To School or Not to School...

School of Art 

Now and then, I am asked by aspiring young artists if I have any recommendations for an art school to learn to paint landscape or abstract art. The answer to that question is always quite difficult… 

…If a person is gifted creatively, a fine arts major could be extremely beneficial, or it could destroy their potential. It depends on who they are, how they’re wired, and what they’re looking for. One would think that the goal of a fine arts degree would be to learn all the necessary tools for making a living as an artist, right? This would seem like a realistic expectation given the tens of thousands of dollars mommy and daddy are spending for the degree. I mean really, why spend all that time and effort and money just to graduate and flip burgers at McDonalds? (or rather, flip burgers while paying interest on a $60,000 student loan). But this happens all the time, and it’s rarely for a lack of talent.

So then, you’re an aspiring professional artist? Want advice on picking a good school? Here are my suggestions:

First of all...

First, get online and take a look at artwork of the actual art students. That will tell you a lot. You might think the artwork looks really cool, but the question you need to ask yourself is: does this artwork look like anything anyone would actually purchase and put in there home? I know… I know… even asking that question will insult some aspiring artists, but more than likely I’m saving them from a lifetime of burger flipping. Now, if all you want to do is visually express yourself and you don’t give a wit about making a living actually doing art, then none of this applies to you. The people I’m writing to are those who want to be trained to make a living by learning a skill. For that to happen, you need to learn to make work that others value. Makes sense, right? It’s not rocket science.

Then...

Once you find a school that looks promising, call that school and schedule a tour. A lot of schools will even allow you to sit in on a class, which can be extraordinarily helpful. You’ll be able to tell right away whether the instructors are training students in a new skill or just touting “unconfined expression”. If they are doing the latter, their whole venture is self-refuting—they are building their program on the false premise that art isn't a skill, but if that were truly the case, you wouldn’t need to go to school for it in the first place.