What is Art School?
The phrase “art school” can mean different things to different people and that is because the word “art” can really be used to describe a vast number of different professions and industries. There are the liberal arts which include subjects like art history, foreign languages, psychology, and sociology; and there are the fine arts which usually include subjects such as graphic design, film making, and photography. In reality, all of the aforementioned subjects can and should be considered part of the arts and choosing the best place to study these arts largely depends on the subjects you are interested in studying and how comfortable you feel with the other students, professors, and school itself.
Many assume that because so many famous artists in a variety of industries do not have a formal arts education that art schools and programs are unnecessary and a waste of money. Others argue that the stereotype of the “starving artist” is all too true and that the arts are something to be studied on the side while working towards a more practical degree. But while a formal arts education may prove unnecessary for a select and talented few, graduates of art schools aren’t just equipped with the ability to paint or sing or dance. They also get practical experience and skills that will help them find or start a career in the field and make a comfortable living.
It has already been explained that art is a broad word that can really be applied to hundreds of different professional fields and industries, but that also means that deciding to choose an art school is not as straightforward as it may have initially sounded. As the Princeton Review points out, if a student wants to study art in college, there are a couple of options to choose from. They can choose to attend a formal art school or they can choose to attend a traditional college or university that offers appealing degrees in the fine arts. There are similarities and major differences in both options and it’s important to understand what those differences are before students start making the important decisions.
Art schools are similar to trade schools in that they are singularly focused. At a traditional university, students can know they want to study photography or graphic design before they matriculate yet they will still be exposed to a variety of core classes including mathematics and sciences. Some art schools do make some core classes and core subjects mandatory, but those core classes are usually mandatory because they give the student knowledge or skills that will help them as they move towards a specific career. The Princeton Review estimates that students will spend at least two–thirds of their time learning about the specific art subject they are interested in, and the rest of their education will be dedicated to completing general education requirements.
The Princeton Review also mentions that art schools aren’t for the faint of heart or mildly interested. By choosing to attend an art school, students are effectively pigeonholing themselves. Yes, they have a wide range of art-related subjects to learn about and choose from, but there won’t be a lot of opportunities to gather in-depth knowledge about subjects like mathematics or chemistry or biology.
What it will offer is a specialized degree track where students can intensely focus on learning and eventually mastering the subject that interests them. It will also allow students to have the opportunity to surround themselves with other like-minded students who share their passion for the arts. They will also be exposed to talented and experienced faculty members to help them improve as artists and they will have premade connections in many art industries that have grown comfortable with the talent and skill level of students graduating from art schools.
According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, visual and performing arts degrees (95,797), Communications/Journalism (83,770), Liberal Arts (46,925), and Architecture (9,728) were the most popular art degrees as of 2011-12. But this data doesn’t tell the whole story of course because Liberal Arts and Visual Arts are broad ways of categorizing a plethora of different fields of study.
Schools don’t just go around handing out degrees in visual and performing arts or liberal arts; instead they confer degrees in subjects like photography, graphic design, and animation. Look carefully at what each of the schools you are interested in has to offer before you make any selection.
Why Go To Art School
Is going to art school actually worth it?
That is the question that every student considering a degree in the arts invariably considers when they are thinking about a formal arts education. And while the question has been known to boil the blood of art school graduates who have used their education to jump start their careers, it’s still a difficult question to answer because artists and their works are so uniquely different.
There are famous and successful artists with no formal training or education and there are also artists and art professionals who wouldn’t have a career in the field if it weren’t for their formal educations. The bottom line is that art school isn’t for everyone, but it does have some obvious benefits.
- Extra knowledge can’t hurt your career
Maybe a savant or an artistic genius doesn’t need the technical skills that most artists need to become successful. But there aren’t many artistic savants in the world and so the best place to get lay a foundation of artistic knowledge is in a formal program where students will learn from experienced professionals and be surrounded by some of the best resources available. There is a lot to learn conceptually and technically and there isn’t a better place to find all of that knowledge gathered in one place than a good art/design school. Also, it will be difficult to learn as much as an individual as students will learn in school. School allows students to gather knowledge from a large database of experts and art professionals. Many students foolishly believe they are already experts or already have in-depth knowledge of an art subject, but they don’t really have any idea how little they know until they go to school. Structured training is especially important in such an abstract discipline.
- School helps you learn discipline
Discipline is not something students can just impose on themselves, they need to learn it from somewhere else. School work is rigorous and amateur artists are never going to do all the work that is required of students in school. In school you will have required readings, mundane projects, tight deadlines, etc. These may seem like frivolous and fruitless endeavors, but self-taught people tend to only learn what they want to learn, but it’s the rest of the learning that helps feed your skill and make you a well-rounded artist. An art career is risky but it’s made safer by versatility and knowledge. When you are forced to learn everything under the moon in school, it can help you in later life if you need to pivot careers quickly.
- Where else can you be mentored by the best?
At art school, you will have daily interaction and conversation with some of the most experienced and talented professionals in the industry. Professionals who can easily point out your mistakes and help you improve upon them. These are people with real world contacts who want to actively help you not just become a better artist but also help you start a career in the field. They are the people who can give you honest and important feedback on how to improve yourself as an artist and there is little doubt that feedback will do wonders for your skills.
- Networking will do wonders for your career
Over the course of your arts education, you will be exposed to workshops, attend lectures given by industry leaders, go on field trips, work internships, and maybe even get hired for contract or freelance work. As you are set to graduate, you will realize that you are already plugged in to the world of art and design and the connections you have made over the years can be easily leveraged to help you jumpstart your career. People in art school typically don’t have to worry about ending up jobless.
- Potential employers will love your formal schooling
If you have graduated from art school, employers instantly understand that: your ability has been tested and recognized by art professionals, who will vouch for you upon request; you can work under deadline make a deadline; and you have professional standards for quality and pricing. Someone without an official education is at a disadvantage, because the potential employee is more of an unknown and it takes time and effort to ensure the potential employee can do the job being asked of them.
Schools give you access to things like fully equipped etching and silkscreen rooms, a photo lab, a computer lab, projectors, digital cameras and, of course, an enormous library. The best part is, that outside of your tuition, you don’t need to empty the piggy bank to pay for access to all of these resources; the school provides them for you instead.
When something may potentially determine your path in life, you should make sure to do your research and seek advice from people you trust. There are people with experience who can answer your questions accurately and then there are forums where unknown Internet commenters are ready to spit out tired clichés at a moment’s notice. It may be true that you are uniquely talented and art school will be a poor investment, but don’t just assume that is the case based on what you have heard. Do your homework and make sure you have all the facts before you make a decision that will impact your career.
Cost of Art School
Obviously the cost of art school will depend entirely on the type of schools students are looking for and the type of degree they are interested in. If students are looking at traditional universities and colleges, they will find that just because they know they want an art degree doesn’t mean they won’t be paying for the full educational experience. The Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) estimated that the average independent art college tuition in the United States in 2011-12 was about $30,300 with a range of about $18,000 to $40,000 being common. In Canada, AICAD estimates the average international tuition at independent art colleges for the same year is $13,600 CAD, with a range from 12,000 to $16,000 CAD. Of course, in-province tuition averages at these Canadian institutions would fall below these ranges. There is also plenty of financial aid available. The average discount in 2010-11 at AICAD member schools was roughly 26% of the published tuition.