transforming hundreds & hundreds of students into professionals since 2004
Tip #1: The Independent Art Student Life
So you want to learn independently? Free from a structured program you’d see at a university? The insane cost of tuition these days? Or you feel like you want to go in more depth than is possible in a classroom with 20+ other students?
Today, we will look at the realities of formal education (universities especially) compared with the independent “self-taught” student. I think there’s a lot that’s misunderstood about both of those situations. They all have advantages and disadvantages and the lines between them are actually very blurry.
I recently saw a video where an artist was explaining a study that claimed that most working artists (ones who who made their primary living from their art) actually had no degree. I thought this was very curious, so I looked at the linked study and found….drumroll… that the study and the artist in the video…had excluded DESIGNERS and ARCHITECTS. That is…anyone who’s a graphic designer, motion designer, or concept designer. That seems to leave out a large number of pros who make livings and who learned their craft in a university or formal setting.
I also have a former mentor who likes to tell his clients and students that he never finished his art degree. Except, he really only had one class left. An elective.
None of that is to say that no one can be successful as an independent artist. I know plenty who are. They had very limited or zero formal university training. BUT, they did have some things working for them. Though I do have formal training (BFA in Illustration and MFA in Painting) I still had to pursue a lot of information and skills completely on my own. And those secrets can work for you too.
Let’s start off with some of the advantages of a studying at a university. I taught at 6 and studied at 2.
First of all, they lay out a clear path for you to follow. Freshman year usually gets you through a number of courses that give you a big picture, some basic drawing and design skills and usually enough of a view that you can decide on a major.
Then there follows a number of classes planned out in sequence so that by graduation, you have a range of skills and a portfolio and maybe (if you’re lucky..) some work finding skills.
You don’t have to plan ahead, hopefully you have competent and inspiring teachers and a highly motivated community around you. Your teachers keep track of market trends and update as necessary. And you can trust them to take care of that. You’re in a situation that provides a space to work, critiques and feedback, a schedule to follow, and a sequence of development. You also develop a network with the other students and faculty that can last a lifetime. The school’s reputation may also be helpful and many universities bring recruiters from great companies who are looking for new employees with your portfolio of skills. That kind of initial certification can get your foot in the door, which is really what the degree and initial portfolio does for you!
Those are real tangible opportunities that are hard (but not impossible) to find on your own.
That being said, let’s look at the real problems with Formal Institutions.
I’ve been teaching at universities since 2004, I and professors are well aware of the limitations of the classroom (as well as the advantages, more on that later!). The two biggest ones is the fact that there’s very little time and now they cost so very very much.
A typical class runs for about 15 weeks in a semester and meets twice a week. That’s only 30 (80-85 hours or two weeks of a full time job) class periods to help you to get through a skill or process. For a while, I taught at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in Hong Kong. They’re on a 10 week quarter system. That’s even more insane (20 sessions totaling 50 hours or a really busy work week…). Imagine all the things you need to know to do a decent figure drawing…in that little time.
Some students may find that’s more than enough time, depending on where they start out. It wasn’t for me, probably not for you. Most of us knew that it would take a couple more years beyond graduation to actually have professional level consistency. I didn’t feel I started making that level of work at all until the end of my first senior year semester.
In terms of cost, well…let’s look at some numbers. A private art and design university can run you $24,000 (+ 2500 in feeds) per semester in tuition alone, not to mention living expenses (apartment, insurance, utilities, food, etc) estimated at $8,500. So, if we divide that 26,500 dollars into 12 credits per semester, we get 2208 dollars per credit. Your average studio class (like I teach) is 3 credits. That’s 6625 dollars to just take my one studio class. Divide that by 30 days of class. That’s 221 dollars per 3 hour class session, assuming you or I are never absent.
I never miss class.
That’s really really expensive. While it was cheaper when I was student, I could never afford that. I wouldn’t even think about it. There are reasons why it costs so much, but that’s a larger more boring economic discussion.
By the way, 4 years at 64,000 dollars a year (tuition, fees, and living expenses) is 256,000 dollars. The cost ends up being actually higher, since tuition does go up every year.
Art & Design University Costs 2022
There’s also the fact that your randomly selected co-students are sometimes not as motivated as your are. You may get really deep into it and others around you just want to get through it. Recently I reviewed some types of perspective with my figure drawing students who had been in my previous perspective class and I mentioned Vertical Vanishing Points (yes I have lessons on this in the full membership…), now it’s a really great subject and really really helpful, but…there was simply no time for it. That student would need to come to me during office hours or get lucky with the right book in the library.
I also had a number of students panicking this year that they were about to lose access to the course videos and demos I had put together for them in their course site so they could go back and review and use them in later semesters. Luckily, the system is set up so they can continue to have access as long as they are students. But that ends, eventually.