Don’t Go to Art School
Published on June 26, 2013 by Noah Bradley
I’ve had it.
I will no longer encourage aspiring artists to attend art school. I just won’t do it. Unless you’re given a full ride scholarship (or have parents with money to burn), attending art school is a waste of your money.
I have a diploma from the best public art school in the nation. Prior to that I attended the best private art school in the nation. I’m not some flaky, disgruntled art graduate, either. I have a quite successful career, thankyouverymuch.
But I am saddened and ashamed at art schools and their blatant exploitation of students. Graduates are woefully ill-prepared for the realities of being professional artists and racked with obscene amounts of debt. By their own estimation, the cost of a four year education at RISD is $245,816. As way of comparison, the cost of a diploma from Harvard Law School is a mere $236,100.
This is embarrassing. It’s downright shameful. That any art school should deceive its students into believing that this is a smart decision is cruel and unusual.
Artists are neither doctors nor lawyers. We do not, on average, make huge six-figure salaries. We can make livable salaries, certainly. Even comfortable salaries. But we ain’t usually making a quarter mil a year. Hate to break it to you. An online debt repayment calculator recommended a salary exceeding $400,000 in order to pay off a RISD education within 10 years.
Don’t do it.
Don’t start your career with debilitating debt.
Please. I beg you. Think long and hard whether you’re willing to pay student loan companies $3000 every single month for the next 10 years.
You’ve got other options.
You don’t have to go to college to be an artist. Not once have I needed my diploma to get a job. Nobody cares. The education is all that matters. The work that you produce should be your sole concern.
There are excellent atelier schools all over the world that offer superior education for a mere fraction of the price. Here are a few:
There are more. Many, many more. And none of them will cost nearly as much as a traditional four year school. Art Renewal Center maintains a fairly good list of ateliers that you could attend.
And then there are the online options. The availability of drawing and painting resources is incredible.
Sitting at a computer I have direct access to artists all over the world. I have the combined wisdom of the artistic community to pull from at my leisure. For less than a few grand a year I can view more educational material than I would see at any art school. You can get access to most online art programs for the cost of a few days at the average art school.
With all of these options it can be a little daunting. So you know what? I’ve come up with a plan for you. Do this:
[2022.04.08] Update: Many of the resources I had originally recommended in this article no longer exist or are not the best that are currently available any more. As such, I’ve updated this article to better reflect my current recommendations:
The $10k Ultimate Art Education
- $190 – Buy all of these books and read them cover to cover. When you’re done with those, read as many business and finance books as you can. Many artists suffer not from lack of artistic skill but from a shortcoming in business & finance sense.
- $1040 ($20/week x 52 weeks) – Weekly figure drawing sessions. Look up nearby colleges and art groups and find a weekly session to attend. OR, for less money and potentially more value, buy some good Reference Pictures and use those to study your figures from.
- $??? – Sign up for some online art education. There are an insane number of great resources for online art education. But here are some of my personal favorites:
- Free – Watch YouTube channels with good content. I’d recommend Marco Bucci for color & lighting and moderndayjames for a lot of other things. Also Ahmed Aldoori and ergojosh. I’ve got a youtube channel too. These should get you started and keep you busy for a long time. There’s a tremendous amount of good stuff out there.
- $29 – Learn Blender. I think all artists should know some 3d these days. It’s cheap, it doesn’t take too long, and it’s a skill with so many applications that I can’t imagine you could regret spending a month or two becoming competent at it. Also Andrew Price has an insane amount of good content on Blender for free.
- Free – Study other things for free. Suggested topics: business, history, philosophy, English, literature, marketing, and anything else you might be interested in. Also Udemy, Stanford, Coursera, etc. The barrier to knowledge is less about accessibility these days and a lot more about buckling down and actually using the resources and learning the things.
- $500-900~/month – Find a mentor. A lot of artists offer private mentorships these days. I think this is one of the best possible ways to speed up your progress. A mentor that’s invested in your progress will be able to give you pinpoint accurate suggestions for how to improve and what you need to work on. The prices vary wildly for this but you can start by asking if some of your favorite artists offer any mentorship. LucidPixul is an example of what you’re looking for.
- $500 – Throughout the year, use at least this much money to visit museums. And not just art museums. All museums.
- Free – Create accountability. One of the great advantages to attending a school is the camaraderie. So use the internet to create your own. Go join a Discord server where you can give and receive critique on the work you’re developing. There are many different ones out there that can suit whatever flavor you prefer. Some of your favorite artists might run their own discords and that can be a great way to find link-minded, motivated peers.
- The rest – Materials. Buy yourself some good art materials to create with. Whether digital or traditional. Don’t skimp.
- If you’re working digitally, I’d suggest an iPad Pro or an M1 Macbook (with a little Wacom Intuos to go with it). I started out using Photoshop but I use Clip Studio Paint more and more these days. And I like having one less subscription in my life. I’ve heard good things about Krita and it’s free, which is always a perk. I use Procreate on the iPad when I work but Clip Studio Paint is also on there (and I’ll probably switch over soon).
There. For less than a quarter of the tuition for RISD you’ve got yourself a killer education. You’ve received more quality, focused education than I think you’ll find at any art school.
There has never been a better time to be an artist. I’m inspired by the sheer quantity and quality of internet resources available to artists.
But I encourage all aspiring artists to think long and hard about their options. Student loans are unforgivable through bankruptcy and can wreck your financial future. Establishing a career while under the unceasing brutality of student loans makes an already difficult task nearly impossible.
Find another path. Art is a wonderful, beautiful, fulfilling pursuit. Don’t ruin it with a mountain of debt.
Disclaimer: I do not mean any offense to any of the educators at art schools. I have numerous professors who I consider close friends. This is neither an attack on you, nor your teaching abilities, nor the value that you provide for your students. I’m talking about the schools, not the artists teaching at them.