Art school, is it necessary?

I’ve seen this question asked a thousand times on-line. I thought I’d write down some thoughts about my personal experiences when I was doing a Bachelor of Fine Arts over 10 years ago. I never got my degree (university politics, plus not wanting to go back and do another 6 months for a piece of paper :P ).

I went to art school. I didn’t think much of it. I went in with one idea, what I got was something else. I think it’s one of those individual experiences that for one person will be fantastic, for another, awful. I’m not advocating one way or the other as to whether you should go to art school… that’s something only you can decide. Also, each school is different. Each teacher/ lecturer/ tutor is different. People, as well as course content make a huge difference to the art college experience.

  • Did it make me a better artist? Yes, and no.
  • Did it teach me about anatomy, perspective, colour theory etc? No. Oh there were some basics covered, but it was not the old school world where you learnt skills. Art school (at university level when I did it in the late 90s) was about ‘critical thinking’, making political statements, that kind of stuff. Realism was frowned upon.
  • Did it open my eyes to art and give me a wider appreciation of all art forms? Yes
  • Did it encourage me to be a practising artist? Only if I wanted to be a gallery artists, so I’d say no
  • Did it teach me about the business side of things? No. True, there were lunchtime lectures with practising artists talking about their careers, but there was nothing about taxes, nothing about contracts, very little beyond creating a portfolio… and even that was limited to a portfolio to get good grades.
  • Did it shape me as an artist? It had to, there is no getting away from the fact that I was surrounded by creatives, creating day in, day out for several years
  • Would I recommend going to art college to other people? Yes and No. Research the school you want to go to. Think about why you want to go and what you want to get out of it. Have a plan, enjoy the ride if you do go, allow yourself to take weird and wonderful courses
  • Was it a waste of time? It shaped me as a person, so no, it was not a waste of time.
  • If I got a choice to do it now, would I do it again? Probably not. There is so much information available these days on-line  People that grew up with fast internet, access to video tutorials and the likes have so many more opportunities available. On-line communities, access to international art directors, art conventions (well mainly in the US still)… I’m still learning. I love the internet.

I would say talk to recent graduates if you are interested in a particular school (particularly those that are working – they’ll be able to tell you about the business stuff which is dull, but very important if you want this to be your career). Art college is not necessary. There are some hugely talented artists that are effectively self taught.

Hopefully this is helpful to someone. Do you disagree with my comments about art college? Do you have tips on making your experience at art college better?