Is Art School Necessary?

Is art school necessary?  This question has come up in my mind off and on over the past two years while I have been attending art school.  El Camino is a wonderful school and has a fantastic art program, so there is nothing to disparage about the curriculum.  However, I have run into a snag since I have been told that, despite what I was told by counselors during my first semester, I will not be receiving my AA in June due to the fact that they are not going to give me credit for one of the general education classes I had previously.  So I have a decision to make – whether I want to extend my stay and take one more (non-art) class just to get the degree in art, or just be satisfied with the Bachelor’s degree I already have in English and all the wonderful art classes I have taken since.

Of course I was very angry at first – especially since I had done my due diligence ahead of time in hopes of preventing something like this.  But bureaucracy is what it is.  However, the whole thing has led me to dig deeper and really ponder what it means to have a degree in art and if it is really necessary.

I guess the first thing to do is to define necessary.  Is it something that cannot be done without?  The answer of course is, no.  We cannot do without food, water, and shelter.  Degrees of any kind are never necessary in that sense.  So, to be more specific, does one have to have a degree to become a successful fine artist?  Well, again, we would have to define successful. Do we mean successful in terms of critical acclaim, wealth, personal satisfaction, the ability to live solely from art?  This is a very personal decision and every artist must define “success” for herself.

I define success in terms of feeling competent, having my work generate interest from those who can buy it, having a depth and a psychology to my art that is intriguing, being able to work with ideas and concepts that are meaningful to me and helpful to others, and being able to sell pieces regularly.  For me, all of these things define success in art.

So, back to my original question.  Is art school necessary to become a successful artist as I have defined success here?  Definitely yes…but after a certain point, definitely no!  I say yes for the following reasons.  First and foremost it teaches us how to use the materials, how to compose our pieces, and how to create our art in a purposeful way instead of relying on luck and chance.  It teaches us to deal with comparisons and competition from other students.  It helps us deal with criticism, deadlines, self-doubt, and general time management.  And it helps us learn to work with higher artistic concepts in a safe environment.

Now for what art school does not always teach: how to be unique and come up with your own way of doing art, how to really discover your own point of view beyond trial and error, how to conduct your life as a self-employed artist in a way that is professional and profitable, how to come up with your own ideas for bodies of work without repeating yourself, how to nurture your creativity so that you do not burn out or resort to gimmicks, how to persevere in the face of repeated failure and rejection, how to market and sell your work without galleries, how to manage your finances when you have unpredictable income.

I am sure there are both positive and negative aspects of art school that I have failed to mention, but you get the point.  Art school shortens the learning curve and teaches you how to do good work.  It teaches you to be detached from your work and accept criticism and it shows you that there are lots of talented people out there who want the same things you do.

But it won’t teach you life skills.  It won’t make you unique or great. And it won’t tell you how to deal with some very important things, like business, professionalism and perseverance.  In fact, perseverance may be the most import component of all.  Once you have found your passion, never give up, no matter how long it takes you to reach success in your own eyes.  If you have to do other work as well to support yourself, so be it, but never forget who you are.  You are an artist first.  Every thing else second.  You have the privilege to be able to skillfully communicate in the form of beautiful pictures.  That is an amazing gift and responsibility and it takes hard work to maximize.  Graduating from art school does not give you the right to be called an artist.  Only the tears, heartache, and struggle that come from being one hundred percent sold out to this crazy Art stuff give us the right and privilege to call ourselves artists.  If this is your calling, DO IT – school or no school.

Now go follow your bliss…

Attached are some things I’m working on lately…

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Enjoying Veteran’s Day

Part of being a successful artist is knowing when to recharge your batteries and do nothing.  An artist’s brain is re-energized by fun and vibrant new images of artwork and experimenting with different mediums and methods.   Because I’m a writer as well I also love a good novel every now and then.  My schedule rarely allows it but today I plan to curl up with a good book and enjoy my extra time off.  Happy Veteran’s Day everyone!  And to all the veterans out there, thank you for your amazing sacrifice and courage.   I want you all home enjoying your families!!!

Art and Communication

Art is my passion and life commitment, but I consider myself a student of Life in general.  I love learning about how things work and the connections between different subjects.  One thing that fascinates me about art is its ability to communicate without words.  In fact, art is much better and quicker than words at communicating.  How many times has someone misunderstood your words?  How many relationships have been destroyed due to a lack of communication?  Perhaps if we just walked around holding pieces of art over our faces instead of speaking, or sending small drawings to people instead of emails, many a relationship would be saved.

Dr. Demartini, a famous New Thought motivational speaker, gave a talk where he says that not only do people want to be loved and appreciated for who they are, who they are is a reflection of their highest values.  This makes a lot of sense.  That is why some people are harder for us to communicate with than others – their value system may be very different from ours.  Value systems are a reflection of one’s culture and upbringing, which is also why people of similar cultures and upbringings tend to understand each other a little better.

Ultimately, art can bridge gaps in communication that words are simply inadequate for.  Political leaders all over the world have used portraits, statues, stamps, coins, etc. to communicate their authority.  Corporations use logos to quickly identify themselves and their values.  The toughest thing for most artists to establish is their unique point of view.

As an art student, developing my point of view is something that is still in process.  I know what is important to me, and I have lived a very eventful and unusual life in many respects.  However, communicating what I’ve learned from my crazy life experiences through a cohesive body of work is something I am still working on.  My craftsmanship is improving,  so it is now time to start putting more of “myself” into my work.

All of us can benefit by putting more of ourselves into everything we do.  To do anything less is to live in fear and not in love.  Some people won’t be able to handle it and will drop out of your life.  If they do, they were meant to. Others will be intrigued and will adore you for who you are which is, as we already discussed, the basis of all effective communication.

Communicate without fear and go follow your bliss…