This is a video that I’ve wanted to make for a very long time. I’ve been wanting to make it since before I was making videos. The reason being is that I believe that if you go through a bad experience, if you communicate it in a meaningful way, you can help someone else with it. There is no experience that is purely negative, there are always upsides. With this lengthy video I hope to open your eyes a bit about what to look for in a university or art school before you sign up and also about the alternative of being self-taught.
There is no possible way that I can cover absolutely every angle in a single video, so I’ll do a brief summary here of the main key points and also talk about a few things I didn’t get to mention.
Why University or Art School is not The Answer
This really depends on what question you ask in the first place. If you have no questions then any answer will do. This was my position when I started. I had to move country to attend university, I had no real way to investigate the instructors or the programme of study beforehand, I just had to gamble on it, jump in and hope for the best. Let me say right now, that this is a very bad idea. It’s the equivalent to gambling away thousands of pounds, dollars or whatever it is you spend and also simultaneously signing up for years of debt, menial jobs and forsaking vacation, leisure and a lot of other things that you may want in the future… Sound like a good idea? Much better to spend the time and money needed to go to the actual place, interview your tutors, find students you could talk to, make sure they understand what they’re doing and are not just mindlessly doing things that might seem impressive, but on closer inspection turn out to be lucky breaks or just throwing sand in others’ eyes by creating work in ways that doesn’t actually require skill and that’s very easy to discover as soon as they’re required to do some real work. Anyone could do a good piece here and there, consistency is key – how much of what they’re doing is controlled and conscious, that’s the mark of mastery.
If you’re expecting to go in with no plan, no clearly defined intention and no real idea what to do and come out a solid professional at anything – you’re simply asking for too much. This is not how the world works. Even the best tutors can only do so much, there are things required of you before you begin. If you’re unclear about these, don’t even start at all, spend some time thinking and clarifying things to yourself, in the long run this will save you money, time and potentially years of frustration, health issues caused by stress and the extended hours it takes to make corrections in your life.
Why University or Art School is The Answer
In defence of universities and art schools now – if you find yourself an awesome place, with tutors who have relevant experience, even if they’re not working in the industry at the moment, but they have the practical knowledge to do so, or have done so in the past, know what is required of a person to be a good professional and communicate these things to you, encourage you and make you see potential in yourself… and you will do the work required – then by all means, take out all the loans you’ll need, sign whatever you have to and all the things that might be cited against art schools – like costing too much or getting you in debt – these things will be paid for once you’re done. The whole idea behind university or art school is to invest, upfront, in a skill that will later allow you to earn much more, it’s supposed to multiply your earning ability. Say that you can earn 10K a year before your degree, art school will get you 100K in debt, but once you’re done, within a year you’ll be earning 70K. That means that in 1 year, you’ll be making the equivalent of 7 years. In a few years you’ll be done paying off your degree, your salary will be going up – yay for everything.
It makes sense to do that, if that’s what you’ll get out of it. Education should be paid for… good education that is. It supports the people that have earned the knowledge, it allows them the time to research and learn more and bring more to the table so students can keep getting increased value out of their teachers. It can’t all be free, that’s not the point I’m making and it can’t all be amazing and ground-breaking, that’s not it either. There will always be times when things are boring and you just need to get them done, but you need to be absolutely certain that what you’re doing is something that is of recognizable value to other people in society once you’ve graduated. If your teachers can demonstrate value, have a track record of producing professional practitioners, know their craft and can teach it – you are in good hands. Art School or university is the answer then.
Why an Art Degree is Often Useless
No one pays to see your art degree… ever. Not once in history. Maybe your grandmother might pay you a dollar if you teased her for a few months, but that’s it. No employer will hire you simply because you have a piece of paper. That proves nothing. Your work, your portfolio, your art, your work ethic, those are things valued by other employers. The fact that you wrote an incredible essay about the usage of the color blue in your abstract, modern depiction of a rectangle is of no interest to anyone producing professional, commercial artwork. If at some point, after years of earning the respect of others, your opinion gains social proof and people begin to listen to you – maybe it might turn out you were right all along, you were sitting on something special all this time… But the process of proving that to the world, to gain the right to have an opinion is a pretty tough challenge. It might take years to do that. What instantly communicates value though is the quality of your work and your character. Those are your 2 main assets. Proficiency at your craft and producing results, those are prerequisites to being able to have opinions about things, those are your real degrees. I say this because I graduated from university with nothing but an opinion and the vague notion that somehow this whole experience was for nothing and it wasn’t really useful. Let me also say this – you might have amazing work and no degree – you will still get work, no intelligent employer will pass on you if you have proven skills to take someone on who has no idea what they’re doing, but have paid thousands to acquire a magic piece of paper. The only employer that would do that is someone who doesn’t understand how the world works and in that case – you shouldn’t want to work for them in the first place.
Being a Self-Taught Artist
Being self-taught is also not a magic answer. In the absence of a good teacher or mentor though it’s the only viable option. Compared to a bad teacher or mentor – it’s invaluable. I’ve yet to find a real-life mentor or a teacher, I live in a small town in the UK now, there are few people around interested in the same things I am… but that means nothing. Being self-taught puts the world at your fingertips. It means you no longer expect a result to come from something just because you’ve paid for it and should be entitled to it. Being self-taught means you have the privilege of learning from the best professionals in the world, the down-side is that their message is not customized to you, at all. You might and will acquire bad habits, you’ll waste weeks, months or even years going down blind alleys and stumbling around. You’ll have to face the possibility that you might not find the right way to get where you want to go. You will watch great content and completely misinterpret it and learn the wrong lessons from it, over and over again.
The upsides? The ability to fire your teacher, to turn off any dvd, tutorial or close any book that doesn’t suit your needs or is simply useless. Your path is custom made, it all depends on you. Spend as much or as little time you want practicing, but you also have to face the consequences of that and know that you are 100% responsible for every single good or bad effect you produce. There’s no one to blame, no parent or teacher to point the finger at and say ” You should have taught me this!”. Self-taught also does not mean to reinvent the wheel, you’re not discovering everything you’re learning, you’re just navigating the learning experience your own way. It might produce great insight, it might also backfire on you, those are risks much closer to anything you’ll get to face in life. It puts you in a real-life situation with results being the only thing that matters, not the artificial “Do as I say, because I say it” mentality of the classroom. Self-taught also does not mean you have no teachers, everyone is your teacher and you should seek out as many people as you possibly can to learn from… but this really needs its own blog post.
I can go on forever, but I’d like to hear your experience and your opinions now. Have you been to art school or university? What was your time there like? What situation are you in now, did it help or hinder you? Are you self-taught and if so – how do you find it compared to any school you have been to? What are your biggest problems in navigating your learning by yourself?
As always – thank you so much for reading and watching and for your incredible feedback.