Today I have an episode for you with no guest, just me here!
This episode is about getting the most out of your art education whether you’re in university, considering it, or already past that stage but realizing theres more you need to learn. I admit that I did NOT get the most out of my own art degree. My experiences since graduating have made hind sight 20/20 and I wanted to take the chance to share what I wish I had known back then. It’s also a list of what I’m determined to learn and do now, even post school so if you’re like me this episode is still for you.
The ideas in this episode are my opinions of course, but a lot of these ideas have been contributed by past guests of the show and other artists who volunteered their own experiences. Sharing is caring so share your own tip’s or ideas in the comments of this episode below or in the Art Pro Community Facebook group (which you should definitely join:)
I also made you a simplified downloadable checklist of all the tips in this episode so don’t stress about taking notes, just get it here.
Ok let’s get right into it!
FIRST DO NO HARM AKA DONT SHOOT YOURSELF IN THE FOOT
1. Avoid student debt. The more debt you accumulate, the higher your monthly payments will be, the harder it will be to cover them with art sales, the more likely you are to need to devote your time and energy to a day job and for longer. Getting started as an artist is hard enough without a major debt hole to climb out of.
2. In order to avoid debt have rich parents, or, parents with the foresight to have been saving since you were born. That wasn’t me.
3. Barring that, save up the money first, then go to school. Here are my suggestions:
Look up what tuition and fees will cost per semester or year and research what living expenses will be per month, resign your fancy self to living as cheaply as possible. Living expenses are generally more than tuition and also the area you can have some control over.
Start living super frugally now to save up the money.
Yes it’s a lot of money and it will take a long time to save up. Just remember that you have to save up less money than you would have to pay off because of interest.
The silver lining is that working full time for a bit between high school and university, is a great way to get a free reality check about how much working in jobs you don’t love sucks. This reality check will make you a more focused, determined, and informed student and artist later.
Remember that you should be able to supplement your savings each year by working summers and working through school, but don’t overestimate how much you’ll be able to work and save.
Ok thats all pretty basic common sense stuff but honestly I wish I had understood all that before I went to university and got into debt.
4.Remember too that university is far from the only option for becoming an artist. And basically every other option is cheaper too. Here are a few ideas:
-go to university but just part time and/or not for the entire degree program, you can get 80% of the benefits of studying in university without actually committing to being there and paying full time for four years. So long as you are still fully committed to becoming an artist.
-Enroll at an atelier school. Generally not as expensive as university, and usually easier to work at least a part time day job around. An atelier school is much more focused on actual technical skills which many find lacking in university programs. You do need to already know what you want to study because atelier programs are highly focused and structured you will generally be working in just one medium and starting from absolute basics.
-Take workshops and classes with a variety of other artists. Work a day job and take evening or weekend classes with various artists. Supplement this by applying what you learn in other spare time.
-save up money as if you were going to university but then use it to rent a little studio and cover your living expenses for a year or two while you work full time on developing your own style, building up a body of work, integrating yourself into your local art scene, getting shows, learning for free or cheap online, from books, and by taking occasional courses or workshops.
I’m sure you can even think of other alternatives and I would love to hear them in the comments section of this episode at or in the art pro community Facebook group.
For the rest of this episode im going to refer to art school but I encourage you to think about how you could learn and do the rest of these things on your own outside of art school if you don’t intend to go or have already been through art school.
APPROACH WITH THE RIGHT MINDSET
1. Here’s a frustrating reality check: you can’t expect that showing up to class and getting good grades means you’re learning all you need to know. You’d think that would be enough, but so many artists including myself get out of school and then realize, oh shit I really don’t know what to do next.
2. Set your own goals. Just doing your assignments and getting good grades is not actually a good way to judge your progress and success. Set your own aggressive goals for each year or semester. Whats important to you now? Experimenting with different mediums? Advancing your technical skills? Clarifying your conceptual interests? Building a body of good work on a theme? Getting your first show and sale?
3. Be there to learn not to get the diploma. I am 95% sure no one is ever going to ask to see your fine arts degree (unless you want to do a masters and get a teaching job) aka other schools care about school. Nothing wrong with getting a degree, but you’re there to learn as much as you can, above all else.
MAKE AND KEEP CONTACTS
1. This is huge! In art school you’re surrounded by fellow artists but once you’re out in the ‘real world’ being an artist can easily become a solitary and isolating endeavor. Make art friends and more than that keep in touch with them! Keep in touch with as many of the interesting people you meet as possible.
2. By continuing to watch what your peers do after school you’ll keep learning from them. Plus you never know where future opportunities might come from (hint: they won’t usually come from total strangers).
3. Befriend your profs. Get to know these people and make sure they get to know you. Learn everything you can from them and show that you appreciate it. Plus profs have the power to write reference letters which you may decide you need, and nominate top students for awards and such. These are good people to impress!
4. Take advantage of office hours! I always thought going to office hours made me annoying and asking for help was a sign of weakness. Im not always wrong but when I am by golly am I WRONG. Talk with your profs whenever you get a chance. going to office hours to ask questions or get feedback actually makes you look keen and serious. Teachers actually go into that profession because they want to help people. And, they don’t usually admit this, but they invest more in the students who show they are actively open to it and determined to succeed.
5. Start a contacts list with names email addresses and notes about where you met the person, if they’ve purchased your work etc. Add anyone to this list who shows interest in your work, anyone you could invite to a gallery opening. When you have shows or open studio days or new works to sell you will then have people to invite and sell to. This is an invaluable resource. The gold is in the list. Back up this list often.
LEARN TECHNICAL AND BUSINESS SKILLS
1. Learn as much as you can about how other artists make their living. (Listen to this podcast more). When you research artists who inspire you find out about how they ran their business too if you can.
2. Alex Beriault recommends looking up artists who inspire you and artists making similar work. Look at their CV’s to see what galleries they’ve shown at, what residencies they’ve done etc. These are opportunities that might suit you to strive for as well.
3. Find internship or work opportunities where you can observe and interact with successful working artists, see behind the scenes, and make contacts. Ask all your professors if they can help you find anything.
4. Find profs who will teach you technical skills. Do not make the mistake of undervaluing technical skills just because your institution as a whole generally does. Request it directly if need be. Become excellent at drawing at the very least, this is a helpful foundational skill for almost all other mediums. On top of that push for technical skills in every area that relates to your practice.
5. Take advantage of facilities and equipment. Try things out, this is the time.
6. Also remember that you will lose access to those facilities and equipment so plan ahead. Save up to purchase a piece of equipment or fees to access it elsewhere. Ask profs or techs where you can access resources outside of the university once you graduate.
7. Take classes in business, design, and marketing if at all possible or at least read some good books on those subjects.
8. Take classes to learn computer programs like photoshop, illustrator, film editing, anything that might help. Don’t be like me and avoid this because computers are frustrating only to realize later how useful all that would be. Consider the advantage of being able to do freelance design or illustration as part of your artistic income
9. Start a simple portfolio website.
START BEFORE YOU’RE READY
1. Put yourself out there early and often.
2. Create systems right from the start. Especially systems for documenting and tracking work, contacts, and expenses/income. And start building your CV before anyone expects you to have much on on it.
3. Give yourself a chance to find out what you don’t know. Challenge yourself. Sometimes you have to try to build a website to realize thats a skill you want, or have a show to realize that you don’t know how to promote it.
4. Don’t think your career starts after you graduate. This is an honest mistake because many kinds of careers do only start after you leave school, lawyers aren’t working a few cases here and there before they pass the bar exam, doctors aren’t starting up their family practice on the side between classes and their hospital residency. But as an artist you should really aim to have some lines on your CV and sales under your belt by the time you graduate. It’s good to get a head start but also it’s easier to keep the momentum going if the ball is already rolling.
And a couple last things:
-Don’t be too afraid of failure. As much as the whole point of this show is to help you avoid common pitfalls, everyone is going to struggle with something, everyone is going to fail sometimes, so get comfortable with that, get comfortable with trying things and stretching yourself. Don’t be led by fear.
-Have fun! The whole point of trying to become a professional artist is to have the chance to do what you love for a living! Don’t let anyone suck the joy out of it, not even me. Is it important to worry about business skills? Yes because that what helps you make your dream a reality, but take all things in stride. Remember to enjoy yourself whether thats partying in university or traveling abroad for inspiration or even just carving time out of your family life to make the work you love.
And thats it! Ha! As if thats not a ton of work.
Make sure to sign up to download the art education checklist below! It’s suitable for university or self education. Because in the end, it’s kind of all self education.
I wish I had realized this stuff back when I was still in university or ideally before but if you’re like me it’s still not too late to keep learning and growing and making new connections. It’s never too late!
Thanks to all the artists who contributed suggestions for this episode.
If you have more suggestions we would all love to learn from your wisdom so please join the Art Pro Community on Facebook or leave comments below!