Is art school worth it? with easel and pastels.

Is Art School Worth It? 5 Easy Steps To Decide if Art School Is for You

Going to art school is a dream come true for many young artists. To go from feeling alone to living in a group of other unique artists feels amazing. To multiply your favorite high school class three or four times feels insane and special. 

Taking academic classes where your teachers understand your priorities is great too. The right school and teachers can make classes that you used to dread potential favorites. 

Is Art School Worth It? 5 Easy Steps To Decide if Art School Is for You

1. Figure out your art school pros
2. Figure out your art school cons
3. Listen to other people’s concerns and answer them
4. Figure out your biggest concerns and how to deal with them
5. Make it happen, one step at a time

But it’s not all roses and sunshine. Art school is expensive and student loan debt is at an all-time high. Student burnout is intense too, especially at art schools where the first-year attrition rate is as high as 30-40%.  

Is art school worth it for you? These four steps will help you figure out the pros, the cons, and the typical issues you might run into if you’re thinking about art school.

Why Go to Art School 

1. Figure out your art school pros

There are a handful of benefits that make art school a special and valuable investment.

Practice

Practice is one of the things that makes great creators great. It’s tough to push yourself to practice on your own at the level most artists push themselves during art school. Do you regularly pull all-nighters to finish projects on your own? What about a group of people who stay up laughing with you while you finish the 20 drawings of trees that are due Monday?

If you feel like you would practice more and make more work with a community, that’s a big part of the art school experience.

Rapid improvement through unique assignments

Art schools often have coursework that you won’t find in a typical classroom. This is often because teachers won’t assign homework that is too far above average skill level and the average skills are typically higher in an art school classroom. 

Do you try out crazy assignments that seem impossible, like making a self-portrait with cardboard and hot glue, or a 6-foot tall collage? Maybe you set challenges for yourself, like seeing how many self-portraits you can make in a week? Have you taken on technical challenges, like 40 x 60 inch stippled drawings or recording your own music for your videos?

If you feel like you need pushing and want a challenge in your art practice, that’s a big part of art school too.

Read more: I Want To Be an Artist

New art supplies, facilities, and art libraries

There are many ways of making art that you may not be able to do on your own at home. You can take digital photographs, but it’s expensive to build a darkroom. Air-dry clay is a great sculpting option, but it’s not the same as working in professional-grade ceramics facilities. 

why go to art school? free art supplies like tubes of paint.

Every art school campus has unique facilities and resources that you can benefit from. Many even extend some access to alumni after graduation.

Equipment and facilities that you can find on art college campuses might include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Printmaking presses for lithography and etching
  • Large-scale screenprinting facilities
  • Lithography stones
  • Manual film editing equipment
  • Digital film editing stations
  • Large and medium format film photography cameras 
  • Photo darkrooms
  • Sound recording studios
  • Foundries for metal casting
  • Soldering stations for metal sculpture and jewelry
  • Glassmaking facilities
  • Ceramic kilns and professional glazes
  • Potter’s wheels 
  • 3D printers

While student artists buy most art supplies on their own, some campuses include supplies that students might need to use on hand, for no additional fees.

You’ll also learn about new supplies and art materials from professors and peers in your classes. For example, I worked in colored pencil for years, but my colored pencil work changed completely during a materials and techniques class. I tried my first oil-washed colored pencil drawing on cold press illustration board and I’ve been using those techniques ever since.

Art libraries are also incredible benefits of art school. They’re full of rare manuscripts and catalogs, unique research, and images from your favorite artists that you can’t find online. 

Is art school worth it? Business and art work hand in hand, and art school is place to get business training.

Exhibition experience

Most art schools have one or more galleries on campus. In addition to calls for entry, many professors are curators on and off-campus. 

Exhibition opportunities aren’t just great for exposure. They help you understand the complexities of exhibiting and submitting professional work. You’ll learn about transportation and shipping for fragile artwork, professional expectations, and how to work with strong personalities. These are all professional experiences that will benefit you in the future.

Learning to talk about your art

Sometimes as an art student, you may feel like you could just do the same thing on your own. It’s not uncommon for art students to question whether they are learning anything, especially once they get past the foundational courses. 

This is partly because art is a discipline where there are no right or wrong answers. It’s also because it’s hard to get an objective perspective of your work and how it’s progressing. 

The most effective way to get better at creative arts is to practice, and then to talk about what you’ve done. 

Why critique is useful

Artists at art schools learn to defend their work and ideas on a daily basis. It is not easy to face that level of questioning about what you are doing and why. It is incredibly difficult to explain and to get others to believe in your new strange or abstract ideas. 

This is one reason that every art school graduate emphasizes their problem-solving skills. It’s because their education has prepared them to find and solve problems, and then to communicate and defend that process for years.

This experience doesn’t just prepare art school graduates for careers in the arts. It prepares them to become entrepreneurs, stockbrokers, inventors, and CEOs.

Don’t Go to Art School 

2. Figure out your art school cons

Beyond the cost of art school, which the media covers exhaustively, there are other reasons people say, “Don’t go to art school.”

Studio classes can be exhausting and homework takes a lot of time. If you went to art school for a specific major, you could feel like your foundation classes are a waste of time. 

If you finance art education with student loans, you’ll also spend more time thinking about money. This could lead you to question the value of every class and assignment and to stress about the future in a way you never have before. Career success after art school can often feel too high or far a reach. 

Being an artist in high school is hard, but it can also make you feel special. And if you were the best artist at your high school, it might hurt to be around artists just as good or better than you are. 

People may say don't go to art school for the wrong reasons, like the expense or impracticality.

Most artists know that art isn’t easy, but students who go to art school thinking it’s a simple way to get a college degree will be sorely disappointed. 

Socializing in art school will often mean new rules you’re not used to. It will take some time to figure out where you fit in while you’re managing a heavier workload than you ever have before. 

Art school is often more open-ended and unstructured than other college experiences. This can lead artists who aren’t ready for independence to make unhealthy decisions that can have long-term impacts.

Art school means competition, trying new things, and constantly questioning yourself. It’s an incredible path to growth and a career you could love, but it’s also a testing ground to see how much you want to make it. 

Going to art school is an incredible opportunity for artists, but is it right for you?

I Want To Go to Art School but… 

3. Listen to other people’s concerns and answer them

There are a few common concerns that non-artists share about art school that aren’t quite correct. These can influence your gut feeling while you’re trying to make a decision.

Artists can’t be good at business

Because of the expense of art school, many people want the investment of school to pay off immediately. 

For example, many art school graduates complain about a lack of professional or business training in school. If this is a concern you have, take a closer look, not just at your major and chosen school, but your expectations.

What do you think business skills look like? Are those skills something you can figure out on your own? Are there areas where you feel like you’ll need help? It’s important to point out that a skill or tool might not be the only topic for a class, but that doesn’t mean it’s not taught on campus. 

Jobs and salaries in the visual and performing arts

Some important business skills that art schools teach in a mostly indirect way include:

For most jobs, employers are hiring to solve a specific problem. As a prospective employee, it’s your job to anticipate those problems and to offer your services to help solve them with specific skills. 

Art schools train students to think, question, and communicate their ideas. It’s a pretty incredible education in essential business skills, especially in a job industry that’s packed with startups.

Skills that might not be covered in class, like SEO for artist websites, are skills that it’s relatively easy to learn after school if you’re open to it. But the conversations that you can have about your work during art school with professors and peers are often tough to find anywhere else.

You can do it just as well on your own

Another argument against art school and the professional path is that it’s possible for artists to learn and build a network on their own online.

Social media is a useful resource for new ideas and connecting with friends all over the world. Social media algorithms can also skew your ideas of what the art and design world is like and where you might fit in it. 

Algorithms favor what is popular over what is individual and specific. Many students end up fixating on what influencers or friends say without getting a good picture of the details and then investing in an education that’s not a right fit.

Social media for artists

Social media has become a powerful channel for sharing art, but it’s also a tricky place to put yourself out there. This is because algorithms are basically digital popularity contests. 

Any high schooler or high school graduate knows that the most popular person at your school isn’t necessarily the person you want to be like. The valedictorian isn’t always the smartest or the hardest working. Those are stereotypes. 

Stereotypes are useful when we’re overwhelmed. They help us simplify the chaos around us so we can figure out how to deal with it. They give us some space to sort what we want from what we don’t. 

If you’re developing as an artist and the only way you can get feedback is through social media, all you’ll really know is what people like for a few seconds. You won’t know how your work made them feel or what parts of it they’re responding to. 

Art critique on Reddit shows that it's tough to get good critique online for your art

Even if you do receive this kind of feedback in the comments, it’s not going to give you much. Certainly not as much information as one single art school critique or one new roommate you can talk to about your work for hours can give you.

In some ways, learning to be an artist online is too easy. As great as online communities can be, there is no real risk. Showing your art to an online community can be uncomfortable. It is tough to open yourself up to any kind of critique

But it is not the same level of discomfort that many artists attending art schools undertake by moving to other states and cities, sometimes cross country, to sit beside great young artists they’ve never met.

Artists don’t make money until they’re dead

This one is so common, demoralizing, and idiotic that I’m not sure where to begin. I don’t think that the people who are saying this are stupid. I believe this is a philosophy that our culture encourages but I’m not sure what purpose it serves. 

Just a heads up: there are over 2 million people working in arts jobs in the United States. And the average salary in art and design jobs is $45,000-$60,000. This is higher than the median salary for all occupations, and it comes with another significant bonus. Artists have a higher level of life satisfaction than most other occupations. 

Am I Good Enough for Art School? 

4. Figure out your biggest concerns and how to deal with them

It’s easy to get lost in the lofty details of your art education, or obsessed with trying to get into your top school. Many forget to imagine what everyday life might look like at art school. It’s normal to make some adjustments for school, but think about where you’re comfortable stretching your boundaries.

For example, people waste 52 hours a year on average commuting in traffic every day. You might have the same experience if your school is an open campus in a busy city.

Don't go to art school if you're not ready for the challenges of a college education

Safety is another concern. How safe is the area where you’ll be living? Ask yourself if you’ll feel comfortable pulling all-nighters in the neighborhood where your studio will be.

Most students don’t expect to get homesick, but it had a big impact on me when I went away to college. Will you be able to talk to your best friends at home if your campuses are in different time zones? What about your family? How much will your plane tickets cost when you’re headed home for breaks and holidays?

Some people can get so scared of the possible answers to these questions that they don’t take the risk, which can limit their ability to succeed. Try to imagine the possibilities and prepare for the worst so that you’ll have a better experience and make a better college decision for yourself.

Is Art School Worth It?

5. Make it happen, one step at a time

Art school is an experience that surrounds you with skilled curious and ambitious artists who are passionate about the same things you are. It is an investment and a risk, not a guarantee for success. It’s not possible to predict the future. Sometimes you just have to make a leap and hope for the best. 

And once you decide, commit. Too many students drop out during their first year because they hedged on their commitment to success. If you go, give it everything. It won’t be easy, but if you invest as much time and focus in your art education as possible, you will find a way to make it work.

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Post by Jana Rumberger