The pros and cons of attending art school. How to avoid the cost and turmoil.

While I appreciate the time I had at art school, it was riddled with problems. #1 was the short-sighted game of the school. I’ve taken online coaching programs that have better ongoing support than art school and they’ve cost me far less. In the end, these programs and coaches know that their customer’s results are the most important. They know they need to offer support to their students in a way that will help their long term success. Those students will then sing their praises and refer them to others. 

A photo of an original oil painting on panel of a still life painting of pink garden roses.

My experience in art school was the total opposite. Teachers seemed more concerned about stroking their own ego than considering the long term success of their students. We had only one career development class out of four years of classes! And the gist of it was about submitting to galleries or applying for grants. Beyond that, the main advice was to go get your MFA and be a tenured art professor like them. Makes sense. I mean that’s all they knew. They didn’t partner up with anyone to help us art students understand how to survive in the real world beyond that.  

As soon as I graduated the only contact I had with the school alumni program was to donate work for their fundraising programs to keep the school open. Instead of them wanting to offer support after graduation to their struggling alumni they were asking for even more money from them. I already gave them $100,000 to attend their school. I was working for beans afterward and they wanted me to donate? I couldn’t help but feel resentful. Especially after the ridicule and threats, I endured in my last year of art school by these ego-stroking teachers. 

Someone being an art teacher doesn’t make them good at teaching. It doesn’t imbue them with all wisdom on how to make it as an artist after graduation beyond taking a teaching job at a college. They have zippo business skills in my experience. 

My school was a cesspool of ego-stroking teachers whose artistic dreams have died in a paycheck. They took out their tired worn-out disdain onto the young students. Luckily for me, I was in my early thirties and saw the resentment and lazy teaching for what it was. Unlucky for many of my younger classmates they were still chasing the star pupil award. They succumbed to every praise and criticism that came their way by these jaded ego-driven teachers. Needless to say that most of my classmates didn’t make it as artists. 

The school was only concerned about its own survival more than anything else. After graduation, they would ask for even more money from the alumni by way of donations. Which would be fine if they had any concern for their alumni’s success after graduation.

So if you do go to art school you need to know that it won’t be the answer to all future success. You’ll need to study the business side as well. I’ve fought and clawed my way into survival as a full-time artist. I’ve invested time and money learning the business of art as well. In my thirteen years as an artist, I’ve learned from the best and the worst. I’ve learned how NOT to be with my students because of these negative experiences. I’m in no way a victim here. I got my degree. I paid my dues. I got my four years 40 hour+ a week it took to build a skill set because of art school. I paid back 50k of my student loan debt last year. 

Do I recommend others go to art school? I’m neutral on that point. There are many ways you can become an artist. Art school is one of them. What I will say though is that if you do go to art school take my heeding and know that there is life beyond that art school bubble. You will have to find a way to work on your craft and a way to make money. The two can coincide. So start early and get a business education as well (especially if you want to pay off those student loans). It’s as important as building your skillset. 

I recommend you try to get as many scholarships as possible or choose a school that’s much lower in cost. You can always supplement your education with more affordable online courses and workshops. It’s not worth $25,000 a year. In my experience, there isn’t an art college that is that outstanding to invest that amount of money. The average income of a self-employed artist is $25 an hour, or $54,000 a year! 

I know y’all are used to super positive Kelli. Believe me, it gives me no pleasure in giving this report of art schools. I’d rather have all nice things to say about it. But this was my experience and for better or for worse it’s made me who I am as an artist. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. But I want to make sure others like myself go in knowing what to expect. I was naive thinking an art degree would be the fix-all only to find that half of my struggle lay beyond the degree.

P.S. Don’t miss my Valentine’s Day Giveaway! Join my Collector’s Circle for a chance to win, click here. My special Valentine’s Day Sale is coming up this weekend!

Love in Light, Kelli

4 thoughts on “The pros and cons of attending art school. How to avoid the cost and turmoil.

  1. Thank you for sharing your insight and experience Kelli. I appreciate your honesty and am thankful you recognized the teacher you didn’t wanted to be and the teacher you have become.

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