On Leaving Art School
Lady in the Art Store: "Are you a student?"
Art Store Lady: "Just enjoying yourself then?"
Me: “Exactly. I did study but I hated it."
Art Store Lady: “I've seen that many times.... the people who were just enjoying themselves in the beginning end up having the enjoyment sucked out of it.
Some recover, some don’t."
Today I want to speak to the question I asked myself a couple of years ago. Should I go to art school?
I spent copious amounts of hours googling and finding blogs just like this one outlining the pros and cons of undertaking a formal artistic training.
I’m not going to tell you whether to go or not to go but I CAN relay my experience.
At the outset I want to make VERY clear that I hold no malice towards the school that I went to, nor its teachers. This blog is about ME and not them. The people who work there are HUMAN BEINGS who have poured their lives and values into that school for years and years. I fully respect them and their paths, however it isn’t the path for me and I absolutely must respect that first and foremost.
There are many ways to go about educating yourself in the arts and thus I fully acknowledge that going to art school is the best path for some people. Some people love it and thrive within that sphere. Some hate it. I was in the second party.
So without further ado, my experience of art school:
I found it akin to the conditioning we all receive as young children. In order to survive we learn that we must act a certain way.
For me, this was mirrored at art school. I could feel myself being squished and moulded into a very confined set of rules about what art is, how you do it, and what subject matter to focus on. There is a kind of suppression that can happen in order to survive. Conforming to the flavour of our "art parents.”, if you will.
Or it can go totally the other way and make you a defiant little firey bitch which is exactly what it did to me, and luckily so or I wouldn't be writing this blog. Like everything that I have done in my life, I'm glad I did it. I HAD TO experience it and see for myself and make my own decision, even though I had more than one artist friends telling me "don't go to art school! They'll crush your spirit”. They very well could have if my spirit wasn't full of fire and resilience.
Prepare to have your self worth stamped all over. The teachers will tell you its to prepare you for the market but I have a feeling that someone who’s interested in one very narrow corner of the art world is highly unlikely to support/attend exhibitions of the opposite corner. The people who are going to support your work and come to your shows are YOUR tribe and YOUR niche, not people who aren’t interested in what you have to say. You know where you can find your tribe? The internet!
In the age of the internet we have the world at our fingertips. Almost every single little niche is catered for, discoverable, and thriving. Instead of having to follow the trends of your immediate real-life circle, (or your teachers) you can find your niche online and carve yourself into it. The most amazing part of this is that your niche exists worldwide, and you can connect to them at the click of a button. If not, create it!
If your teachers feel disempowered, they are highly likely to pass that disempowerment on to you.
I had one teacher who told me that they first thought about what their buyers might like to see and then they painted that. FUCK. Once again, the internet proves to us that our niche is out there. If there is something you are called to create, who fucking cares what other people think, create it, birth it, get it out and move on. Maybe someone will love it. Maybe no one will love it and it will stay under your stairs for ever and ever. Who cares? You did what you were called to do.
Getting in debt. You REALLY want to be an artist in debt? I had that realisation last year and am currently digging myself out of debt so I can allow my creativity to run free rather than falling into the starving artist archetype - which is totally unglamorous and fucking sucks by the way, I’ve been there!
So I’ve spent the last few paragraphs beating on art school. There are also a number of reasons why art school can be a positive experience. Including but not limited to
Having access to a wide range of materials and people who know how to use them. I learned how to do things that I didn’t even know existed. Encaustic Painting with hot pigmented beeswax, print-ready magazine design with indesign, and using multi coloured studio lights in photography, among many other things. None of these techniques would have come into my field if I didn’t go to art school. I wouldn’t have had easy access to these learnings if I didn’t show up to school that day. Sure, I could have learned on youtube BUT first I would have had to know they existed.
There is also something to be said about having access to a photography studio, a whole toolshed, sculpture studio, computers loaded with creative programs and people who know a lot about specific mediums and get paid to answer your questions.
Going our own way we can get very tunnel visioned - I’m glad to have gotten a broad introduction to many different medias. My tunnel has widened and so have my ideas.
I love the perspective of Jean-Francois Painchaud aka SuperPhazed "I studied game development for a year, then animation for another year and then conceptual art for one more year. I never finished any of those degrees – I just wanted to learn as much as possible, which usually happens in the first year or so.“
Discipline - Having dedicated classes and assignments due every few weeks means that you have to do the work. You have to show up X number of days a week and get it done. I can be a master procrastinator, particularly when it comes to showing up to work that I know is going to challenge me. Case in point, my next painting… wonder why I’m writing two lengthy articles at once instead ;)
Networking - All of a sudden you’re in a room with a bunch of would-be artists, of whom many will become fully fledged artists, and thus your colleagues. This is great news for the hermits among us. In saying that, networking can absolutely happen without an art school network. Involving yourself in your chosen movement, seeking out artists, going to shows, workshops etc etc are all sure-fire ways to build yourself a network.
Ultimately your work will speak for itself. If you build yourself an engaged Instagram following, a successful website, online shop etc etc etc, whatever it is that you want to build - then there is the success right there, without having to suck up to someone you don’t like to get there. In my eyes that’s ultimate self empowerment. The internet is one of the most powerful tools we have. We literally have the whole world at our fingertips, if we can figure out how to reach them.
The school I attended was a college offering a diploma rather than a university offering a degree. There was a common assumption among the teachers that we couldn’t get into university and were using the school as a stepping stone to get there. Thus, a lot of the teaching was focused on building a portfolio to get into uni. My reason for choosing this school was simply that the dates were convenient for me, and my intention in going there was to LEARN. And learn I did - the good and the bad! Art school uncovered sides of me that were previously invisible. Case in point my Defiant Little Bitch Archetype.
So, there is much to be said about making empowered choices on WHICH school we attend. Doing research about potential schools rather than jumping in to convenience would have altered my course significantly. In saying that I wouldn’t change it.
If you are interested in a particular movement, consider going to a school that caters to your niche. No one at my very-contemporary-art-school knew anything about Visionary Art and dismissed the movement and its masters entirely. The Vienna Academy of Visionary Art perhaps would have been more tailored to my needs at the time. I have since had the opportunity to learn from two of its teachers at the wonderful Art in Paradise retreats in Byron Bay (Amanda Sage), and private classes in Melbourne (Daniel Mirante).
Daniel is running a retreat in Byron in a few weeks for anyone interested!
Is art school relevant any more?
Check out my blog - How to go to Art School Without Going to Art School
I’m gonna leave you with this short video by Gary Vee, who I found via Dane Tomas, (who’s work I cannot recommend enough.) He is specifically speaking to Marketing and Communications BUT it feels decidedly relevant to art school as well.