Think Art School’s Easy? Think Again

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Think Art School’s Easy? Think Again

What do you do when you’re loaded with creativity, and you aspire to become…um, well, you’re not really sure?  That’s easy. You go off to art school, zip through the cushy classes, then sit back and wait for the offers to come rolling in from employers competing for your talent.

Except that’s not how it works.

In reality you have to impress an art school with your talent. You zero in on a career path. And you push yourself hard to keep up with your classmates as you pick up the skills and build up the portfolio you’ll need to get started. Along the way, you might intern at a firm in your field. Then you put yourself on the market, get your foot in the door, and start your professional career.

There’s nothing easy about art school. Which makes perfect sense, if you look at it from the point of view of an art school. They exist partly to foster your talents and abilities, develop your creativity, and give you the skills to compete. But they’re here mostly to breed well-trained thinkers ready to contribute to an organization, a profession, the economy, and the culture.   

Before you set foot in an art school classroom, you ought to make good and sure you’re serious about wanting to turn your love of ideas into your full-time job.  Because earning your degree is going to require things like commitment, discipline and hard work, that you may not have previously associated with creativity or art.

In an art school classroom, you won’t be dabbling in a hobby. You’ll be totally immersed in what you should consider, for all intents and purposes, a job. Soon you’ll stop thinking of yourself as a student, and start thinking of yourself as a working artist and your classmates as your peers and co-workers. It’ll be practice over theory, and lots more doing than talking.

The classroom experience is geared toward preparing you for the real world with three basic sets of skills, consisting of:

  1. Technical skills: these will vary depending on your area of interest.
  2. Business skills: the ability to deal with short deadlines, quick turnarounds, and demanding clients; to focus your creative energy on more than one task at a time; to think on your feet, manage your workload, and sell your work.
  3. Personal skills: sharing your ideas with other talented, motivated people to make them better, more original, more compelling; accepting both criticism and praise and using them to enhance your product; working in teams; dealing with a range of personalities and egos; in short, collaborating.

Choose the right art school, and you’ll be able to learn from instructors who work in the same fields where they teach, so they can paint an accurate picture of the industry you’re looking to enter.  They can turn the classroom into a virtual workplace where you learn by doing, guided by a mentor who’ll focus the experiences on helping you pick up the skills you’ll need to get started. You’ll also benefit from guest speakers who add some valuable, real-world insights of their own.

Look for an art school that offers this kind of creative experience, and you’ll be well on your way to getting the foundation you need to join the real world of the creative professional. As you do your search, keep in mind that this is your time, your money, and your future. Invest the first two wisely and you have a better chance of getting a good return on the third. Wherever you decide to go, remember that the experience is, to a large extent, what you make of it.

And as you approach the end of your art school experience, keep in mind that the beginning of your professional career isn’t the end of your education. Because to be an artist is to constantly learn and evolve. Every job you have, every project you work on, and every person you interact with throughout your career can change your perspective, add to your body of knowledge, and help shape the artist you’re still becoming.