dumbfounded at the number of kids willing to pay to be at school but not willing to put in the work. I tell them that their success will be largely predicated on what kind of effort they are willing to put into it. The guys that are out there getting the jobs are the ones willing to work harder than the majority. It's always been that way, but very few students seem to get that. What I encourage students to do is to work their way through undergrad and avoid debt on the first degree (don't go screaming that it's impossible- I did it and so do a lot of people) Then spend a decade or so working professionally and learning the business. When you have a real idea of what you want to be when you grow up, then search out the graduate program you think best gives you that opportunity for growth and then shell out for that. I racked up a pretty good bill for my MFA but figure in the long run it'll be worth it in new opportunities (teaching in particular) as well as vastly improved skills. I wouldn't trade my formal education for any amount of informal training (I do plenty of that anyway).

  12. Of course school means nothing if you put no work into it, but school is also only as good as the teachers and curriculum. In my experience, art school as it is organized in the present, is not worth the money. Success in art depends on style and quality. I've only landed one professional job since graduating art school in '04 and not once did the AD want to see my degree. Most teachers are there to get paid and only a handful will actually TEACH. Yes, maybe my school was just shit but I tend to believe many students could share similar stories about inept teachers. I took 2 painting courses and not once did we learn how to set up a palette, how to mix color, how to use mediums, how to paint fat over lean, or any of the other basic intro to painting that you should receive. Instead we were told to just paint as the teacher walked around and made random comments and told us the mistakes we were making. Looking back it was total bullshit. They graduated people that had no artistic talent just because they essentially paid for a degree. I have learned more in 6 years of teaching myself than 4 years at a school. Unless you can be sure your getting a good education or that the teachers are top notch i would not bother with school. I wish it was like in the past where an artist had one mentor. Now that would be nice.

  13. What about non-traditional art school like an Atelier? I have been looking at Watts Atelier near me. It seems like a much more intense, cut to the chase way of learning from real professionals.

  14. There was an interesting blowup over on about this between a Ringling faculty member (I believe) and the entire conceptart army. I usually thought of it pretty simply. I think school is for some people and not for others. I know students who were really held back by the college institution, and really think they would have been more successful just pursuing it themselves. I also know people who definitely needed the school programs for exposure and motivation. Passion is one thing, but self-motivation is an entirely different animal and I don't think everyone has the discipline to really go after something. School is only as good as you make it, I agree. But I also believe excellent faculty can make a huge difference.

    I have a question to attach, and hope I don't just get laughed out of here :) Like you listed here Eric, there is an entire world of education out there at the tips of our fingers. It's so accessible. At times, I wonder if TOO much education can actually be a hindrance? I haven't totally thought this through, but I know I've been so exposed to so many processes and philosophies, that when I sit down, I'm sometimes overwhelmed by all of the variations of things I've seen and heard. Is it possible too much education can cloud your mind and change you too much as an artist? There are so many amazing self-taught artists who just figured things out on their own and really followed their gut. Would such a diverse art education have changed Marko Djurdjevic or Ashley Wood or Franklin Booth to the point that they lost the very things that make them great? Like I said, I haven't spent a lot of time on this, but it's something that's come up in my head and I'd love to hear some thoughts!
    Great post!

  15. Most of these discussions turn into. "I didn't get taught the things I needed to get taught in school so school sucks." One of the big problems is that when most students come in to higher education they are very young. Really taking advantage of any education takes more than a sit back and feed me attitude and sadly that is what I seed a lot of. Whether in a school or on one's own active participation is the key. Hopefully in school students are helped to find some of the keys to active participation.
    I teach at a university and I have always believed its responsibility is to provide opportunities to learn how to learn. Maybe that sounds like prof speak but I believe it. Every different subject submits one to a different kind of learning. Yes exceptional people can do that for themselves and do but for the average person like me it was invaluable. I think it is a mistake to reduce an education to nuts and bolts learning like laying out a palette and color wheels. Of course that should be part of it and if you are not getting it then ask for it. But the larger picture is the exciting part for me. Having access to guest speakers in art and other disciplines, activities, travel, girls, social life and I could go on.
    The reality is that there are good and bad teachers and good and bad students. A good teacher can help a bad student somewhat, a good student can help her/himself and make a bad teacher look good, a bad teacher and a bad student (well they're just screwed), but a good teacher and a good student can really help each other and really achieve great things. Those are teaching moments that I live for. Making discoveries with my guys.
    The most difficult part is understanding if you are one of those people who can really take the initiative and do it outside of a formal setting. Sometimes it takes the actual experience of going to school and realizing that you can do it without all this.
    I guess for me it has always come down to what a person wants. Is it just a career in the arts or visual communication? Is it a lifestyle and an outline for living? I really don't envy people having to make this decision for so much money involved, but if I had to do it all over I would choose school. Mainly because of girls.
    And Oliver, I don't believe there can ever be too much education. With all of the info we have at our fingertips a huge part of our education is learning to edit, sift and prioritize. Like right now I am here typing this when I should be painting a book cover. But too much education, no way. Real education is about learning what to do with education.

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  17. I got one of those expensive BFAs, and if I had it to do all over again, I definitely would have just gone the atelier route instead. I've taken a few courses at a nearby one post-college, and you get FAR more value for money over there with a good teacher than I did with most at my college. There are good and bad profs in both places, in my experience, but why not go get a similar education at about 20% of the price?

  18. I wanted to go to art school for a bachelor's degree - my parents said "hell no". Looking might have been just as well I didn't get a four year degree. There's no guarantee that having a degree can net you any sort of work - unless you want to teach at an art institute.

    All in all, I've been taught that it comes down to a person's drive and will. Someone who works hard, draws regularly, picks up pointers, and takes a couple of life drawing sessions will probably outshine someone who half-heartedly earns a bachelor's degree.

  19. I've never been in a job interview where schooling was needed. It is art, either you can make it the way the client wants it or you can't.
    Having said that, I think schools are good for people that don't have that much self motivation.
    I never went to college or art school but I wanted to be an artist and so I went to conventions and became friends with like minded people and talked to pro's who were, for the most part very helpful. Some pro's became my friends and mentors, and when I became a professional artist I made sure I gave back too.

  20. I have a perspective on both sides of the argument.

    I attended a very expensive art schools in the late 80's and early 90's and am still paying for it. I was exposed to so many things, and most importantly at the time, computer graphics. I got a great foundation in drawing, but in all honesty I came out of school incredibly unprepared and ignorant of what to do. I had majored in illustration - and could not illustrate!

    During this time I fell back on graphic design, production and prepress as that was all I was really confident (and competent) to do. I despised every minute of it. That is the result of getting a "real" job. DO NOT DO THIS. I beg you.

    The main problem was that I didn't find out ahead of time if the teachers I was going to study from would actually teach me what I needed to know. They could not. Was it worth the money spent? I give it a qualified no - I did learn some skills, but the holes in my education were so big that I was unable to achieve what it was I wanted to do.

    NOW - the internet is a treasure trove of amazing and affordable workshops - The Gnomon Workshop, Massive Black, CGMW, and The Illustration Academy are all costing only hundreds of dollars if you pig out on them - not tens of thousands. I have learned more in the past year of these online workshops than I did in the combined six years of expensive schooling!

    The main difference is that the workshops I am taking online now are taught by people who are in the industry, who are top in their field and really know what they are doing and how to communicate it.

    The frustration we felt and I still feel today was caused by the ineptness, the bitterness and the obviously obstructive behavior of the incompetent teachers I paid for in school. They wasted my money, my time and ultimately held me and so may others back from their potential as artists.

    Take advantage of the internet and conventions. Gurney Journey, lines and colors, the blogs of Pixar artists, and the many fabulous books out now that were not available back then - you could spend just under $2000 and get a far better education than I did for $150,000. You can still become an amazing and sought after artist if you take advantage of these amazing resources and work constantly on your craft.

    Someone also made the point that where you are educated makes no difference if your art is good. They are right. There are so many more options out there for you now that cost so much less and give you so much more. Team up, reach out, work hard and connect - and save yourself the money. If you decide to spend the money on a school - go to the BEST and ONLY the BEST. Otherwise you will waste your money.

    And draw from life. Constantly.

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  22. I jumped right in to art school after high school(a month after I graduated). I spent so much time working odd jobs to pay for school that I didn't get to fully invest in my classes the way I wanted to.

    If I could do it again, I would have saved money by taking online and local art courses, maybe done a few years in the army to get that GI Bill, and then go to art school. When I was younger I felt so rushed to get into college and I didn't really understand what it was that I wanted.

    Yet, I wouldn't trade my college experience for anything. Not all the teachers were good, but they helped expose me to a lot of different art that I wouldn't have been exposed to on my own. The friends you make and the different lecutres from guest and field trips they were great.

    So, school or on your own? Well, you need to sit down and really think about how you learn, and when you figure that out you'll understand what is needed (at least a little) for you to grow towards your goals. Try online courses or dvd workshops. You may find that you may or may not really need a classroom. From all the interviews I've read or seen from a lot of artists one point comes to mind, if you can make good art you can, and if you can't it will show.

  23. Great comments. This of course is a very personal choice. My college experience was great. Back in the day I thought I wanted to get into comics until I took the comics class taught by Darryl Banks(Green Lantern). I realized that it wasnt' really what I was looking for. I like painting. And it wasn't until I took C.F. Paynes' class that I was forced to look up and become familiar with other illustrators and artists. I was really stuck in my own world back then.

    Would I have made those discoveries on my own back then? Perhaps not. But that was also a time when the internet wasn't what it has turned into today and the videos and other sources of specialized information weren't as easily accessible. Not to mention art school back then(1995) was closer to $11,000-12,000 a year. A little more manageable. I wish everyone could get a formal education in whatever field they were interested in. My question arises from the tremendous debt that most must currently take on to do so.

  24. I wish I started drawing earlier than at age 33. I could have been drawing for 25 years iso for 5 years by today. However, if there is one thing I learned from that is that there is no better time than now to practice more and make time for being creative.
    I hope the scholarship system in the USA isn't as bad as it is in Belgium, because here it is based on the parents income. The more the parents earn, the lower the scholarship they can request will be. Sounds good but in practice this system is so corrupt it means that lawyers, doctors and company directors get full scholarships while families where only the father works as a worker don't get a penny...
    Thank god no system is gonna take away our imagination!

  25. Focused time, with fewer interruptions, concentrated on doing art. That is what I didn't get while studying on my own. An extensive peer network with people I've actually _met_, and what it _really_ looks like when that instructor's brush make that mark. Real artwork instead of reproductions. The smell of the turp. The failures -- which you don't see online -- and how your peers and instructors dealt with them. The unscripted comments that lit a bulb inside me.

    I can't stress enough the importance of personal experiences, of in-person interaction. I never attended art school full time, but my part time classes broadened me a lot. If you don't go full time, short term events like Illustration Master Class can open your eyes and change your life.

  26. I Will say this. I am glade I have my degree, it has open doors to do other things when the art career wasn't coming through as I would like, at the same time allowing me to remain in the overall art filed. I have work as an art therapist which the psyc classes allowed me to do. I taught art and was a Department chair person of graphic design at a college. All this is what my University degree open doors for but I will say this, back in the 80's when I was in school no one ever thought of all the info that would be out and at your finger tips today. We didn't have the web.

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  28. Man- what a necessary discussion. Thanks for posting about this Eric. And Bill's: "Real education is about learning what to do with education." is probably one of the best quotes on here- and something I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg of understanding.

    I also have some mixed feelings about this. I graduated SVA in 2009 and while I LOVED the school and really squeezed as much out of it as I could, the mountain of debt staring me in the face now is pretty daunting and already leaves me wondering if I should have done a few things different. I had a lot of advantages at SVA- being somewhat older and having a pretty heavy list of professional contacts before I started plus a 4-year partial tuition scholarship (the only reason I was able to go period). I worked part time all four years too. But the sad fact is- Illustration fees haven't changed much in 30 years. In a lot of ways the fees and contracts have become worse. Work for Hire becoming the industry standard in a lot of places strips illustrators of their value and the opportunity to make illustration a sustainable career- especially in science fiction and fantasy. In the last 20 years the cost of education has already risen twice the cost of inflation and as far as I've noticed most illustration careers can only put you up in the upper middle class bracket if you are very good, very smart and lucky. Basically if you go to one of those fancy private art schools like SVA- sure you are making contacts and having experiences that are 'priceless' BUT you are also graduating with about the same debt as a law student. And with a tiny fraction of opportunity to make the sort of money needed to pay off that debt in any reasonable amount of time. That means racking up the sort of interest that could have been a hefty down-payment on a house.

    Here's another angle. Sure you had a great art school experience, have a decent portfolio and a pretty good shot at 'making it' if you don't quit. For the above average illustrator it still takes 3-5 years hard work to make it a full time career. But then student loan payments start coming up and at some point you need to start paying 300-800 dollars a month. And that's just in the federal loans with deferment options. Bankruptcy won't erase that debt- not even the predatory private student loans. Private loans, credit card debt, cost of living... suddenly you need a full time job just to get by. Your art career just got set back 10 years. School Debt can be crippling if you don't know how to handle it and can limit your options considerably. There is a lot of information that I wish I'd known before going to art school and I think schools need to be a lot more transparent so students really know what they're getting into when they sign those promissory notes. Unfortunately- college is no longer about students- but about the business. And the business of illustration does not require a degree unless you want to teach.

    Do I wish I hadn't gone to SVA? No...not yet. Ask me again in 10 years though. I look at friends who went to a few years of those non-degree programs and they are already miles ahead of me as far as a career goes... and being unencumbered by the debt means spare time is spent on art- not at work. It's pretty frustrating.

    I think back on some of my classmates that went to SVA and not only didn't have scholarships but didn't apply themselves... and I think they just got caught up in a huge scam. Sure they say 'no one can take advantage of you without your permission' but how much can an 18year old who just likes to draw really know about it?

    Anyhow- there's my 80,000 cents.

  29. A lot of art schools are there to take your money. I count the time I spent in school as great, but I know it's not for everyone. I also teach as some art schools and I can tell you the teachers don't see a fraction of the cost that the students pay. A lot of times the debt incurred in a good art school is motivation to make it worth it. So you work extra hard.

    I would like to see the apprentice system brought back.

  30. I would not be able to afford art school today. In 1980 I went to the American Academy of Art. Great school, great instructors. $2000 a semester. It was doable for a poor artist. Its now $13,000 a semester. A friend is just finishing up at SCAD. $30,000 a year. Today I would be forced to learn on my own. Someone that is motivated could learn on their own. The resources are enormous. But, I would not trade the student/teacher dynamic for anything. It just cannot be easily reproduced by the internet. The apprentice system is great and does exist (sort of) in many of the ateliers around the country. If I had to do it over, I would find a great atelier. By hook or by crook, find a great artist and beg them to teach you.

  31. I am an artist who has a Masters Degree (MFA) from what is acclaimed to be the No.1 Art School in the country.

    I am also 70,000+ in debt.


    I feel I'm entitled to an opinion on this subject, but I'll keep it sweet.

    My argument:

    1. YES. Art school is very important, and the school you go to is very important.

    2. And YES it obscenely overpriced, and wrongly so.

    So the first question should be:


    Because this is the motivating factor.

    If you want to supplement part, if not all of your income with your art; If you want to compete in a highly competitive field and have a grasp on the various components related to the art field;

    (In other words you want to be a professional)

    Than my answer is Yes, go to collage, and go to a good one.

    Hanging out with your art buddies and shooting the art shit, (as sweet as it may be) wont compare to the level of commitment, challenge, and consistency you will get from taking classes that push you and introduce you to the unexpected subjects your friends simply wont know about. Yes of course there is the occasional celebrity art star who didn't but I assure you, chances are not in your favor.

    *Finally we need to look at the heart of the problem, and ask a serious question.

    Are the current tuition situation morally, ethically, and social acceptable?

    Who benefits from these increases in tuition?

    Who cornered the lending market by making billions on interests rates?

    What can I do to change this?

    The sub-prime lending scam in the housing market is no doubt equal to the practices in current tuition lending programs.

    Do a little research, than ask yourself...

    What do I really want?

    And how bad do I want it?

  32. Are college tuitions too high? Absolutely. But with the governments here and abroad cutting rather than expanding student aid and subsidies (while simultaneously touting the importance of higher education), the cost will undoubtedly continue to climb. Does college suit everyone? No. Are there great teachers and crummy teachers? Sure. Is art school necessary to pursue an arts career?

    It depends.

    The minuses to attending art school can seem obvious, but the pluses might not become apparent until you enter the work force. Others have touched on the value of first person instruction, lectures, demos, and camaraderie with fellow students and instructors; just as important, I think, is learning to deal with other outlooks and personalities. Learning about competition and success and failure. Learning about deadlines and expectations. Learning to problem solve. Learning to listen and learning to ask questions. Then there's the reality that relationships established in school can translate into a network later on in life that can open doors of opportunity.

    If you want to have a career as a freelance illustrator, you don't need a degree, you just have to be good. And persistent. Can you achieve both chops and discipline on your own through practice and independent study? No question. Can you break out and have a career as a gallery painter? Sure. But it won't always (if ever) be easy. The old saw of "many are called, but few are chosen" is also unquestionably true. It's a tough world and the more weapons you have at your disposal, the more chances you have to win the fight.

    Speaking from a corporate background: if you want to work on Google's art staff or paint cards for American Greetings or Hallmark or become an animator for one of the film'll need the degree to get past the Human Resources watchdogs. Companies (who at the moment have a pick-and-choose attitude because of the economy) almost always require candidates have a BFA or better before they'll even consider calling an artist in for an interview. The portfolio comes into play only after you get past HR's screening process. Fair? Not even remotely; a degree doesn't ensure quality just as the lack of one doesn't ensure crud. But that's the way business is working these days. And why work for corporations? Security. A good salary. Insurance.

  33. Big time topic!

    Facts in my world:

    -I have $114,000 amassed in debt from Ringling College of Art after attending 5 years (3 animation, 2 illustration). I met my very best friends at Ringling and George Pratt.

    -I attended 2 sessions (14 weeks total) of the Illustration Academy. This was very reasonably priced. I learned 10x from these 14 weeks than all of my Ringling education.

    -I teach at TAD ( and am watching what happens to students completely immersed in draftsmanship based education. Inspiring.

    Finally art education should not be for the privileged. This is the end of story for me. If the $$ is keeping young people away from pursuing art, there is a giant problem. I receive weekly emails from students not pursuing art, or dropping out of school because of financial problems.

    My advice is to avoid major traditional art institutions and find a strong community of artists that can mentor you, in whatever capacity that may be.


  34. First, francis, you are good at what you do, but i never witnessed you turn a piece in on time when i had a class with you. Second, i had a conversation with the TAD ringleader, sterling hundley where he admitted that he could no longer survive as an illustrator alone-something i've heard before. So maybe i find it a bit questionable that suddenly america's most notable illustrators have all decided to become teachers for this sprawling program. It also makes me itch that successful illustrators suddenly feel not good enough, and have chosen to pay TAD to create profound work for a teacher, rather than the people who are most affected by what we produce as illustrators. The digital world and ways we are communicating are changing so fast, i would be reluctant to step out for 2 plus years after acheiving my BFA. I am figure modeling at numerous institutions, and that experience has made me aware of the vast difference between schools in the art realm, and I thank god on a regular basis that i had the training i did, that included all aspects of classical, structural and technical study, and teachers who were passionate and fierce enough to wipe out or tear up a drawing that missed the larger point. I had painted mostly, cause i thought that was what illustrators did, and i was really good at it. It wasnt until my professor of senior year pulled me aside and told me that i was not a painter that even realized what my strengths were, and now i am illustrating a childrens book for nyc based publishing company, doing production design for theatre and films, and working on a graphic novel adapted from a film script. An art school should give you a pointed foundation in everything-i welded, carved, sculpted, did basic printmaking, character development, logo and corporate identity design, can use all traditional media as well as computer programs... But the critiques were fierce, vendettas intense, and teachers developing relationships with students pandering to fame and technical expertise made the experience a heavy one. I am so grateful i learned what i did about myself, and i will pay what i have to for it, but i know that the best place for me is not in an academic setting-they gave me my wings, but i make it no one else's responsibility that i can fly on my own. Keep your teaching, francis. I have too much to give.

  35. I went through the same art program as Francis and Abby and this is how I feel about Art in the world I live in.
    The administers at Ringling did a great job promoting the school, telling us that "the day of the starving artist is over" and %80 of students find a career in 6 months. Before attending, I spoke with many seniors, and the better ones told me that they had internships and jobs already lined up. I felt good about this, so I attended Ringling.
    I went through the program and honestly I had high points and low points. One problem that I noticed is that I was constantly comparing myself to others, which made me feel lost. What I mean by that is, I knew deep down inside what I wanted to do, but since others were getting praise for what they were doing. I felt that I needed to be doing the same thing, so that my work was acknowledged. Concept was what I liked and was frowned/misunderstood by students and some instructors, it felt like the school was un-supportive of this style. I had some confusing moments and some "this is what I want to do for the rest of my life" moments. I was a sponge and I learned a lot. I learned about different styles. I have to admit I graduated feeling good about my work, since I graduated top of my class(which means nothing compared to the competition out there).
    After graduation I looked for a career in my field, avoiding jobs in places like Staples and Micheals. I looked and looked, ended up with nothing. I had a few promises and some maybes. I tried networking, and all I got was keep trying someone will help you. I dedicated 6 strong months and no luck, I felt discouraged. It hurt to work on my craft, I felt like, do I work and improve my stuff in hopes of finding a job? Do I spend my time on something that might not pay off? I felt worthless, like I wasted my life on a degree that means nothing. I put all of my eggs in a basket only to find out that it had a hole at the bottom. I refused to go back to my parents house. Being in debt, I was redirected to grade school teaching. I started out subbing for schools in the area and I am now working as a teacher. It pays my bills and allows me to do amazing things like buy food and clothes, I hope you understand the sarcasm. Teaching deep down inside does not satisfy me.

  36. I am a very creative person at heart and teaching unrelated art concepts is slowly stripping my soul. But, what do I do? Teaching creates a platform for me to build upon, and provides a comfort zone. This is something I strived for in my field, but was not able to attain. By the way, Teaching takes too much time away from my art.
    With that being said, art is my life. But how can I live life without having a little money in my pocket. I feel that the visual arts is not respected enough and that Art school should be more aware of the industry and where it is going. That is why we are paying the big bucks to attend, because we hope they have done their research and give us the right tools to survive. I am finding myself learning these tools, on my own.
    I went to school with the intention of bettering myself, to go to another state and spread my wings. Right now I feel like I am a bird in a cage.
    If I had the chance to redo my college experience, I would think twice about getting a degree from an art school, or I would of attended Art school in an area that thrived in that profession. Florida= Bad Choice for someone trying to get into concept. I would of studied something that would of provided me with financal stability, and would allow me to enjoy life. Then, I would study art on the side. It is sad to say, but this is the world we live in. I hate to sound clique, but we live and learn.
    I am basically saying, in the world we are living in, Art school is not worth the money, and we do have endless amount of information at our finger tips. With all the money you would of spent in Art school, why not make a business. Invest in something that will at least give back. Money=Time Time=Happiness
    I do not mean to sound bitter, but this is my harsh reality. I am just taking it one step at a time. Trying to stay postive and not become jaded.

  37. I think something may be missing from your story. Did you say six strong months? I imagine that if you polled artists who are successful the average before they were making any kind of living would be a lot more than six months. Many had to work jobs for years while honing their craft. I can't speak to expensive art school because I went the university route. I do feel that I was far behind al lot of my contemporaries at the time but that might just be because I was lazy. You learned a lot of things in school that would normally take much more time and effort to learn alone. But one needs patience and perseverance. I am fortunate that I really enjoy teaching at the university level. It is demanding but invigorating and leaves several months off every year. The reality is that nearly 100% of illustrators and artists have to work other jobs until they build a business. Now paying off a $100,000 dollar student debt is not something I'm familiar with.

  38. I think Bill is making a good point here. Right out of school I had three small illustration jobs. Then nothing for over a year. I then ended up working as an in house illustrator(a school mate hit me up to the opportunity) doing product illustrations and painting pies for about 5 years. Freelance trickled in...more of a slow drip. Most promotional ventures ended with zero response. I eventually was discovered by an art rep through another artist friend of mine. Work slowly began to build up and keep me busy. But I still dealt with long periods of not working(see previous post). I've been out of school for 11 years now and I feel as if I'm just beginning to catch my stride. I was told in school it takes about 10 years of hard to really develop your career. For me this happens to be about right. I think most artist can relate to this. Both of these instances came about from networking via school. But networking isn't exclusive to the school environment.

    Unfortunately, art school doesn't guarantee a career. Having the best portfolio doesn't guarantee work. But when the opportunity comes along it's best if you can showcase the best of your ability at that time. Work ethic and diligence will go a long way.

  39. Here's some related questions::

    Are there more people who find successful, prolonged careers in creating art, or the business of teaching art?

    Could aspiring artists/students find creative new ways to connect with peers and seek the information they crave outside of a formal school?

    If there were no art schools, who would suffer more, the students or the educators?

    Would young artists develop the meaningfully life long bonds that come from the common experience of art school?

    Can a young student ever hope to be a working artist if their mentor need a teaching gig to make ends meet?

    I honestly don't know the answers to many of these questions, but I do know that I never asked them before I chose my path. I have since debated the pros and cons of formal art education, and I've vacillated before decided that the subject is more complex than can be derived from my own experience. I read with interest some of the responses to this post and I can see why many are frustrated with some aspects of formal education. Hindsight, of course seems 20/20, but it's important to remember that events don't happen in a vacuum. You can't be certain that an alternate route would have alleviated one deficiency in your growth without creating a thousand more.

    I do think it's a conflict of interest for art schools to paint a rosy view of life for its graduates and be charged with preparing those graduates to navigate that diffucult journey.

    My advice: caveat emptor, and good luck.

  40. My advice: Art schools in the states aren't the only places you can go study: for example, in Germany education is generally free (if you know german of course). Also, I'm beginning to see that the "top" art schools simply are too expensive to deal with. I can't imagine a debt so high (100k +). In Ecuador I went to the most expensive university in the country, which cost me about 24000$ (i got a scholarship, which payed about half of it, so in total I had to pay about 9000$) for 4 years of education. Luckily I entered the right time, and had classes with the best teachers and met some equally ambitious peers. Right now, I'm two months away from paying that whole thing (I graduated 4 years ago). To sum it up: people just go to a normal art school or college, and suppliment your education with online courses, workshops, etc. It's the most efficient path, and gives you the best of both worlds. To be honest, if TAD had existed 8 years ago, I would've jumped in no questions asked, it seems like the ideal art program, specially the POD's, but right now I just have to keep on improving, even if it's slow path to take.

  41. I went to a State University for Animation/Illustration. In high school, I realized that an Art School would be ridiculously expensive even though I had no clue how much. So I ended up asking my high school counselor "What's the best public school for art?". Long story short, the school turned out to have a great art animation/illustration program at a fraction of the cost of a private art school. I feel that there are something you might not or might have a harder time discovering if you didn't go to school, but at the same time, there are some stuff you'll have to learn by yourself.

  42. I'll admit I didn't slog through -all- of the comments, so I'm not sure if this has been touched on, but I figured I'd share my experiences just the same - belatedly as it may be for this topic =). For starters, I went to a state university school, and was unfortunate enough to be going at a time where the art program was in turmoil.

    From a strictly 'art' perspective, I don't feel that a university/art school is totally necessary - IF you have the drive, determination, and discipline to practice practice practice every day without outside influence or instruction. I've seen far too many amazing artists who've had little to no formal education to say it's necessary.

    From my experiences, however, a university education was invaluable. This isn't because it made me an amazing artist, but it made me a much more well rounded person. Of the 5 years (transfer credits dropping off, woo!) of college education I had, perhaps half of my 'most valuable classes' were actually art classes. The majority of them were some of the 'breadth' requirements I needed to complete my degree.

    History of Renaissance Europe, South American Native Cultures, Expository Writing, Literature 101 -- These are just a handful of the classes that gave me so much valuable information outside of art - because the professors were amazing. I won't even go into how invaluable the chance to study abroad was.

    Is it possible to get that information outside of university? Absolutely. But would you know where to look? Would you get the insight from professors doing the research and writing the text books? Would you be able to share interpretations (in a conveniently scheduled time) and ideas with 20-30 of your peers and the pro who's been analyzing and researching for 10+ years? Unlikely.

    I hear over and over again from artists that National Geographic is one of the most important 'books' in our repertoire, this is because it gives us the worldly knowledge that we need to draw on constantly when making art for the fantastic or science fiction - doubly so in concept design work. Having so much exposure to 'worldly' topics in an academic setting has certainly prepared me more for absorbing and applying the information I can now get through Nat Geo and similar magazines or television programming.

    Is college expensive? Damn right it is, ridiculously so (especially out of state). Was it worth it for me? Every penny - and that was at a university with a, quite honestly, relatively bad art program at the time. Sure I'm making up for it now by being behind in my craft (and prepared to spend money to go back to school and get a stronger, more focused training), but I wouldn't do it differently if I had the chance.

    Just like everyone else, this certainly won't apply to everyone's experiences, I just wanted to share what might be another side to look at. When it comes right down to it, I think the 'best' choice you can make is just to get the most out of whatever experiences you decide to have.

  43. Oh you poor people. No. It is not worth it to go to trditional art school. As an art " prodigy" as a child it was a given that my life would progrss along a straight line into becoming a famous painter. My bfa in painting helped not at all. I have since done menial jobs, mostly as a housekeeper, and tried to keep art going on the side. Art has been nothing more than a heart breaker in terms of helping me to survive, i could not in good faith recommend the college path in that direction to anyone, ever. Sorry about the typos, this dialoge box will not allow corrections.

  44. im self taught, 18 and check out my current portfolio, i think youll be shocked. and im working on an indy game called serenity wars as their concept designer, self taught is hard but degrees dont matter in this business as much as portfolios,knowledge,and experience.

  45. -oh and i have been teaching myself since i was 11 years old, studying anatomy(like dynamic anatomy and bridgmans guide to drawing from life,perspective,design, and gnomon workshop videos im still studying though because my goal is to be a concept designer for blizzard.

  46. I'm "shocked" at your lack of humility. Keep plugging away, but don't be self-assured. You have a lot to improve upon. You can do it, but ease up on hyping yourself. Not many people will go for that, especially considering the work you're trying to do.

  47. I'm surprised that not very many here posted anything about WHY they want to go to art school or WHY they think they could pick up the skills outside of that environment. The real key to the "Is it worth it?" question is knowing what you want to do wit those skills and your art. If you can't answer that, you are going about it all wrong. Think about it...if magically you had the key to any job...the right portfolio, the perfect resume and interview, what would that job be? Art is too vague to be useful to anyone. If you zero in on an art market or role within a studio, suddenly you see very clearly what it is you need to know and whether or not you are ready. And if you are ready, what does that job pay per year? Or do you think you will be selling painting for tens of thousands a piece? Or do you think you will develop the NEXT BIG THING and become a millionaire? How can you possibly know? I can say with certainty that you don't. You can however have a massive amount of determination to persist until you succeed. And that alone is what separates the successful from the pack, generally speaking, not withstanding extraordinary exceptions to this rule. Is it worth $120K if you end up making over 1 million in ten years? Depends on what your alternative is. And your capacity to get a job is limited by the market and what you have to offer it. It's simple. It's an amazingly rewarding field when the stars align. But when they don't it can be frustratingly hopeless. IF you let it. No matter if you go to art school or are self taught or both...your attitude towards your work and others is ultimately what matters the most. My advice to anyone is if you don't think you have it in you to go it alone, perhaps art school IS going to be good for you. Maybe it will challenge you in ways that you have never challenged yourself. Maybe you will pick up some good attitudes and ideas from other great artist you meet along the way. I know that part alone was worth it. You would have to work ten times harder to get the same network effect outside of school, but if you do, you might be ten times more effective, too than someone who stopped with just art school. Ultimately your destiny is in your hands because no one will ever push you as hard as you can push yourself. And with that I wish you all the very best of drive and determination. Luck is for gambling.

  48. I mostly agree with you above. I think art school can be great, [totally depending on the school], but $120,000 for an art school has got to be one of the worst most insane wastes of money I can think of. Maybe if you are made of money, that's okay, but otherwise that's just nuts.
    And I think if you don't have any alternatives apart from the super-expensive art-school to but to go it alone, if you can't go it alone, you probably aren't cut out for it, since going it alone has got to be at least 50% of the job, but probably closer to 90%, maybe even nearly 100%.
    For that kind of money, you could travel to and study at any number of excellent top-notch ateliers / art-schools around the world.

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  51. But, what about teaching at a university? And opening doors career wise that aren't related to selling through galleries, or illustrating? I don't work digitally, I'm a landscape and portrait painter, and working in a museum or at a university is one of the only stable ways to get a paycheck nowadays with traditional art - but the debt is huge. It's so frustrating.

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