Now that you’ve heard about the things I loved about art school, it’s time for a dose of dark, depressing cynicism. The butterflies and good feelings are gone. Here’s some of the ugly, honest dirt on art school.
Art school ain’t cheap. And when I say it’s not cheap, I mean to say that it’s bloody expensive. Insanely, stupidly, ridiculously expensive. Attending a big name art school (with no scholarships) for the full four years of your college education will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000. Sweet Lord. Those sort of student loans are reasonable for someone like a doctor or a lawyer, but an artist? Come on. I don’t mean to be overly pessimistic about the field I’m in, but I think it’s perfectly fair to say that the vast majority of people attending art school will not be making doctor/lawyer sort of money. I think most of us would be pleased with better-than-flipping-burgers money.
I had a scholarship during my time at RISD, but it only covered part of my expenses. Even though I was only there a year I’m left with a sizable amount of loans I need to figure a way to pay off. That was actually one of the main reasons I transferred to VCU. It’s a public university and I got in-state tuition. Good deal. Oh, and Providence is too darn cold.
There’s an amazing amount of bureaucratic bloat, pointless requirements, and tedious paperwork that comes with a university environment. And none of that junk has anything to do with making art. In fact, it has everything to do with getting in the way of making art.
I was majoring in Illustration when I was up at RISD. The building was falling apart. It did have studios that students could use, but it was amazingly trashy. I’m pretty sure it’s also a rule among art schools that there cannot be more than one reasonably functional easel in each room. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the painting department hadn’t had such phenomenal areas to work in… while they painted large scale examples of how bad painting can be. When I transferred to VCU things didn’t get much better. Sure, it was cleaner, but in our department the studios were closed. As in, outside of class, you couldn’t use them. They’re theory, I think, was that students would dirty up their precious studios. My theory? It’s a friggin’ art school and you should leave them open. Grr.
I have had instructors who were clueless. Some who didn’t care. Some who gave terrible information. Some who were—and I don’t say this lightly—bad human beings. And yet, you have to deal with them. Even when you watch a professor start to lose his mind over the course of the year (my classmates will have little doubt who this is), you’ve still gotta stick with it. You could change classes, but for the most part you’re stuck. Learning from a lousy professor is worse than learning on your own. Because then you only have to deal with your own stupidity.
I can’t count the number of hours that I spent sitting in classes that would have absolutely not relevance whatsoever to my future profession. None. Yet there I sat, going with the flow of college life, taking the classes I had to take. A huge advantage of studying on your own (or an atelier program) is that you can cut this fat out. You can stay diversified without slogging through uninteresting drivel.
There was a drawing class I took where we were assigned—as an extensive, 8-week final project—to make a bag. That was a drawing class.
That is all.
Sure, there are a few gems in art school. That’s how the big name schools win their awards—they attract a few exceptionally good artists. But you know what? The rest of the school is mostly mediocre students that don’t care that much and who will very likely never make it as artists. There, I said it. Most of the people you’re surrounded by might do just fine in school turning in their B-grade work, but they won’t work as artists. It’s sad, but it’s true.
But remember, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are some things to love about art school.