I graduated from art school a month ago. It was quite a ride, spanning several schools (RISD & VCU, most notably) and more years than I’d care to mention. But it’s finally over. All of the homework is done, all of the critiques are wrapped up. The paintings are all painted, the drawings drawn. The pseudo-intellectual art history papers written, the sloppy collages all glued down. The charcoal washed off of everything, the paint tubes empty.
Art school is over.
Now that I have a bit of time to reflect, I thought I’d muse on some of the things I loved about going to art school. And after you read all of the good things, be sure to balance it out with all of the bad things about art school.
I like school. I know in most social circles that’s a bit of a weird thing to say, but I genuinely do. I get a kick out of going to class, doing assignments, taking tests, getting grades. It’s always been a fun sort of game for me. So going to art school… well that’s just great. I get the enjoyment of academia coupled with studying art—a subject I deeply love.
RISD was exceptional about this (VCU much less so). RISD had an amazingly beautiful and well stocked library, their own world-class museum, the nature lab (containing all sorts of weird specimens and bones to draw), and a steady stream of guest speakers coming in. While these sort of things you can get outside of a college environment, a good art school will provide you with resources that it’s difficult to acquire elsewhere. I can’t say nearly as much for VCU’s resources, though. The library, though somewhat well stocked, was butt ugly and painful to be in (seriously, it looks like a prison, inside and out). No guest speakers came while I was there. They don’t have a museum, but thankfully the VMFA is right down the street.
I have been blessed with some wonderful instructors during my time. I’m planning a post to highlight some of these personal heroes of mine soon so I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that these individuals helped to make me the artist I am today. Nothing can replace the countless hours it takes to be an artist, but a good instructor will make it much, much easier to get there. I’d encourage any current students to do their darnedest to seek out a highly skilled artist & instructor who they can connect with and learn everything you can from them. Seriously. Sap them of everything they know. Steal their secrets. Whatever it takes. In the end, they’ll be glad you did after you become a successful artist yourself.
Going to art school can aid tremendously in keeping you focused on art. I know I’ve experienced it (much the same as many of you, I’m sure), when you’re at home and hardly can seem to get anything done. There are too many distractions, errands, chores, video games, friends, and hobbies that keep you from what you need to do. Going to school for art (all the more so if you’re footing the bill) can serve as a constant reminder of what you should be working on.
As much as artists love to complain about deadlines, deadlines are our friends. Deadlines will kick your butt and get you in line. Having set deadlines will force you to learn to manage your time, behave professionally, and, most importantly, work a lot. The whole point of art school is to learn about art (which, as we’ve discussed, has everything to do with working), so anything that forces you to work is a good thing in my book. Learn to embrace deadlines—because if you actually make it as an artist you’re going to have a whole lot more of them.
It’s easy to get comfortable in your own little groove. Naturalistic painters like to hang out with their kind, abstract with their kind. In art school you’re thrown into a mixing pot of different styles, tastes, professions, majors, and ideas. This stew of artistic diversity is a wonderful thing for budding artists. I’ve mentioned it before, but the one sculpture class I took was easily the best thing I’ve ever done for my drawing skills. I branched out from my major and tried something completely unrelated to what I wanted to do—and I’m eternally grateful that I did (it was also one of the best classes I’ve ever taken). The diversity doesn’t stop at the classes you take, but also the people you’re surrounded by.
Art school is full of like-minded people with the same goal—to study art. They all love it in their own way, and the energy of being surrounded by so many aspiring artists is nothing short of exhilarating. You’ll finally be around people who can carry on a conversation about color theory with you (a task often undertaken while intoxicated). Beyond school, though, it’s somewhat likely that the people you’re around will also be your peers when you enter the professional world. By the time you graduate you’ll probably have a large network of good friends who might help you down the road (or who you can help).
Looking back at it all, I feel a bit nostalgic. But before you think it’s all flowers and sunshine, then check out my post of things I hated about art school where I’ll be shedding some light on the darker side of things.