Are Art Schools Really Worth The Money?

by in Articles on 1st Apr 2011 · Comments

I LOVED my art school! I would not be where I am without it. I still keep in touch with my teachers... well, the ones who are still alive.

When I applied to go there, I had to present a portfolio, have an interview, have a second interview and generally, for many of the classes I enrolled for, had to meet with the teacher and present my portfolio in yet another interview. Although I had transferred in from another school, in an unrelated field, many of my credits were not accepted and I had to take a foundation year of a well-rounded assortment of those little things creatives need; painting, life drawing, color theory, design 101, sculpture and print production. It seemed silly at the time but I now realize the foundation is what made me a better creative.

Are Art Schools Worth The Money?


There are Art schools throughout the world that still boast such stringent standards and it is usually so they can boast a 90% or better employment rate among alumni. A strong, working and happy alumni means more support for the school and scholarship donations from that alumnus.

Worth the money? If you learn from working professionals and those who nurture students and elevate them into the field, then the answer has to be yes! Although I left school to start working, I did go back to get my degree a decade later. Between that time, I took classes in computers and software. The learning process should always continue, even after graduation.

Why Bother With Art School?

If you have to ask, you have an eye for design that is truly a gift. If you ask, you might also be so full of yourself that you can’t see the kudos from friends and family means nothing outside hanging your work on grandma’s refrigerator.

Why Bother With Art School?

When we complain about “hacks” ruining the business, it is those who use the label “designer” as others use the expression, “clean undergarments.” The people who do $10 logos and still have the guts to show up at design events to converse with working designers. I won’t yell at them to go away, but have told many of them to shut up and stop ruining the industry. I guess it has the same effect.

Art school trains you in things that just don’t come naturally to all but a few. It’s like a child’s crayon drawing that you gaze upon in awe. You marvel at the balance and color…and freedom. It’s life that beats it out of us as we grow. Art school teaches you to let go and experience the wonder of the world through fresh eyes and a willing mind.

When I finally let go of my preconceived notions in art school, I was amazed at what I could create. I was ashamed at the portfolio I had presented a short time before to get into the very same school. There are those who won’t let go. It shows in their work… when they are able to produce any.

Which Schools Are The Best?

In America, there were two schools that always topped the list of where a student should attend; RISD (pronounced Riz-dee – Rhode Island School of Design) And SVA (pronounced S-V-A – School of Visual Arts). There were certainly other strong schools, but those two were first choice schools for most east coast art students. Every country has the same hard decisions for art students.

Which Schools Are The Best?

RISD is a wonderful school and offers some great teachers and curriculum. The location offers a campus with less stress than a school such as SVA, smack in the middle of New York City. SVA, at the time, had no dormitories and billed its campus as “the city.” That, I feel was one of its strengths. The teachers were sometimes late because they were working professionals, held up by their work commitments. Internships were for companies headquartered in the city, which is one of the reasons I left school for a job and didn’t return for over ten years…and kept quiet when I did so I wouldn’t be hounded for work by other students.

Many of us were jealous of RISD students for their green campus and quieter life. RISD students were jealous of SVA students for living in New York and the chance muggings and berating from prostitutes around the corner from the school. These are important factors an art student must examine. Location is as important as the teachers and the two usually feed each other.

Fast And Easy Diploma School

I laugh when I see ads for online art schools on my Facebook sidebar. Any online school may seem attractive to people now, but in ten years the pieces of paper will be as useless as those battery operated belts that are suppose to give you six-pack abs in two weeks. They will all end up in the same garbage dump.

Fast And Easy Diploma School

While living in Phoenix, I was asked to speak to senior art students at a two-year diploma factory/”art institute”, as well as be a juror on the senior projects. While I met one or two students who will do well, because they are the gifted people I mentioned before, most of the students had handed over $40,000 for a degree they will never be able to pay back. In fact, the government was shutting down student loans for these “shoot-them-through” colleges and “art institutes.” It seems too many students aren’t able to pay back their loans. How would you feel starting your working career with a $40,000 debt you couldn’t repay?

There are many of these “diploma factories” out there. Fancy brochures and clean campuses, housed in buildings with chef schools, film schools and paralegal schools look like Harvard…which is another so-so art school, truth be told, not to mention a higher debt for your student loan. Most students pick these schools for the presumed savings, being able to live at home and still attend art school. That is a mistake and one that will define your career.

How Do You Choose?

The best recommendation for a school comes from those who attended the school. The internet and a single question on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google will bring many answers. Listen to them and ask more questions. While I’m not happy with how I was treated as an alumnus of my school, I have to give it top marks for what I learned and where it put me. I was also able to pay off my student loans rather quickly.

How Do You Choose?

Always look at the teachers of the school. Dig on the internet to find their web sites or the companies where they work. My teachers gave me work after I left their classes. Will your teachers be able to hire you? Will they keep mentoring you as your career progresses? Will they be coming to you for work as your career progresses?

What are the intern programs or possibilities at these schools? The difference between RISD and SVA was the amount of internship possibilities in New York City vs. the outskirts of Rhode Island. An internship usually assures you of a job once you graduate.

What kind of network will you form with other students? Does the school encourage working closely with other students so you form bonds or does it create a competitive atmosphere that will drive a wedge between students?

Never pick a school based on the brochure. As with the film, “Art School Confidential,” the plucky young talent moons over the brochure and when the scene of his first day starts with the brochure cover shot, pulling back to reveal the burned out cars and rundown neighborhood. You MUST go there, take the tour with the staff and then find a student who will take you on the tour of the REAL school.

Ask to sit in on some classes. If the school doesn’t allow it, they have something to hide. Talk to the teachers and ask about their careers and what they think is the most important thing you will get from their class.

Conclusion

Chances are, by the time you start thinking of art school, you’ve bought a car or motorcycle. Did you just see a picture and plop down thousands of dollars for it? Yes, you probably did. Now, how are you going to get back and forth from school? Well, if you use the same care in choosing an art school, your career will be sitting broken down on the side of the road, too.

Speider Schneider has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, LucasFilms, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. He's a former board member of the Graphic Artists Guild and co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee. He also speaks at art schools across the United States and writes articles on business and professional practices for books and global blogs.