What I Didn’t Learn In Art School
I made a post on Facebook recently about the fact that I’m in the process of writing a book. I am writing a book that addresses many of the issues I talk to artists about on a daily basis – those things that art school didn’t teach me (and you, quite often). Now, a few people thought my comment on Facebook was simply bashing on art schools, and that would be an unfortunate way to take my statement. The truth is, I learned a great deal in art school.
I learned about art history.
I learned about the major, and a number of minor, art movements
I learned about many of the schools of art
I learned about ways to look at art, discuss art, evaluate art, and debate art
I learned about color theory, design & composition
I learned about painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics (pottery), print making, graphic design, photography, glass blowing, and casting
I learned what it was like to survive a brutal art critique, and I learned how to glean every bit of information out of it as well
I learned how not to take comments about my art as personal attacks on me
I learned that instructors are people too, they make mistakes, and are sometimes wrong as well
I learned that getting told “you’ll never make it as an artist” can either defeat you or inspire you…and which is totally up to you
I learned about running a gallery, setting up installations, and hosting an opening
I learned about school politics
I learned how to game the system for a better grade
I learned how to make a buck stretch….a lot.
I learned how to stay up for days to cram, finish projects, for finals.
On top of that, there were a thousand little things that I learned that my instructors never knew about, or had as part of the syllabus.
I learned that there was a lot of cool mediums that I had never played in before.
I learned that there were a lot of cool things you could do with your art
I learned that an education was only as good as the time, and energy YOU put into it
I learned that getting into the studios of the other artists was just as important, and maybe even more important, than working in your own.
I learned that helping someone with there project could be some of the most enriching opportunities in art school (thanks for everything you taught me Thomas!)
I learned that networking wasn’t hard. It just meant creating the opportunity to have conversations with complete strangers…and learning about them, for a change.
I learned that success wasn’t about a grade. It was about the opportunity for learning you created in each and every project.
I learned that it really did mean something when you practiced your craft, everyday, with intensity.
So, as you can see. I learned a lot in art school. In fact, in many ways, I learned a lot that had absolutely nothing to do with the act of making art. I would never give up my experience in art school. In fact, I wish I had created the opportunity to learn and grow even more. If I knew half the stuff I do know – I’d approach art school with a whole new perspective. Maybe when I retire, I’ll get the chance to do it again.
Now, as much positive stuff as there was about art school. There were some things that I wish I had learned.
I wish I had learned about running a freelance business – dealing with taxes, health care, studio management, etc.
I wish I had learned about effective self promotion
I wish I had learned how to research the market, create a strategy for building a portfolio, and a plan for breaking into the market.
I wish I had learned how to read a contract
I wish I had learned how to negotiate rights
I wish I had learned the importance of branding myself, and the value of promoting that brand
I wish I had learned how to grow relationships with clients. Hell, I wish I had learned any thing about dealing with clients!
I wish I had learned how to write a grant proposal
I wish I had learned how to self-publish, work with a print vendor or distribution channels
and a million other things.
Do I think art schools are failing their students? I’m not sure how to answer that. If a school is telling you they are going to teach you everything you need to walk out and get a job, then I think I would look over their curriculum with a fine-tooth comb and see if they really offer all this stuff. I know of a few schools that try, and I know of a ton that are only interested in teaching you the art aspects of the business, and to be honest, I know of some schools that are only interested in your student fees. All schools are not created equally. It is up to you to do the research and find out what they are going to offer, and make sure that you take advantage of everything that they do offer.
But, what if you were like me. Just out of school. A decent education under your belt, and struggling to find work – no matter whether you were a fine artist, a freelance artist, or looking for a gig in a studio. Many of us found ourselves in the same spot…unprepared for the real world. What then?
I was one of the lucky ones, or maybe I created my own luck, and made connections with folks that were willing to take me under their wings and teach me tons of stuff that I hadn’t learned in school. For me, folks like John Breland (the photographer that started my creative journey) and Bruce Odell (the photographer and potter that helped me start to understand the business side of the art world), Ty Brunson (that taught me art could be fun), Eric Lindsey (that taught me about ethics and dreams), and so many other artists that have come into my life and made an amazing difference in my life, and unknowingly, in my career.
So I have tried to do what John taught me – give it back. It started with the formation of ArtOrder, the next step is in the book, but I don’t intend for that to be the end of the journey. I’ve got lots more ideas and plans for giving back what I’ve been taught, and helping all those poor souls, like me, that ended up looking at their student loan bills with horror, and wondering if they were every going to figure out how to make a living in art.
Coming up next: Talking about the artist as a brand.