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Should I Go To Art School

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Art school is expensive, and takes several years out of your working life. Art is a competitive and challenging career. So, before you even start deciding which institution you wish to attend, you need to consider whether art school and an art career is the right choice for you.

Take A Realistic Look At Yourself

Some people are able to approach creativity in a businesslike fashion, getting the job done; for others, it's laying open their hearts on canvas, which makes the artist immensely vulnerable. The competitive college atmosphere with critical professors and the pressure of assessment can be hard to cope with. However, these pressures are not all that different from the pressures of professional life and exhibiting, so they provide a good 'testing ground, and if you work at it, and seek support when you need it, you can learn to deal with it. Think about your personality and how you feel about people criticizing your work, working to deadlines, and producing art for assignments that might not be to your taste.

Talk To The Experts

When deciding whether to go to art school, you need to think about what it means for your future. Of course, knowing what you really want, and whether you have the potential to achieve it, isn't easy. If it was a simple matter to understand ourselves there wouldn't be such an industry in psychology and self help! Consulting a careers adviser or counsellor is an excellent idea. I strongly recommend that you talk to a professional before you commit. They will know the job market and educational opportunities in your area, and help you with personality and aptitude tests. They will help you make an informed choice. You might decide not to take their advice, but you will at least be making your decision with eyes wide open.

Often artists go to art school knowing what the don't want - that 'nine to five drudge' - but with no clear idea of what they are getting themselves into. You need to find out what an artist's life is really like. It's useful to talk to artists who are making a living - and some who aren't. Ask them about the pressures they face and how they cope. Look at people who make the kind of art you hope to make.

Do Some Research

If you can't find artists to talk to - and even if you can - spend some time researching online and in the library. Ask the librarian to help you find biographies of artists, but beware of fictionalized accounts and movies, which tend to be heavily romanticised! Beware of only seeing what you want to see: don't just gloss over or avoid negative stories. While these might not turn you off choosing an art career, you need to be aware of the pitfalls so you can take steps to avoid them.

Some Art Magazines include artist profiles. Often studio shots and candid photos will give you an indication of their working environment. You can also find audio interviews in podcasts and radio shows, such as these Interviews with Painters on the BBC. There are also many online resources ArtInterview.com. The excellent Character Design blog has many interviews with character artists. Sometimes interviews are mainly about the work itself, but many will offer insight into the artist's lives.

Get Skilled

If you just want time and space to be creative, college is an expensive place to do it. If you're going to be spending several years and a lot of money on tuition, you want to leave with marketable skills. The ephemeral notions of art theory that are the focus of some art schools won't be very helpful with the type of competencies that employers are looking for – whatever their claims about creative potential. If you are financially secure, happy with the risk of limited income, or assured of your potential as a marketable artist, this may or may not be important to you. If your mode of creativity is more expressive or conceptual, you'll want to consider alternative ways of supplementing your income. Make sure that when life throws you a curve-ball, or you decide that you don't want make art for a living, you have a real alternative.

There are two ways of making sure that you leave university or art school with knowledge and skills that can earn you an income. One is to choose skills-based art courses. Classically trained artists can usually make a decent living working in portraiture and illustration. While this isn't always secure in a tough economy, realist academy training can sometimes be a good choice if you want earn income with a brush in your hand. Commercial art and design courses are another good option, with their focus on meeting industry requirements.

The other way is to supplement your art studies with some sort of work experience or trade training. Minimum-wage unskilled jobs are exhausting, often unreliable, and use up a lot of time. But if you've done some classes that give you real skills you have more choices. You might work part-time or seasonally to supplement your income, or get a better nine-to-five job (you know, that thing you're trying to avoid!) and come home each day with enough time and energy to do great work on your portfolio. Consider options such as business skills, manual trades, and teaching.

Alternatives to Art School

I loved my time at art school, and for many people, it's worth every penny and every hour. You meet creative people who share your passion for art, learn the skills to help you express your ideas, and are challenged to develop a sound work ethic. You build a portfolio and explore the history and ideas that are important to art practice. But it's not for everyone. Fortunately, formal, full time study at a tertiary institution is not your only option. You can still work on your creative life while doing something else to earn an income, and this can be a very good approach if you have existing commitments or children, or if you simply prefer a guaranteed income and don't want to pay college fees. Make a plan to guide your art career. Keep drawing, studying anatomy and working on your creative skills. Plenty of fine artists have never set foot in an art school. Use online resources, use your library, and work at educating yourself. Take summer classes or evening classes. Do painting workshops with artists or ateliers.

Remember, there isn't only one path to follow. The 'road less travelled' is sometimes more well-worn than we imagine, and perhaps, if you look around, there are other ways to go.

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