I am asked so often if I feel we need to go to art school to become a professional artist. First, I should point out that I am self-taught, so I am proof that you don’t need to take art in college to be an artist. Really, though, the decision to go to college for art is going to be a very personal decision that will have many factors that you want to consider.
Not all art classes are created equally
I hear ALL the time from students that they learned far more from me (who has no formal training) in just a couple of months than they did the entire time they were in various colleges getting their degrees in fine art. So often students expect to be taught how to paint or draw in school. You may or may not get tips in this, but most of the professional artists I know either taught themselves or took lessons from an artist they admired. One thing I do think is hugely beneficial in many college art courses is their life drawing classes.
I’ve known of people who had instructors who were great at helping the artist to improve their art, but those appear to be few and far between. The actual school you choose will make a difference too. Just because a school has an art program, it does not mean it’s a good one.
What are your goals?
This is really something you need to ask yourself. If your goal is to teach in a public school or university, then yes, you’re going to need that degree. There are other jobs that will require this as well (like animation companies), but for this video I’m really focusing more on studio art (making paintings that you sell at galleries or online). One of the things that people don’t always tell you when you are thinking that you want to teach fine art in schools is that the positions available for art teachers are limited. There are SO many who want to get into teaching art at a school for that job security, but there are few spots available. Now I’m pretty big on the idea that you can do and be anything you want if you really work for it, but that fact is something you should be aware of. It may not be as easy as you hope.
Business and Marketing
In my opinion, the best classes you can take in school for studio art are business and marketing. This is where most artists fail. It doesn’t matter how awesome your art skills are if you don’t know how to market them. Some art courses teach this, but not enough do. Business and marketing classes don’t need to focus on art, you just need a general understanding of these skills so that you can apply them to selling your own product. Of course this is something else that you can teach yourself for free online through various blogs or from buying books.
If you are looking for the experience, go for it!
While in most cases I don’t think that colleges offer what studio artists are really hoping for, if you can afford it and have the spare time, then do it! I think there is always something to learn, even if it’s from your fellow classmates. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from going to school. I just want you to be aware that if studio art is your goal, then going crazy into debt to get a degree isn’t really necessary IF you have the self-discipline to learn how to do it on your own. That piece of paper that says you have a degree isn’t what will make or break you as a fine artist. I know SO many with degrees in fine art who work retail and do nothing with that very expensive piece of paper.
Well if not College art classes, then what should I do?
Again, you have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself. There is no one right path. I can tell you that the majority of artists who I know are working full time as an artist did not go to college for it. Most of them either taught themselves (like me), or found a teacher locally who they could take classes for. If you go that route, make sure that the teachers work is similar to the style you’re going for. Just any random teacher teaching at your local art store isn’t necessarily going to be able to teach you the skills you’re looking for. I’ve seen so many teaching who don’t have a clue how to paint, so make sure to check out their work. You also don’t need to stay with one teacher long term. Learn what you can from one, then take classes from another. The more you can learn the better!