Friday Memoirs – Art School Confidential

I think I’ve found one of the biggest problems with a young artist wanting to go to school and become a fine artist.

First off, let me preface this by saying that I don’t think there are many young fine art students that would benefit from going to a college or university to further their aspirations.  If your style of art is throwing paint at a board or piling up some old shoes in the middle of the floor and calling this art, then you don’t need college for that.  I guess the exception would be the connections you might make in the modern art world.

If your aim is to become the next Rembrandt or Monet, then the vast majority of college level art departments are not where you want to spend the next four years of your life.  You would be better off looking into one of the smaller art schools around the country that specialize in the kind of art you want to engage in.  The atelier system is alive and well in this country and is growing each and every year, and there are some world class studios that can hold their own against the best European schools.

Anyway, I didn’t think to write this article to talk about the advantages or disadvantages of going to art school here in the US.  I was looking through a website of a major, university level art school and decided to look at their fees and see how much it would cost to get a BFA.  Talk about sticker shock.  This is one more good reason to NOT go to a university or college for an art education.

This university of fine art would cost you $52,776 per year to get your BFA and that’s if the fees don’t increase at all while you’re there.  Lots of luck with that.  This amount included your tuition, your books, your room and board, your studio space, transportation and a couple of other minor items.

Add all that up for four years and you come out with $211,104.  And with increases each year I’m sure you’ll be homing in on a quarter of a million dollars by the time you’re done.  That is for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  Are you kidding me?  I could buy a very nice house with four bedrooms, two and a half baths and a two car garage for that much money.

I mean, we’re not talking about turning out a brain surgeon or a heart specialist here.  We’re talking about teaching some kid how to draw and paint and from what I’ve heard from a lot of artists who’ve gone this route, they don’t do a very good job of that.

If you were able to get some grants and scholarships to cover half that you’d be doing good.  But, what about the other half?  Student loans?  Let’s say you get loans in the amount of $100,000.  To pay it back in the ten years that they ask you will pay over $1000 a month and will have paid over $23,000 in interest alone.  How many artists, fresh out of school, do you know that can afford $12,000+ a year in loan payments?

Granted, going to college isn’t cheap and I’m not one of those people that thinks a college education should be free to all.  But, those kinds of numbers are staggering when you consider that when you come out of the school, you probably won’t have learned what you really needed to to become a professional artist.

Finding an atelier is going to be a much better choice for you.  First, you find one that teaches the style you want to learn.  It does no good to go to an atelier to learn to paint like Rembrandt if they only teach students how to paint like Picasso.

Some of the top tier ateliers in this country are not cheap, but you probably won’t have a whole lot of debt when you’re finished because you won’t find any banks willing to provide you a student loan to go to them.  So, you’ll probably have to have the money up front or get a job while you’re there.  But, you’re lucky in that regard because you won’t be required to take a lot of useless classes to get your degree because, well, most ateliers don’t offer degrees.  What they offer is an art education and nothing else.  And when you’re finished you will know how to draw and you will know how to paint, providing you went there with the desire and intent to do those things.

So ends another long winded rant about something in the art world that set me off.  Stay out of debt, go to an art school that teaches the art you want to learn and draw and paint until your fingers bleed.  That’s all there is to it.  As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Oh and one last thing.  If you want to get a taste of the college art experience, find the John Malkovich movie Art School Confidential.  I know it’s a bit over the top, but I’ve been told by those who went the college and university route that there is an amazing amount of truth in that movie.  Poor Jerome.  The kid had talent and that school did everything it could to beat it out of him.

If you are a young artist, wanting to become a professional artist, this video will answer most of the questions you may have about where you should go to school to learn to make better art. This is Jeff Watts, the owner of The Watts Atelier. Yes, he is trying to get you to go to his school. However, I believe Jeff genuinely wants you to go to some school that is going to help you with your chosen path and if it is his school, great. If it is another school, he would be happy with that, too. Just so long as you get the level of education that you need to attain your goals. This is an hour and a half of some of the best discussion about art education you will find anywhere.

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About D Glenn Casey

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