There’s some kinda #artschool discourse going around Twitter again. On the off-chance I can reach anyone before they make their mistake: Art schools aren’t necessary for a career in the arts. If you go to one, you’ll probably start hearing this right around senior year (that’s when I first heard it).
I’m not saying there aren’t good schools out there. By most accounts, mine was a very good one (even if they are at the center of the current kerfuffle), and I think I’m one of the only people from my class and major that hasn’t spent at least a little time working in the industry yet, so that’s something of an endorsement.
I’m saying you don’t NEED to go to one. Where your degree comes from, or even having a degree at all, will have far less impact on your career than being able to demonstrate skills and having a network of people who can convince people to take a chance on you.
No one tells you this until you’re already there and committed to the massive debt.
A cynical part of me blames it on greed and business and such. Student loan servicers need you to be in debt; art schools need your tuition money; your high school needs you to go on to college to make them look good. But I think more of it is probably that it’s just not something your teachers, guidance counselors, college admission staff etc. are thinking about. By default, it’s just not something they consider.
But it’s something you should be thinking about and aggressively looking for answers to. College is expensive, and art school is especially expensive. It may end up being worth that cost; or it may be a ball and chain that follows you around for the rest of your life.
When I look back at my decision to go to art school, it always strikes me just how naive I was, how little research I did, how screwed up my priorities were, but also how little help the people around me were (not that naive past-me would have known he needed the help). Past-me genuinely believed that you just went to college for a thing that you wanted to be your job, and somehow, you learned everything you needed to get that job: How to apply, all the skills you needed etc. and no one knew I thought this, so no one could set me straight.
It’s obvious to me now, but it never occurred to past-me that there’s nothing stopping you from looking up your dream job, seeing what companies are hiring people to do that thing, and what qualifications they’re looking for. (Actually, I tried this ONCE in, like, junior high, in like, the worst possible way, and when it failed, I just decided that meant I would learn all of that in college. Again, don’t be like past-me. He was an idiot.)
There’s nothing stopping you from finding people with that job and asking them how they got the job and what advice they have for someone who wants to do that job when they grow up. (Pros scoff at that, but I think that’s mainly because it’s a common piece of art school homework that has a reputation as something the school is making the kids do in lieu of teaching it to them themselves. I suspect they’d be happy for an independent learner to ask.)
Also, take your time. Past-me hated high school and just wanted to be done and never have to go to school ever again. This isn’t a great way to learn anything in a scholarly environment, and it’s not a great attitude to bring into a very very expensive school. Many of the people I went to art school with who seemed to enjoy the most success right off the bat were people who were older when they went to art school. These people had had jobs or studied other things before jumping into our program, and I believe those experiences helped them to work and study in ways that those of us just out of high school, living on our own for the first time in our lives, just weren’t familiar with.
I can’t give this advice to past-me, but maybe somehow it can find its way to someone similar enough to past-me that they can avoid a whole lot of hurt and a whole lot of debt. I know from experience, no one else is liable to give that person this advice, so if you know someone like past-me, please, give them my advice, or if past-me sounds an awful lot like present-you, maybe consider this advice for yourself:
1. If you have a dream job, research the hell out of it. Find out the qualifications you need, the skills you need. Learn about other people doing that job because they’re your best information about that job, and also your competition for similar jobs.
2. Don’t rush into expensive decisions. Art school can wait, and if you make it wait a bit, you might just be much better suited to make it work for you. Or you might learn enough on your own that you don’t need it.
3. Don’t make your first taste of freedom an expensive one. There’s a lot to learn about living on your own. It may be far better to get a job and your first apartment and learn all about eating cereal for every meal and figuring out how to do laundry and going to parties in a setting where it won’t cost you tens of thousands of dollars per semester to do so.
4. An apartment, a decent computer, a bunch of tutorials, and tickets to industry networking events are way cheaper than art school. It’s not the route for everyone, but even if they don’t work for you on their own, they’re all things that will help you succeed at art school.
5. Student loans are a goddamn nightmare, and they’re not getting fixed anytime soon. They’re a big part of why I might seem to be cautioning you away from college period. They’re not as bad as you’ve heard: they’re worse. Fight for every non-loan dollar that you can get. And if you can’t get scholarships and grants, consider cutting your losses and resuming school at a later date when you can get those non-loan dollars.