Should I go to art school?

Should I go to art school?

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First, you need to understand that any type of education you go for is a commitment, not just a want. You can’t do it when the motivation hits you; it’s more of a dedication than a motivation. You need to ask yourself, do you truly want to be an artist and commit yourself to your craft every day, or do you simply like the idea of it, but deep down, you know you really don’t want to put in the effort? If you truly want to become an artist and you are seeking some type of training, here are a few avenues that you can venture down.

How online art education used to be.

When I originally started my journey in art school some 10 years ago (has it already been that long? WOW!), the internet wasn’t what it is today. There were limits to everything and though YouTube and forums were around and popular, the content on them wasn’t what it is today. YouTube was full of people posting videos of their day-to-day life, like their kids’ first steps or of their friends doing something stupid. Okay, okay, it hasn’t changed much in that section, but the art side of it has. YouTube is now riddled with a lot of tutorials, and many of them are of very high quality as well. Forums were going very strong, but they were riddled with broken image links, banned hotlinking, and it was more questions and sketchbooks more than feedback. Strangely, this hasn’t changed much either, but in my opinion, forums have lost a lot of the momentum they used to have, but they are still around and can be very helpful.

Let’s get into this a bit deeper.

Go to art school

The obvious answer to “should I go to art school” is just go to art school; you have to start somewhere. There are many universities around that specialize in art, and many of them are very good at what they do, but of course, many of them fall very short. If you plan to go the way of an art school, definitely research it. Who are the instructors? How long have they been teaching? Have they worked professionally, and so forth? The background of your art instructor is going to be the most defining aspect of them; check their resume and especially their portfolio. You would also be amazed at how many schools will have a student graduate and they immediately hire them to teach even though that student has no field experience. This is why you want to check their resume.

Aside from the learning side of it, this post wouldn’t be complete without the financial side of things. Most schools, as I was unfortunate enough to find out the hard way, are great at making it look like you don’t owe that much as you progress through. The financials can often be broken apart and hidden throughout the site. By law, they have to show you what you owe, but it doesn’t have to be easy. I checked on my finances many times, and it never seemed like I owed much, and nobody seemed to be very helpful in tracking this information down. The day I graduated, suddenly it was incredibly easy to tell me just how hefty my bill was, and all the information magically appeared in one easy-to-access location.

Though plans like the IBR (income-based repayment) save many students’ assets by letting them pay back an amount based on how much they make, you also never truly hit the repayment amount, and you will end up paying for 25 years, and the interest still accumulates while you pay your minimums (which sometimes don’t even cover all the interest). After 25 years, the debt is cleared, but then it’s transferred over to a tax credit, and you don’t have to pay back as much, but the bill will still be very high. This is the aspect you have to be very wary of, and it’s a big point I call out when people ask if they should go to art school. I can tell you, student loans are one of the most stressful things in my life. And no, you cannot go to school, rack up a bunch of debt, and then file bankruptcy to get rid of it. Student loans are one of the few things you cannot get rid of through bankruptcy unless you have very specific conditions. I get asked about that a lot too.

If you can pay per course, that’s the best way to go. I was young and didn’t know better, but as is life.

Go to a local university

This section falls in line with the art schools. Local universities don’t cost as much as art schools; often they are one-fourth to half the cost of an art school, which is very handy to get a less expensive education. Sometimes even a PELL Grant will cover the costs of your classes in some cases; sometimes, it’s a PELL and a small loan, etc. The pitfall here is that many local universities don’t specialize in art, and the education you get may not be all that great, and it may not be the instructor; it may simply be a lack of good curriculum. I will tell you though, I went to a local university first, and my work was terrible; it lacked proportions, perspective, craftsmanship, etc., and I was still pulling A’s from my classes. In the field, my work would have quickly been thrown out, and they would pick up another artist.

Don’t let that discourage you. There are a lot of local universities that have some great instructors, so once again, look at the curriculum and look at the instructor. If the curriculum is solid, and you can see that the students in the class are progressing, you may have found a very good option here. Often times, if you go to the university and tour the classrooms, you will be able to see artists’ work all over the walls and stacked on desks. If the work is of low quality, you will probably want to look elsewhere.

Find an Atelier

Now we are getting into what I’m currently looking into. As I mentioned, you are forever a student, and your learning should never stop no matter where you are at in your career. I have been looking into ateliers lately, and there are a few I have in mind that stand much higher than others, and I am looking to further my education by attending an atelier. Though not credited as a traditional university (you will find that doesn’t really matter), you may find some of the best education from an atelier. Many art professionals gather, teach, and network at ateliers, and if you find the right ones, you may just find some of the best artists frequently attending.

Ateliers do come with their costs as well, and of course, the more well-known the atelier, the more it is going to cost. Since they are not accredited, you will not be able to take traditional student loans, so you will need to find another way to cover the costs.

Find a mentor

Another great option would be a mentor. Mentorships used to be the way to learn in the ages of the great masters, but then that time ended. Now it’s coming back in, and I am very pleased to see this happening. This is another step that you will find people in the field utilizing, as each artist will teach in different methods, and their personal style will show through onto their curriculum; you can often look at professional artists’ websites and find a mentorship option if they aren’t overloaded with work. Depending on the demand and skill of the artist, these often range from a couple of hundred dollars a month on up, depending on the curriculum and length of the courses or if they are just reviewing your work and coaching you on how to make a presence in the industry. If you can’t afford the course, contact the artist anyway, and they might work with you on prices by supplying drip content. That is where they will send you a segment of the course per month until you have paid in full and received all the content.

Sometimes they will simply reduce the price and give you a bit of feedback on your work and paint over your work to show you flaws. Many artists are willing to help aspiring artists, so don’t be shy; just contact them and ask them what they can do to help you with whatever budget you have available.

Find a sketch group

Sketch groups are a great way to progress in art. Though rarely a formal classroom setting, these sketch groups are usually set up to where a group of artists will gather to draw a specific subject. You can talk and network with other artists, share sketchbooks, collaborate, and most importantly, grow your network. Having a strong network in this industry is essential. Not only do many artists refer you to clients if they are overrun with work and cannot take on another project, but it’s also a good way to get free feedback on your work as well, right there in person.

I used to participate in a drawing group every week for quite some time. Though my schedule has prevented me from attending for some time now, the skill I gained during this time was tremendous. Not only did I have a schedule I had to keep and draw whether I was “motivated” or not, but people also expected me to show up, I made friends, and got feedback during each break to allow the model to relax. Often you will find sketch groups being held at universities, and they are open to the public for a small fee to help cover the cost of the model.

Learn how to draw on YouTube

If money or time is an issue in any of the scenarios above, there is always YouTube. When I originally started, YouTube wasn’t a place to learn by any means. It was a bunch of random videos of random people and nothing to take seriously. However, today you have a lot of really high-quality videos on a vast array of subjects; though limited on feedback for your work which is very important, you can get a lot of the concepts you would learn in an art school from some of these tutorials. Often times, you can mix what you learn on YouTube with local sketch groups by watching the videos on YouTube, repeating the exercise you learn there, and then heading to a sketch group to get the work reviewed by another artist attending.

I have a YouTube channel, Adam Miconi Art, that I’ll feed content to every now and then where you can see some time-lapse illustrations, a few live recordings, and other small videos, though I will be moving much of the content in terms of small free tutorials, I encourage you to look around and see what you can find. Feel free to share your findings in the comments section below.

Final thoughts

When it comes to the question of “Should I go to art school,” I feel you certainly should get some kind of education. Is art school worth it or not is a question for you to answer because you will get mixed answers whether the person you are speaking with enjoyed it or not, if their loans are manageable or overwhelming, etc. Do you have to be good at art to go to art school? No, that’s why you are going in the first place, but there are programs and scholarships you can receive if you are already good at art.

When you learn on your own, you can definitely learn anything you would like, but if you surround yourself with professionals, your skill will increase exponentially at a much faster pace than if you were to do it on your own. There are a lot of different ways to get your education, and some are an art school, but there are many lower cost alternatives. Always learn, always progress, and always look for other options as you don’t have to choose only one. Learn from a variety of sources; a few that weren’t mentioned are things such as Gnomon Workshop DVD’s, Gumroad downloads, Skype/Hangouts screencasts, convention portfolio reviews, independent artist training DVD’s, and much more.

And remember, it’s never too late to be going back to art school in the traditional sense or any of the alternate methods. You should always be learning and always surrounding yourself with artists that are more skilled; that way you will always be learning whether you go to college for art or not. You can become a great artist without attending an art school, but you won’t become a great artist without collaboration and feedback from other artists. You don’t know what you don’t know.

If you have any questions about anything covered in this article, please feel free to drop a comment below!

© 2023 Adam Miconi