Re: Don’t go to Art School

Reposting from my Facebook, in response to Noah’s article Don’t Go To Art School.


Woke up this morning to find this article making its rounds through my news feed, and all I can say is…. amen. Don’t go to art school, or if you do, know exactly what it is you’re going to pay (and possibly get in debt) for. I’ve been lucky enough to have been through two separate art educations. One was in a four year, AICAD-approved, accredited and not-for-profit college — sounds like it would tick the right boxes, but most of my learning there was done on my own time, with my own effort, using basically what Noah outlined at the bottom of the article. I still don’t really understand why I paid that much to self-learn.

That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything — I certainly learned a few tips and tricks as far as using individual software like Illustrator and Indesign and a couple things about prepress. I’m quite certain that such school is a viable, even necessary option for architecture and industrial design and things like that. But particularly for illustration, art school is, as the article says, failing us.

I received my second art education at one of the atelier schools listed, Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art (LAAFA). It was a three year program where my teachers were not just there to ‘facilitate learning’, they actually taught me concrete skills I could use directly. I didn’t pay money to have a teacher go “read this book” or “look this up” — my wonderful teachers gave me that information, in front of me, where I could work beside them and where my teachers actually painted and drew with me in class! After four years of not expecting answers from my classes, I finally got to actually learn things in school. Art was no longer hit or miss. The fundamentals were de-mystified and broken down so I never needed to guess whether my next painting would ‘turn out’ right — I was given tools and knowledge to MAKE it right. Instead of playing illustration lottery I had the resources to make things happen on my own terms.

There is a common myth that art is inborn, a result of talent at worst, or something insanely mystical and made of fairy dust at best. It’s not. Art is mathematical, as much a science as it is taste. There are rules, principles, a literal language that needs to be learned like the ABC. Trying to make an illustration without undergoing this demystifying process was like trying to write a novel without knowing what pronouns were. If you learn the rules, it is very possible to make a picture say what you want, clearly and concisely and elegantly.

Art colleges are failing us because they operate on two false assumptions:

1. That art is a result of ‘talent’ and all that needs to be done is to shove students into a warehouse full of machines to ‘enable’ that talent. How many fine art departments have we encountered with fantastic facilities but very little direction? How many print labs and computer labs do colleges need to build before realizing that it makes little difference? Learning tools is a short-lived victory at best, particularly for illustrators. Learning how to be visually literate is a long-term solution that will pay dividends for years.

2. That students and teachers are all the same; shove them all into a standard curriculum and process them in batches. In my 4 year AICAD art college I was used to jostling for elbow room with up to 30 students in one painting class. Needless to say I spent 16 weeks painting partially glimpsed bits of sterile, boring vases for no reason that I can still remember. I kind of know what battery chickens must feel like going through art school. Students can’t be ‘processed’ through a curriculum or class — everyone is different, every teacher is different and communicates differently. By removing the human element of learning and teaching in art colleges, we lose one of the best and most direct ways for a student to learn and a teacher to teach. Art itself celebrates the diversity and democracy of human expression. But it was always “You need to take X or Y class to graduate” in my first college, never about -who- I was actually supposed to be learning from. If the apprenticeship system worked for hundreds of years for artists, why did art colleges completely strip that away? Could it be because most overpriced art schools try and hide the fact that some of their teachers don’t actually have… directly relevant skills and therefore need to masquerade and throw class titles and curriculums about?

Again, I certainly believe there is a time and occasion for art colleges. In many design fields it is still a solid way to gain a good education, and in many larger colleges the networking can be immensely priceless. There are also often many amazing teachers hidden in the torrent of art schools out there. But there is little doubt that with so many resources out there nowadays, one definitely can become visually literate for the tiniest fraction of the cost of fancy art colleges.

I would never have attended my four year art college if I had known this beforehand. I regret spending that money still. I don’t, however, regret anything I spent becoming visually literate (at LAAFA).


On an unrelated note, I am currently working out a few kinks in my visa application — I’ll be posting an actual proper update soon!

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One thought on “Re: Don’t go to Art School

  1. Darn well written article! (though I love to see your latest art, but there’s none :D)
    Hopefully your visa goes well! ;)

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