I remembered thinking about this question a long time ago, like back when I was still in high school. I remembered getting promotional mailers from the Art Institutes and thinking to myself if it was worth it to go or if I could even get into one? I also didn’t know if I was able to financial afford it.
There are a lot of things to consider before deciding whether to go to an art school (or a college that offers an Art or Design major). For one, it isn’t for everyone. A lot of high schoolers get bombarded with the message that they have to get a college education to get a good job or career after high school. That isn’t always the case, especially for artists or designers. Sure, some companies may require you to have a technical or Bachelor’s degree, but if your portfolio work stands out, there’s a chance they might consider you anyways.
Nowadays, with the help of the internet, one can learn how to improve their craft through the means of taking online classes, watching video tutorials, and of course reading and learning from good old books. You can actually teach yourself how to draw better by using the resources around you and doing some independent study and/or life drawings. Not all great or successful artists attended art school, some were self-taught. If you are the type of person who can learn on your own or be self-disciplined, not going to art school can save you a lot of time and money.
Then what is art school good for then? Is it worth it to go into debt for an Art education? Well, that depends on your situation and what you want out of it. I was that person who went to college and majored in Art, specifically Entertainment Design. Why did I go you may ask? The answer at the time was simply because I needed to get a college education. I was a first generation Hmong-American college student and this was my chance to prove to my parents that I was capable of fulfilling their dream. They wanted all their children to go to college because to them they saw it as a means of success and because they themselves were never given this opportunity. I went because of their encouragement, but also, because I felt it was the right thing for me to do. I knew I didn’t want to go into the workforce yet, and I knew there was more to learn and explore. I also wanted to get better at my craft, so I applied to local universities and got accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I chose Stout because it offered my field of study, the type of community I wanted, and it was affordable. I was thankful things fell into place and I was able to afford it. I took every opportunity I could to fund my education, such as applying for grants and scholarship, and it all paid off. I spent four years at Stout doing my best in every course and taking advantage of what it had to offer.
One misconception people get about art school is that it is supposed to teach you everything there is to know about being an artist, and that is just not true. Sure, some colleges could probably offer more business classes for artists, but as much as they would like to teach you everything, there’s just too much to know that cannot be covered in such a short time. Most of us learn on your own after college, and that’s just a part of being an artist and a part of life! We do things, we make mistakes, and we learn from them.
What I did learn in college was you got to work hard to get what you want, and that it takes great practice and discipline to stay an artist. You have to treat your art like a job, otherwise it’ll never be finished. Being in art school pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and to do things I wouldn’t have ever done on my own. I was able to try all sorts of mediums (such as screen printing, oil painting, and graphic design) and realized which ones were and were not for me. While in art school, I learned about the human figure and did a ton of figure drawings, which helped me improve my anatomy. Taking art and design courses meant being involved in critiques, which played a major role in improving my work. Art school allowed me to connect with professors and other art students that shared a similar interest as me. It enabled me to build life-long friends and partake in all sorts of experiences that I wouldn’t have gotten had I not gone to it.
So what does all of this really boil down to?
Go if you feel it’s what you need. Things will work out only if you’re willing to put in the effort to make it work. And if you go and don’t like it or things didn’t work out, it’s okay to leave.
Don’t go if you feel you don’t need it or if you’re unsure what you want to do yet; however, it’s never too late to go later in life if you decide to change your mind.
Simple as that.