Don’t go to art school

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By their own estimation, the cost of a four year education at RISD is $245,816. As way of comparison, the cost of a diploma from Harvard Law School is a mere $236,100. This is embarrassing. It’s downright shameful. That any art school should deceive its students into believing that this is a smart decision is cruel and unusual. Artists are neither doctors nor lawyers. We do not, on average, make huge six-figure salaries. We can make livable salaries, certainly. Even comfortable salaries. But we ain’t usually making a quarter mil a year. Hate to break it to you.

via Medium.

There Are 33 Comments On This Article.

  1. For non rich or non scholarship students in “fine art”, yes. Consider an in or out of state state college instead. But for architects, designers, industrial design and pro fields, who make a living with a pay check, RISD is an experience no other programs duplicate. With scholarships, loans, help from family, and summer jobs, it is worth it.

  2. Not only RISD, of course. Other top art and design schools private and public. There are many small private art school options if that is you preference over a university art department.
    aicad.org is a place to start but also your state college and universities have different art departments and they are often cheaper at first glance UNLESS you have a scholarship from a private. Then the state might be MORE costly. You have to do your research and ASK! Apply for the FISA ASAP too. This will tell you a lot.

  3. School is a good way to be in debt for the rest of your life if you plan on being a photographer afterwards. My girlfriend is in that boat now. I never went to art school but instead assisted amazing photographers and did my own research. But everyone says “you have to go to school”.

  4. Overall, I agree with Noah’s assessment, however, the issue here isn’t just the debt but also the fact that most schools (art or not) don’t seem to be able to keep up with the changing dynamics of the economy. Regardless, of what type of degree you received its your responsibility to continue to learn and stay relevant within your industry. Universities can only do so much.

  5. Most of the people who can afford to go to art school or Harvard have rich parents. It’s not a big deal to them. They are the art students that have the Leica cameras and can travel around the world taking pictures of poor third world citizens and then profit on a gallery showing that is provided for them due to their rich background. Real working class people can’t afford art schools, and if they do go, it is part time, or they go into deep debt. The cost of a 4 year art college with major in photography is well over 100K and the average graduate makes 20K doing that job they were trained to do. What a freaking joke.

    • Donnor Party

      In my mind the answer is a University with a strong art department. That way you can actually learn to read as well as learn to paint. VCU is the answer. Its cheap. Its good. For fine and commercial art.

  6. Another way to look at it overall is that we are forced to, as a society, to go to these 4 year ivy league or non-ivy league colleges to gain degrees, (uhm DEBT) so that we can jump onto the hamster wheel of rat race pain for 50 years. If you don’t get a degree, no one will hire you, as it’s an unwritten agenda to follow the DEBT PATH to keep society in line. It keeps the colleges and their ilk in jobs, keeps out anyone with innovation to balk at the system, and keeps you in servitude to pay off the outrageous student loans which you can’t default on. Business won’t hire because they want to keep that lie going, instead of really seeing the person in front of them and evaluating them on how they present themselves. You can come out of college a complete idiot and knowing nothing more than the person who chose to take another path. but because the other path didn’t feed the parasitic system, that person is ostracized.

  7. We frequently advise wanna’ be photographers to attend schools like The Hallmark Institute of Photography (where I do an annual lecture). While not cheap, the program is slightly less than 1 year in length, targeted for photographers and thus more cost effective than a 4 year program for those who are convinced that their future is in photography. Neither a BA or BS is a prerequisite to making a living in photography.

  8. I think Sophia raised a very important and legitimate question about art schools and education in general.
    And I believe the only real, long lasting benefit from schools is the networking that a student can do (if he or she is able to see the opportunity), to work his or her way into the job market…where the networking will continue.

  9. I’ve mentioned it before, but anyone considering going to school for photography should really consider film school instead. You learn all you need for still photography, plus a whole lot more in case you end up liking and wanting to do film/video (or have to it, which is more likely). And anyone rolling their own program can easily work on local no-budget indie film projects for practical experience. It just seem like a no-brainier to me.

  10. State University art programs are often highly-rated and can be reasonable. My daughter completed her BFA in Printmaking on a scholarship at the University of Georgia and is currently finishing her MFA at University of Tennessee Knoxville. Both are top-tier programs, with UGA and UT both ranked within the top 3 schools in printmaking. Georgia offered the Hope Scholarship (full tuition) and Tennessee offered an graduate assistanceship (full tuition plus stipend). My daughter will graduate with about $3,000 in debt next May. Pretty impressive. Without the scholarships, it would have cost about $130,000.

    Going to art school can be done on the cheap. But whether or not you get a job that has never been guaranteed for art students. I know, I have a degree in Theater–thank God it is not poetry or dance. But our society would be greatly enriched if there were few more Shakespeares and Martha Grahams…

    • Donnor Party

      RISD and SCAD and Pratt are too expensive for what you get, even in fields that are technical such as ID and architecture. Most architecture grads are out there designing 7-11′s and working as CAD techs.

      The state schools, like UT Austin, VCU in Richmond, UT, UCLA, etc have strong, if not some of the best, art departments and are way cheaper than RISD/Pratt et al. I think the advantage of a University as opposed to an art school is that you can get a good humanities education while you are there.

  11. I attended school for photography and owe 280, 000!! Yes it was a nice education, and i walked away confident in my ability and my voice. But i expected this would guaranty me a job and more after. We are all different people and I’m not a social butterfly, which we all know connections is the only way in. We also go through things in life, that don’t allow us to put ourselves out there constantly. And honestly i got wore out of what it felt like selling myself and fighting for something that should of happen with out constant struggle for years. The school name it’s self, gets me the look of wow, but it has not landed me 6 figures, to make up for the cost. Now with millions of Photographers out there, this degree should not cost that much, because there is no way to guaranty a job. There are so many great photographers, that never went to school or spent half that much. I might be confident as a good photographer, but if your not that person that was in the right place at the right time, your left with 280,000-300, 000 (as it’s accruing interest ) in debt till i die. I wish there was some sort of relief with this, for the ones that didn’t make it that far, and had to turn to something else to make money.
    Thanks for listening.

  12. Kristy, you can will make a living and do what you love, but it may not be as photographer. But something related. I had a degree in Theater, but I ended up using my skills as video producer which I did for many years, then I moved to multimedia design and development. I am sure you have wealth of skills and things you might like to do. Many of your skills as a trained artist are transferable to the world of work. Find work you like to do, then start a photography business on the side, part time. Grow that business. See what happens. Things change in this life and everyone gets breaks. Everyone.

    • Thank you, for your kind response. And this is exactly where I’m at right now. But it’s unfortunate that it didn’t go the way i hoped by going to school. And that my wonderful degree is a side job. I do hope that taking this other route will put me right where i belong with my talent as a photographer.

  13. State universities like VCU, Iowa State in Ames, UIUC, UIC, Cal Poly SLO, UCONN, etc. are very good options for anyone.
    Here’s one notable reason why RISD is always in top three ratings: students can take classes at Brown. An Ivy League university. So you get a creative education at a top art and design school AND attend an Ivy. That combo exists no where else. For most talented and smart and ambitious students poor, rich, or middle, with money or scholarships, worth it. Don’t got money or talent? Go to state college that you can afford. Then you will have a solid liberal arts education.

    • Donnor Party

      I’m not sure I understand this part of your statement:

      “Don’t got money or talent? Go to state college that you can afford. Then you will have a solid liberal arts education.”

      Do you mean to write “Don’t got [sic] money? Go to a state college . . . . that you can afford.” Is this correct? Or were you implying that if you don’t have talent you should go to a state school? I certainly hope not, as it seems unreasonable and detracts from your solid point about being able to take classes at Brown.

      • Money = this discussion has no meaning. (In theory) go anywhere you like for education that will accept you. (Most top programs require a portfolio for application so, you *still* have to be accepted with some creative work. Having money alone, is not automatic acceptance.)
        Talent = means a person can get a scholarship (or at least apply for one) at ANY school. Then, in theory, have all, most, or a good percentage of your tuition covered. Add in some loans and, you probably graduate with an acceptable level of debt. People should not freak out about student debt. If you work, pay it off, it is *good* debt!

        • Donnor Party

          I agree in principal. The problem is that at 18 everyone sees themselves as Andy Warhol, and there is always an institution waiting to take their loan money with a certain amount of marketing aimed at reinforcing their deluded thinking.

          I don’t know what its like at the schools today, but when I was in school most graduate art students had a free ride, while undergrad art students were given stipends and other funding. This was at Columbia. I’m not sure what the RISD/SCAD/SVA deal is, as they don’t have any cash cow departments like a law school or business school they can loot to fund art scholarships.

          Student loan debt can be good investment, but not a quarter million for a BFA.

  14. Some disciplines like music and painting need a lot of technical training and close contact with a great teacher. For classical musicians or opera singers, a good school is a must.

    In other disciplines like writing, photography, film making, the technical part is fairly easy to learn. It is the personal expression with those rather simple means that is the difficult part. There is far less of a technical base carrying each individual artist’s work. Every artist has to basically start at ground zero.

    For a writer, photographer, or a film maker, life experience and knowledge in other disciplines is, the “what” is more important than the “how”. A writer had better study history or philosophy or politics and get some life experience by living all over the world instead of getting formally trained by a school and then having the empty shell of great formal training with no knowledge or experience to do anything with it.

    The same applies to photography. Paraphrasing (and adapting) Robert Musil, the great Austrian novelist: “Anybody can take a photo. But to take a photo like many other photographers in a recognizable style: that you have to study at art school.”

  15. Lighting Tech

    I didn’t go to art school, or college. I tech full time in a Major US city, and I am proud of the excellent service I provide.
    Not having a degree pushes me to work harder and smarter, which makes me stand out from the entitled and jaded college graduate. I usually see so many graduates that are not even useful runners.

    Even in the design world: From everyone that I have met, the non-college people stand out as more creative, more eager to learn and absorb from colleagues, more in touch with and confident about their work, less confined by the rules someone else might have learned at a lecture by some tenured, outdated, was-an-artist.

    I can understand how people born in this system can’t see the opportunities or available paths.
    If I could burn some money and I was younger, I would enroll in a two year finance college or pay for marketing/advertising/business courses, then start it up with the savings.
    If you are not driven enough to learn the craft and art on your own, then you are not cut out for it; get out, it’s going to get even tougher.

  16. As someone who went to an art school and still is. I’d recommend against it, most the schools are very untruthful. Sure you learn a few things, but most the teachers are stuck in their own hay day, gloating about all there accomplishments, why not teaching stuff that is new or useful in todays industry. Sure you may learn the basics, but most of the art schools set you up for failure, because you get very basic marketing and business classes. Which in all honesty is nothing. If you went to art school and struggling, I’d suggest trying to go back to a CC and take some real business and marketing classes, because thats the only way you will make it.

    The industry is very cut throat and even though one can still make a living through some magazines and ad agencies, most people shooting anything else will have a hard time with out a strong business plan, because most people want photographers to work for free anymore.

    Those would be my suggestions to anyone going to an art school.

  17. I make a quarter mil every four or five months as a photographer. I didn’t go to school for photography (and paid $0 in tuition.) I learned on the job. I have some nice degrees, and enjoyed the experience at these schools, but none of my clients care if I even have a high school diploma.

  18. The irony is some say you need a piece of paper to make it in an industry where you can actually produce the paper (so to speak) if you have the abilities without the education. Few of the many schools provide the education necessary to know how to run a business.

  19. Ninety-five percent of Moore College of Art & Design BFA students received some amount of financial aid in 2012-13, a significant portion of which is funded by the College. Moore students’ loan default rate is among the lowest in the country at 4 percent, well below the national average of 13.4 percent. This low rate, particularly given the average loan amount for those who borrow, is a result of our success in preparing students for inspiring careers in the fields of art and design.

    That being said, debt load is only one factor to consider when determining the value of a college degree. Our students receive intensive, personalized instruction in small classes, providing the skills they need to compete in the workforce. We also require a 240-hour internship for all majors as part of our career-focused education. This internship, which we subsidize for every student, plants the seeds early for the dogged determination necessary to maintain the lifelong commitment to being professional artists and designers.

    Our high job placement rates speak to this. In a recent survey of our graduates, 82 percent reported working full-time within six months of graduating, with ninety percent working in their field of study. Ninety-nine percent of all Moore graduates maintain active freelance careers, even when employed full-time.

    Sara Lenton, a 2011 graduate, is one of our success stories. Lenton, a graphic artist with a degree in Illustration, was employed three weeks after graduation. In addition to financial aid, she also received a competitive scholarship from Moore which helped defray the cost of tuition. That, coupled with her successful career in the arts, means she will be able to pay back her debt sooner than anticipated.

    In her words, “a Moore education pays for itself.”

    -Cecelia Fitzgibbon
    President, Moore College of Art & Design

  20. On the other hand, Timothy White (about as successful as it gets), describes RISD, when he went there, as a place:

    “…where the people who were there worked. They weren’t there because their parents told them they had to go to college. People were passionate about what they do. You went to class all day, you went home and had dinner and then you went back to the studio and worked. But that’s what you wanted to do.”

  21. I agree with Timothy White. I am currently going to Grossmont Community College in San Diego California. I am 58 yo. I have been shooting photographs since 1976 when some one gave me an old Thagee Exacta Camera. I do it because I love it. It is my passion and my voice. I taught myself. As I start a new semester here, I tell my new teachers … “I am too old to worry about my permanent record. I am not here for a grade. I am here to learn.” I am qualified for an AA in art. I am not interested in that. I simply wish to keep up on the latest in my art. And meet other professionals that love doing what I do.