Art InquisitionGeneral ArtVisual Art

Art Inquisition: Who needs art school?

I have to admit, I wanted to go to art school since one of those ridiculous middle-school aptitude tests told me that I could actually Make Money Doing Art. And going to school to learn how to do things was What One Did.

And then I realized partway into my senior year of high school that nobody really cared about What One (That Happened to be Me) Did, and so I stopped doing.

Well, poop. That didn’t work.

wire being bent into the shape of a capital letter A in front of a yellow toolbox with electrical doodads and pliers
From one of my typography classes.

Far too many moons later, I finally dragged myself into art school. Was it the creative mecca I’d dreamed of? No, even with financial aid I couldn’t afford THOSE schools… and anyway, I’d grown enough to realize that exclusively keeping company with self-proclaimed ARTEESTS was sure to drive me batty (but generate some true creativity on topics of Causing Serious Bodily Harm). So I went to Le State School with its pretty fine design program, made friends with lots of interesting folks going into lots of interesting fields, and picked up a computer science minor on the way. Wait, can you even DO that at art school?

Thing is, I didn’t even need the BFA until I moved back into The City. And so many people in creative fields say they don’t give a crap about what’s hanging on your wall unless it’s art. Can you prove you’ve got the chops? Got a good book? HIRED, they say. But is that really true?

Over on Medium, Noah Bradley comes right out and says it. Don’t Go to Art School. But over on DeviantArt, majnouna gives 7 Reasons Why You Should Go to Art School. My mom encouraged me to create, but then discouraged me from art school because it hadn’t worked for her. Holy foo, what’s an arty-type to do?

What do you think? Is art school worth it? Does it depend on the school? The program? The kind of art you want to do? Did you go to art school? Or did you deliberately NOT go to art school? Who needs art school?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. It used to appear on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET… maybe we’ll just try for Wednesdays this go ’round. Make with the comments!

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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  1. I have to come down on the side of go to art school (baccalaureate, anyway). I did, and I didn’t come out a quarter million in debt. I went to one of the top ten art schools in the country. I went to a state university.

    The pro article is good. I’m not sure the networking part is emphasized enough. Core classes the first couple years put you in with artists of all other disciplines. Some of them are pretentious jaghole arrests, but they don’t tend to stick around long enough to graduate. Some of my best friends and people who have brought the most thoughtful critiques, most challenging perspectives have come from these classes. Because they aren’t elbow deep in the same ideas. They have enough outsider perspective to give you an honest take, but they also have the vocabulary and critical practice to offer you detailed useful insight.

    As terrible as the work for stipend model is for grad students, I am supremely grateful for the exposure to them and their work. My first drawing instructor was a grad student who does absolutely brilliant work, some of the best painting and drawing I’ve ever seen anywhere by anybody from any time. He was able to bring out an easy unpretentiousness about making art while still making it incredibly thoughtful and crafted and considered.

    The requirements to work outside a specialization got me into sculpture wit

  2. Dude, I am butterfingers with that post comment button.

    Anyway, I did three years of sculpture because I got engaged by some more very excellent critique from the grad sculptors. Sticking around in the shop exposed me to more undergrads with great perspectives. Staying in a studio past midnight typesetting and trying not to fall asleep or think too hard about a looming deadline with the one other classmate trying to get shit done was great bonding, and it turns out she’s also pretty badass and interesting. Being around other artists and talking about whatever (Flight of the Conchords, dinner, trying to find just one more goddamned Garamond 1 to complete this tray so I can proof and go home) with no pressure to talk about art, letting it come up whenever, was a fantastic way to get insightful feedback (eventually) from people whose opinions on lots of things I knew I could trust. It also gave me access to people who would have been way out of my league or too busy trying to get their own projects done to bother talking with me about my stuff, but they were taking a five minute break, and I was right there, so why not? I don’t cruise the internet for shit to critique when I’m tired of trying to curve square tubing. I cruise the internet for twitter or whatever.

  3. BONUS (because I can’t stop yammering):
    So, that was for a high-ranking art school at a university. I got a second bachelor’s at the same time in theatre. The theatre program is…not ranked. It is somewhat crummy. And you know what? Even there, I met a lot of awesome people doing interesting work with interesting ideas about how to make new work. It was there that I first got exposure to LGBTQ activism and engaged in some. It was there that I learned after seven years of acting that acting blows and I’d rather be a playwright because the things I liked about acting were about interpreting and engaging with scripts. It would have taken me years of bit parts and innumerable rejected auditions to figure that out, and I wouldn’t have had a captive audience to inflict terrible early scripts upon.

    Speaking of, college is a very safe place to totally suck at something. I suck at a lot of things, and trying those things out and sucking at them was no big deal. I never failed anything. I’m pretty sure I cried after one absolutely crushing critique my junior year (in art), and it left me wobbly for a month or two, but I sucked, and it was okay, and I learned, and the next semester, no one gave a shit.

    If I’m submitting stuff deliberately for critique to internet people, even internet-y friends, I don’t want to fail. Our experience IS an internet experience, and if I suck at something very badly in the internet, that can seriously temper our relationship. No one at college cares if you suck as long as you don’t go around talking about how awesome you are.

    Forced experimentation can lead to wonderful ways to change how you do what you do. My first real step into skepticism was an critique and critical discourse class. Our professor demanded we provide sources weekly, examine those sources, present them, and have them cross-examined by the rest of the class in addition to presenting work and having it examined, critiqued, and critiqued in relation to our source materials. Everything I made from then on, I consciously made a decision about every reason I had for everything that was going into something I was making. There had to be a reason, and there had to be a reason it fit with the ideas behind it. That kind of rigor would have taken forever for me to come to on my own.

    Anyway, back to the crappy school. I learned way more than I ever would have expected going to a bad school. I learned exactly what I didn’t like, and I spent the time figuring out what I didn’t like about what I didn’t like so that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes. I won an award for lighting design with some collaborators because we knew what we thought was bullshit, what would be interesting without being pretentious or obtuse, and would work with what equipment we had. Because we had to wade through crap, we knew what crap smelled like. There were a couple very good professors, practically no interesting graduates (a very small handful compared to the art program, but go figure top ten art school, no rank theatre school), and there were bright spots available. We could see what good work could be, and we knew we had to work for it. So we did.

    It doesn’t even have to, necessarily, be a good art school to get the kind of experience and connections and camaraderie that will be beneficial. Although I would certainly recommend it. It was a more pleasant experience in the one school over the other.

  4. Well, and then there’s this woman who is self taught.

    Although I do NOT understand the (general) emphasis on Photoshop. Knowledge of Photoshop does not, cannot, and will not make you a designer. You can do really, really awesome things, but you need knowledge beyond how to use its brushes and effects. Granted, I know at least one PS wizard whose work I love that translates SO WELL into just about anything he wants and that article does NOT imply that PS = designer, but whoa I’ve seen some folks who really, really think so. And their work generally looks like a more-complex version of Word Art exploded all over it.

    TL;DR: Photoshop is abused.

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