By Trisha Chen
Should I go to art school? Will it benefit me? To serious illustrators and designers in high school looking to take their career further, these are the questions their asking themselves about college choices. I’ve always wanted to find out, so I found some freelance artists to help answer that question.
Britt Burg is a freelance illustrator and digital artist based in Denmark. She noted that Denmark has very few options for art schools, and “Nothing was possible for my location because I didn’t want to move my son. …I’d have to travel 4 hours a day.” She mentions that if she was attending an art school, she “probably wouldn’t have any time to work on commissions and spend with family.” She also realizes that when you’re studying at an art school, you’re able to network and you build up a list of contacts over time, but she says that “this (freelancing) works for me, since I have a kid.”
A marketing major that preferred to stay anonymous, started learning graphic design for a hobby after finishing school, but it quickly turned into a passion. He then “combined what [they] knew with marketing to turn [themselves] into a brand strategist.” He spent a couple years teaching himself graphic design and the fundamentals of art from resources on the internet, and now he’s working his way up to being a full-time freelance designer.
So what about people who did go to art school?
Ex-student Max Peters, who did not disclose the school he went to due to “shady practices”, credits a lot of what he learned at school to his success as an artist, but his stance is simple: “degrees on the wall are not as important as portfolios, but the most reliable way to get a good portfolio is to attend a school and learn.” He describes choosing the right school as a “minefield,” saying that “[choosing schools] is something that requires serious research and understanding of your own goals, and since most people go in when they’re young, goals can change, and employment isn’t always what you think it to be.”
Amber Kipp, a full-time freelance illustrator, designer, photographer, and filmmaker, graduated from the Art Institute of Portland in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. She offers some insight into what it’s like to be a freelancer, saying “It is a fun job, but it is a stressful job, because anyone who becomes an artist feels an inherent NEED to create, not always a WANT to create. It’s a talent, one that can be practiced but some people are definitely born with an advantage creatively.” She says that art school offers an important key to becoming a successful artist (or a successful anything for that matter): “It is four years of rigorous and exhausting practice. It builds a work ethic and forces the students to hold on to their creativity, because it can so easily become fleeting if [they are] not willing to constantly try and improve or evolve their craft.”
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) student, Miranda Simaschko, listed four benefits of going to an art school: peers, supplies, clubs, and professors. Peers offer a good, feedback-rich community, supplies are always plentiful (no matter what you need), clubs are a good way to learn from others in the same niche field, and professors are there to offer more knowledge about the art industry than you can get from your peers. Simaschko did say that if you wanted to start off with being a freelancer, art school isn’t necessary. She wants to do contract work in the art industry, so she attends SCAD to get the degree that is required for some higher-level jobs.
Simaschko recommends: “Look at graduated students and the work they’re producing, where they are now, etc. Decide if that is somewhere you’d like to be, too. Go to open houses…don’t just pick [a school] because it ‘seems cool’. Work on a portfolio to submit, because most schools will award a decent chunk of scholarships to anyone with a good portfolio.”
With these different views on whether or not art school is beneficial, there is only one piece of advice that stands out to me: If you do decide to go to school, do your research and make the best out of your experience. If you decide not to, that’s fine – but again, do your research. Learn the fundamentals of what you want to do, and put yourself out there.