Deep Thought Thursday: What is art school for?

Should art departments at colleges and universities teach students how to prepare for life and a career? 

Or should they just allow students to focus on becoming a better artist?

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Image ©Jennifer Walling, untitled monotype.

Note: This DTT has its roots in an email I received from an irate university student. I hot-headedly tweeted something about it on Twitter, which then showed up in Facebook, where it quickly received about 50 comments. I'm anxious to hear what you have to say.

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37 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: What is art school for?

  • I went to art school at a university. I would have been nice to at least have some art marketing courses – even as an elective.

    Even if art schools only teach how to make better art, they might provide information and point to businesses like yours where artists can get the information they’ll need to make a living as an artist.

    I don’t think the art schools want to feel responsible for whether their students make a living, but it doesn’t hurt for them to point to some good resources.

  • Although it’s been a REALLY long time since I graduated from college, I’d have to say that colleges don’t really prepare artists for the real world. I’ve always said that I learned more in my first three years out of college than I ever did in college. And I wasn’t that great an artist when I graduated. But I was lucky in that I had one of the best mentors in my field, and that alone prepared me for other life challenges ahead. He also remains a lifelong friend, and one of the most creative people I’ve known in my life.

    I think that the main responsibility of the school is to teach the student how to learn. Not just to implant skill sets for painting, sculpture or graphics, for example, but to embed the skills for lifelong learning. Too often the student is led through a series of exercises for [insert media here} in which the outcomes are graded based on a pre-defined set of criteria which have no real bearing in the real world. No attention is paid to whether these skills might be marketable, unique or even useful.

    The college should also provide some post-schooling resources, which might include a mentoring program, job-search skills, resume and portfolio building and other real-world skills. Too often, these are glossed over, and leave the student hanging after graduation.

  • Why not both? So many artists will come to me asking how to find success being an artist. Many are extremely talented, and it’s a sin that the world doesn’t get to see their art due to their lack of an ability to get it into galleries and in the public eye.

    If you want to be a professional artist, you have to be able to make a profit off of your art. Otherwise, what you have is a hobby. In order to make a profit, you have to have knowledge of how to run a business, read the financials, marketing and selling. For most artists, this sounds painful! But it is possible to learn, and to do well. Many do.

    Art schools don’t prepare students for “the real world” because in the real world, you need to earn money to buy your art supplies, to pay the rent for your studio and work space, and to live. There should be classes that cover these very important topics.

    Sure, running a business isn’t very artistic or sexy. But it’s necessary if you want to keep painting, unless you are fortunate enough to have someone bankroll your activities.

    When you look at the successful artists out there, you’ll see they have these things in common: Art that masses enjoy; great marketing skills; they’ve built their name and art into a brand; and they run their art business like a business, not a hobby.

  • My undergraduate art program was very thorough, and included a class called “art seminar” – which went through the specifics of grant searching and applying, investigating career options, interviewing career creatives, and putting together the ‘business of art’ in addition to working on the lofty ideals of art. Additionally, each class successively focused on the steps toward becoming a good self promoter, and a solid thinker wrt art making. It’s not surprising, considering the department head (now dean of the college) has won a guggenheim as well as many other prestigious awards.

    My graduate program featured nothing of the sort, and a previous program I was enrolled in for undergrad also had no support (I asked a professor – so, we’ve learned to compile work into a collection, how do we take it from a collection of pictures in a box and get it into galleries, etc? – and her response was “you’ll have to figure that out yourself.”)

    I disagree with the previous respondent’s statement that successful artists make work that the masses enjoy, and that they run their work like a business – I think that the business of art is parallel to the making of art – the important thing is to know the rules well enough to break them, and to know your audience and how to reach them. I don’t want to be a household name. But if there is a household that knows my name, I want them to have purchased my work. It’s a slow process, but I definitely think that your art should inform your marketing and business plan, rather than typical business and marketing approaches informing your art/business.

  • I didn’t actually go to college or university as I was a ballerina and that’s often a short career that peaks when one is in one’s twneties. When I did decide to obtain a degree, I matriculated to a school that did not have very many actual classes, but rather encouraged independent study. I earned a dual BS in Math and Physics. Still not art. Grad school was for Astrophysics.

    But I’ve been an artist all my life and while I had taken a few courses at art schools (eg, Silvermine Guild’s School of the arts before it became accredited, Art Students League, et al), I never did art at an acredited uni.

    Neither did Van Gogh or most other artist of the (distant) past. Clearly uni isn’t necessary to become an artist.

    On the other hand, there are few apprenticeships any more and not everyone is like me to be able to or desirous of learning on their own. As well, a school can offer a wide variety of experiences for experimentation that a person on their own may not be able to indulge in. And then, yes, the business aspect… Definitely that is something anyone planning on working for herself should get a handle on. I, myself, could really use help there and that is most assuredly something a school can offer its art students.

    One other aspect that probably most wouldn’t even think about – the accessibility of courses one might never even approach otherwise – eg, physics, astronomy, philosophy…

    On the third hand, a sufficiently motivated and driven person can become just as much of a spectacular artist as anyone with a granted degree.

    We have become a society that no longer appreciates a person’s efforts but rather has given up independent thought for reliance on outside “experts” to tell what’s good and what’s not. A degree does not make an artist. Inspiration does.

  • In this day and age artists need to do the business part of their lives as well as the art making part. Art schools often don’t tell art students how difficult it is to have a fine art career. The time it takes to get some financial traction is daunting. Only those who are willing to make sacrifices and compromises can have an art career. Most of the artists that I am familiar with, who have art careers, have steady financial support. The bills always have to be paid. I came across a book titled “Seven Things Artists Should Do”. One of the things the author mentioned is the day job. The majority of artists in the discipline have a day job. Art schools often don’t tell students this early in their art education.
    Survival tactics are often accrued along the art career path, basic nuts and bolts stuff on what to do after art school is always needed. I read stories about present day artists and I look for any clues that say how an artist gets to be self supporting and also if they are able to maintain a decent art career. I know that art schools tend to teach technique,not business, and they don’t have to. As a journeyman artist, I do what ever I have to to have an art life. I support my art habit by any means necessary.

  • Some of my artist pals do teach. I have tried very hard to encourage my friends to take advantage of the web to market themselves better and they continue to take tiny baby steps in that direction, afraid to really dive in. You can teach marketing all day long and yet some folks will never embrace the creativity and fun of selling themselves.

    Marketing itself is an art and someone should tailor a course with that in mind…. Alyson?

  • Ooops, I had a much longer comment and only posted a portion. I would just like to add that I agree with Maria and you can do both. It is not an either or question. The universities should have more courses for people that plan to earn their living as an artist. When I was in school people that were concerned about a pay check just went into graphic design. Of course all of those same folks had to retrain in the 90′s when software replaced their traditional tools. I studied jewelry and metalworking, today I make a living as a digital artist.

  • I don’t think it’s possible for art school to teach would-be artists about the business end of art. Any artist who has to take a day job–even one teaching at an art school!–doesn’t get how art works at a fundamental level.

    You are what you do to make money, because whatever you do to make ends meet will be what you do most of.

  • Chris

    Art school is a place to learn WHY you paint, not HOW to paint. To learn WHY you’re an artist, not HOT TO be an artist.

  • I’d hope both? I don’t have an art degree, but I went to engineering school and my experience there was that 90% of my education was devoted to teaching me the technical aspects of engineering, with 10% devoted to how to function in the real world as a professional. Every class had a presentation component, and our career center taught focused classes on how to interview, approach companies, put together a resume, etc. I would hope that any art school would do the same – incorporate some sort of presentation into classes (putting together a show of your work, presenting it to your peers, talking about or writing about your intent), and also have instruction on how to conduct yourself professionally when approaching galleries, collectors, etc.

    I’m sure a class curriculum based on your book would be pretty helpful, actually!

  • My school had a “business of crafts” course that was supposed to help us sell our work once we got out into the world. Unfortunately, when someone who’s spent 30+ years in academia teaches the class, it makes some things unrealistic. It also becomes difficult to reconcile the idea of making art for art’s sake and making saleable art. Art schools tend to focus a lot on the ideas and concepts behind pieces and not always on ways to sell that idea.
    I believe that art school should give you the freedom to explore your ideas, teach you techniques, and teach you how to sell your work once you graduate. Not everyone can have (or wants) a career in academia even though they want a full education within that context.

  • Should (INSERT PROFESSION) departments at colleges and universities teach students how to prepare for life and a career?

    Or should they just allow students to focus on becoming a better (INSERT PROFESSION)?

    With most other professions, your first job is with another company and you don’t learn the business aspect until later on and its mostly on-the-job training. Artists seem to want to jump right into creating their own start-up company. This requires an additional skill-set that needs to be addressed in schools. Either that, or they should focus students towards apprenticeships. Expecting any student to have the know how to run a successful business right out of school is setting them up for failure.

  • Deb Gonzalez

    I’ve been reading this feed for a few months now and just had to reply to this one.

    I’m about midway through my undergraduate university studies in fine art and I’d have to agree the emphasis at my school is on concept and creating work that would interest fine art galleries (it seems there is a big frown directed at artists who sell at art festivals, do self promotion with online stores, and especially those who create home decor items for a mass market).

    I think focusing on gallery level art should be a prime focus because it trains the mind to push to new places of creativity, but I also believe there must be much more discussion about the other ways artists can bring in a paycheck without abandoning their artistic talent and purpose. At our school, we have one class that is taken during the final semester called “professional practices” – I can’t speak to the curriculum on this one yet but having just one course addressing the business of art seems insufficient. Luckily there are places like this one that addresses some of these topics.

    I want to know how other artists make their money – after all… the bill collectors don’t care If I am following my bliss or not. I read all I can about aspects of running a business, try to find out what others are doing, and for now have my eyes set on “diversifying” my art career to find a variety of avenues and price points to sell.

  • I followed the comments on Facebook Alyson referred to and was struck by how angry some of the artist were at their former schools for failing to either warn them or prepare them for how tough an art career usually turns out to be. And I agree most art professors do a poor job of this.

    Strangely, at the art school where I’ve taught for many years, only a handful of students have ever asked me questions about artist’s careers. And this is at one of the “professional art schools” rather than at a university. Of course when I was a student it never occurred to me to ask such things either. I wish I had.

    Perhaps unconsciously I was trying to avoid what was going to be a rough issue. In the past when I have tried to talk about career issues I’ve encountered some resistance from students. Most art students much prefer to focus the talking on the art work they’re doing that day.

    I guess between learning to make art and the challenges of moving into adulthood they feel they have enough on their plate already.

    Spurred on by the Facebook discussion, I did spend an hour in each of the two classes I taught this week addressing steps an artist can take to build an audience for her/his work. And I recommended some of the websites and authors ( including Alyson ) they ought to look at.

  • Every time I meet an artist who went to school for art, they are always teachers or give workshops or something and never sell there art. Now when I do meet an artist who I think has it together and would love to learn something from, guess what? yup no art school. why is that? There must be something to it, I alway blog about that subject since I didnt go to school and I can pay my bills with my art.

  • It may be a failing of humanities courses in general not to teach ‘real world’ courses, but then maybe that’s not what one goes to college for. The idea of going to college at all for certain careers is a notion that needs to be dispelled.
    Excellent discussion, Alyson.

  • I will be upfront about this and I like Phillip am an academic. And I was surprised the strong degree of anger and resentment that I saw when I read through the large number of responses that Alyson got on Facebook.
    This question seems to hit at a lot of issues that I would like to comment on.

    First art in any institution like any other discipline has good and bad teachers as well as many facets of what must be taught within that discipline. Surely all of us can look back and remember a horrible teacher in some subject. Just like anything else the skill sets that are involved in being a good teacher are not the ones that makes someone a great artist or scientist or writer. Some people can teach very well and some cannot.

    So to some degree the quality of an education falls onto the student.( and I think this is true in all education pursuits from college classes to Alyson classes on so on) And rather than getting mad at a faculty person who is not giving them what he or she needs, a student should make sure she is asking and then if the faculty is still not following through the student should gravitate to those who can. I often joke this is the reason I am not a painter, as the painting faculty at my undergrad institution was not a good teacher, but the drawing, printmaking and photography faculty were excellent thus I took their classes and feel I got an excellent education.

    In my short time as a college educator, I have found that I teach a lot of different aspects of art to the students in my classes. In my studio art courses I teach technique, I teach creative thinking, I teach vocabulary, I teach analysis, I teach students how to see, I teach students art history, contemporary practice and theory. And as I can I teach students about the realities of art business making students write artist statements, give verbal presentations about their work, research other artists and find venues to show their work as well as ways to find art opportunities such as residencies and the like.

    Now that I am teaching in a two year college, my biggest goal is to expand my student’s awareness of what art is and what art can be. I know that most of these students will not go on to be full time studio artists and do not want to either, so I feel if I can inspire them and generate an appreciation for art I have done a very valuable service to them and to all the artists in the communities these students end up belonging to. To my students who are wanting to go on and further their education, I have long conversations about their goals in pursuing college and arts. I am honest, often times brutally honest with them if I feel they can take it. Another hard aspect of teaching is being honest and giving feedback without killing a student’s desire or enthusiasm and its tricky.

    I was also surprised to hear how many people are so negative about artists who are educators just in general. And yes there are many academics who are out of touch (in many fields other than art as well) but there are many who are not. Ann Hamilton is still teaching classes at Ohio State University and she has certainly had an amazing and profound art career. But is her art salable? Well now, yes it is, but at the beginning of her career the choice to be an academic so she could pursue art that was installation and temporal made perfect sense. Its part of the reason many people end up in academia that along with desire to positively affect the lives of many students. And please don’t think it is a piece of cake to be a college professor, it can often be a 60 hour a week job especially for faculty who are in charge of large studio areas where they are teaching, keeping up with shop inventories and maintenance.

    Should art schools teach art business classes. My answer is a resounding and very strong hell yes. But keep this is mind, just because we teach it does not mean that every student will listen or incorporate the ideas we present them. And some good business practices and in particular innovation really can not be taught – look at google, look at Bill Gates as examples of people who took some basic knowledge and found their own way. Good artists – artist that make it – do the same thing as well.

    How should we teach it? In a way that is relevant which is a very strong aspect of my teaching philosophy. Art business classes should present a variety of models for students from being an academic, to being a public artist to being another artists assistant and so on. I would certainly invite Wendy to my class to talk to my students, as I know her perspective is a valid as mine. And most importantly these classes should not be left for the last semester of a student’s tenure at an institution, but rather should be taught mid-point or early giving the students a chance to start incorporating what he has learned.

  • Having followed along on facebook I won’t add anything more about this discussion.

    Just an observation that this conversation reminds me of the irate people that get bent out of shape that all professors need to spend more time teaching in front of a classroom (totally failing to understand that 1-1 time with grad students and doing research are a key part of the job of a professor).

    The role of pure research doesn’t seem to be well understood or respected in our society.

  • The question is an insightful one, but it tends to lead to yes or no. I would rather ask these multiple questions:

    - Do we need an art school that teaches students how to prepare for life and a career?
    - Do we need an art school that focuses on becoming a better artist?

    My answer is yes and yes. Based on one’s needs or philosophy, you will attend one or the other.

    I believe in diversity of systems much more than diversity within systems, which, pursued too much, paradoxically leads to homogeneity and lack of choice.

    I am not an artist but an entrepreneur working on an art business, and I would give the same answer to the question about any discipline.

  • Art schools need to focus on students developing their potential in the realm of fine art.
    And, I think it should be mandatory for schools to offer courses in marketing and promotion of fine art.

  • I’m not sure much of what happens in the art world can actually be taught…On a very basic level, probably, but, at a certain point, an artist needs information that is not necessarily available from a mentor…& in order for a mentor to have that kind of information, they often have to have lived it…& if they are working as artists at that level, they may not feel like teaching…Once in a while, a great artist drops in & teaches & its effects upon history are brilliant…Of course, institutions should try…but, we must forgive them if it is beyond them…
    Also, once information is available for teaching, it is often slightly outdated- the art world loves newness, not formulas…
    (you know, like, how can you teach someone to have a tea ceremony at the beginning of your Japanese inspired haiku art show?) I’d suggest any artist at a university sign up for at least one business course…

  • Definitely prepare them for life! It’s misserable if you have to sell your art to exist! The fun of it flies OUT the door!

  • Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen anyone mention that studying in a university setting does indeed give the student all the tools they might need to succeed once their degree is finished. However, it has been my experience that these tools are rarely mentioned, much less thought of, by most of the faculty.

    I think this is only heightened in an art department. Each professor tends to have an area of specialty, such as printmaking or sculpture. They are very good at teaching these elements, and, from time to time, will work in bits of knowledge about being a professional artist. And, as in the case of my university, some even teach a semester long class that deals with the “professional studies” of an art student (in my case, this class dealt with how to ship artwork, present a project proposal, give a gallery talk, prepare a portfolio, etc.) It was an invaluable class, and one that out of all the classes I took, I think I refer back to more often than others.

    But I think the real culprit in this isn’t the art department, or individual professors – it’s the lack of real planning on the part of academic advising. It’s a lack of understanding on the part of the advisors (which, yes, is often a professor in the department) of classes *outside* of the department. If more students were advised, and advised well, on the classes offered in other departments around campus, they could get the kind of experience we seem to be discussing here.

    For example, for my degree, I had to have a two-semester class called “World Civilizations”, and I also had to have “Art History Survey” which was two-semseters. Now, the interesting part about these classes is, they both cover roughly the same time periods of human history at the same pace. But, my advisors either didn’t realize this or thought this information to be unimportant. I took the first part of each course in different semesters. Once I looked at them more closely, I took the second part of each course back to back in the same semester. It was amazing to see how well the lecture in the World Civ class dovetailed into the following lecture in my Art History Survey class. I talked about the French Revolution in one, then I saw the images of it in the other.

    And this same thing can work for marketing classes, business classes, speech classes, etc. and the required studio classes for the degree. If you are taking a studio class that involves public, group critiques or presenting your work, taking a speech communications class at the same time is very beneficial. As you move into the upper level studio courses, and you start to develop your work and are thinking towards life beyond academia, adding in marketing classes, basic business classes would be a great help to the student. It would allow them to start thinking about how they are going to market what they are doing in the studio class. What about taking chemistry at the same time as beginning painting? Learn how the chemical components and reactions of the substances you are using in painting class really work on a chemical level. Beginning ceramics? How about Physical Geology at the same time? Gain understanding into your materials and how they are acquired (and talk about getting the professors motivated to help you – if you have a paper in a non-major class, such as geology, and for that paper you can relate the subject to your major, like how pigments are developed and found, it’s amazing how much the professor will respond and help that student. It’s more interesting to them, and it shows that the student is actually listening and learning and has a use for the class outside of it being a general requirement).

    And yet, this kind of advice, or advising structure, seems to be rarely given or constructed by academic advising. To me, that is the greatest failing of the current academic climate. If more students combined classes in this fashion, I think you’d find them more prepared for the world at large.

  • I sent this email to Alyson last week, entitled: What do you mean: No money in it!

    My name is Matthew Scarlett, and I’m currently studying Drawing and Image Making, at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) in Preston, England. I’m currently in a state of panic as every lecture we’ve had this year, has been from people who claim they earn little or no money from their art. As I will leave university with over £30,000 of debt, the thought of working part time as a waiter and then working as an artist ‘for no money’ has little attraction for me.

    Fortunately I approached an artist, and they’ve past me the URL for your site. I’m currently listening to your podcast, which are encouraging. I’m also currently working on a paper, ‘life after uni’ where I’m trying to establish … how to get established as an artist.

    My secondary issue is that my course rarely gives me an opportunity to do work I wish to do. My fine art colleagues report that; painting is frowned upon. I feel that when I take a project in my direction my marks are poor, yet if I follow my tutors advice, I score higher.

    I wish to move back to my surfing town of Newquay in Cornwall. I have to move away from the north for the sake of my asthma. I want to create a marketable portfolio before I move back down, and I’m planning to use the last year of my degree to do this, However, I’m not sure if my tutors will understand that.

    http://www.newquay-cornwall-holidays.co.uk/newquay-surfing-beaches.htm

    My current blog is gear towards showing my university work.

    http://scarlettsart.wordpress.com/

    I have worked in London as a recruitment consultant. Actually, I was a baker before becoming and recruitment consultant. I simply walked into each consultancy with my C.V. and asked, “I would like to be a recruitment consultant, who do I need to speak to for an interview?”

    I have no issue approaching anyone; my issue is finding the time to build my portfolio to fit my desired market, and to fit what I love to do rather than what my tutors wish me to do.

    I’ve gain some good insight from your site. What I want to ask is: is seeking for a marketable portfolio (money) putting the cart before the horse? I don’t think it’s a bad thing to desire an income. I always made to feel bad when I mention the ‘M’ word. I’m passionate about my work, just not the work that’ I’m almost forced to produce at university. I have done commission pieces on the back of another artist, but that was some 12 years ago.

    http://scarlettsart.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/the-best-foden-truck.jpg

    Forgive me for the rant, I’m good at ranting, hence this text narrative.

    http://scarlettsart.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/text-narrative-installation-by-matthew-scarlett/

    Kind regards, from a confused and panicking art student.

    Matthew Scarlett

    It seems that mentioning the ‘M’ word is a big no, no on my course, and if we do it, we get slapped down as being some kind of heathen, or we get a snide remark about “if that’s what’s important to you.” However, I live in the real world, where bills exist, and I’m worried about how I tackle the real world as an artist. Our course doesn’t really deal with that fact in any realistic terms.

  • In response to Matthew Scarlett:

    I believe that some schools play down marketing for a few reasons:

    One,the professors have rarely made a living with their artwork.

    Two: The school administrators don’t want to feel responsible for helping their graduates get jobs – mostly because they don’t know what sells or why it sells.

    Three: Both admin and teachers rarely believe that artists can make a living at art (although they’re mistaken on that point) – but they worry that if the students connected their career to paying the bills… well they don’t have the answers for that part, so they ignore the issue.

    I say, begin by teaching the teachers and administrators how to make a living with art, and then perhaps they’ll feel less fearful about the topic.

  • Fifteen years ago, I took a two day workshop about Art Marketing. The teacher, Sue Viders, really knew her stuff, and said what she was presenting to us was actually a distillation of a one semester college course. My head was spinning with all the excellant material she presented.

    She also said that every single college and university that she approached rejected her offer to teach this valuable material.

    My university gave art students the complete emotional sickness of hopelessness. “Be a plumber!” the teachers all cried. “You cannot make a living at Art!” Yet we were supposed to strive toward doing museum work, and hope to be “discovered”.

    So here’s where Alyson come in. Alyson, you should franchise your work, having small businesses in every college town.

  • Am delighted that my undergrad is in Business and my grad is in Social Change. Art: one semester at a community college with an EXCELLENT instructor (no we didn’t talk about selling now that you ask), and a workshop with an amazing working clay artist. Now I’m looking for that with glass. I find I want a basic semester with glass. As a working, full-time artist (now working part-time at other things thanks to the economy), I’ve learned to do press releases, start and run a gallery, start and run various non-profits including 1 for art, create “buzz,” get published, etc, on my own – not in my undergrad. I am grateful for learning how to think about making a business plan, and equally grateful for all the right-brain examples available on the internet now. My business plan has never included being a star; however, I have made a name for myself in my small pond, and continue to sell…and to push myself because no one is expecting any particular thing from me (the galleries I show in encourage experimentation and different work). Often anger is fear. Focusing on art and only art for 4 or more years must be absolutely lovely. Leaving the cocoon to fly can create a bit of vertigo for a while. You hear this for other disciplines now, why not art? When art becomes a discipline, a job, then newly minted artists will begin to think in those terms and schools will change to meet their demands.

  • How can you have one with out the other? We become better artists over time through our life experiences and the practice of our craft. And if we are to be successful in our ART CAREERS, we must learn the business of marketing, accounting, basic economics, history, culture, psychology and more, because eventually at some point, they come into play in our work, whether it be the basics of paying the bills or the complexities of symbolism derived from a culture very different than our own.

    The best artists I know are extremely well educated in all matters. Some may be self taught while others obtained degrees in art. But all of them continue life-long learning about much more than art. And it has also been my experience that those artists who are the most successful are also great marketers and money managers. Skills that are learned.

    I am also involved with several arts groups and the ones that are the most successful are those which have members who understand business and have a business plan for their management and success.

    It is sad to send a young person out into the world without giving them all the tools they will need to make it in this competitive world. Just like beauty is not enough to pay your bills, neither is talent and great artwork. If one does not know how to market it, price it, sell it and manage the profit from it, where does it end up? In your closet? A storage unit? Something for someone else to profit from when you die?

    Think about it! Creating art is a career choice and we train for other career choices by having a well rounded education including all the business basics. Why should art be any different?

  • First, kudos, Alyson, for such a thought provoking topic. I have a BFA degree and my university did not teach any sort of business or “real-life” aspects of being an artist. I do believe this lack of preparation was a hindrance to my art career. I see two main faults to academia neglecting this portion of an artist’s education:

    1) Most artist are self-employed or working an entirely unrelated job to “support” their art career. This is simply a fact of the profession and some basic entrepreneurial and business/accounting skills would save a lot of trial and error and anguish for beginning artists. There is no IBM cube hive or Ford factory floor full of artists being trained in “real-world” art sales.

    My husband (software engineer) thinks this is a fundamental problem across the board for universities. Lack of real world training leaves the student unprepared regardless of their field of study.

    2) This neglect of real world application on the premise that it is not the role of the university widens the divide between people who talk about being artists and people who DO art in some way as part of making their living.

    3) If more artists that were professionally trained were also trained to make a living from their talent, not only would the quality of art rise, but so would the respect level for artists who have chosen that career path. (Self-trained artists..please don’t flame me for that one..I know there is plenty of untrained talent and trained garbage, but this is a separate topic altogether.)

    For myself, I feel I’ve wasted a lot of time through my naivety about art as a business since graduating.

  • I can’t possibly begin to respond to all of these. Let me just say that I’m entirely grateful for every word here. Your responses are so thoughtful. And I’m grateful that we’ve heard from professors as well.

    Matthew: Yes, it was your email that started this whole thing! Thank you for sharing it with people here. I didn’t ask to name you or use it because I wanted it to be a more philosophical discussion, but I do appreciate your participation.

    We’re not done here. This has to continue in some form. It’s going to require a lot of brain power.

  • I’m going to add another 2 cents worth here, from a different perspective.
    Has anyone asked art students this question: “What did you think you were going to do with an art degree?” It seems to me that those artists who have given it any thought at all would find a way to be successful. Those who sit back and wait for the instructor to tell them what to do wouldn’t make it anyway.

  • I guess here’s as good as place as any to get this off my chest…

    I have BA in Communications from a VERY old University on the East Coast. Do I use it in my day job as a graphic designer? Maybe a little. I started taking photography classes junior year and one day when I grow up (I’m 48) I want to be a fine-art photographer. Over the past 28 years I have been in over 30 exhibits, won awards, and my work has been published a few times and it has been well received by those I respect.

    I do NOT have a BFA or an MFA. My art heroes didn’t have them either (Weston, Tice, in particular, and many other great photographers). Today, you get nowhere if you don’t have an MFA, and to tell you the truth, most of the stuff I see coming out of the “art” schools, especially in photography, is, yawn, boring (I have better words for them but I’ll keep them to myself). Everything looks the same… boring people in their boring lives. No composition, no line, no tone, no form. It’s all “look at me and my boring friends”. Or there’s a gimmick. Pick a place or an idea that no one else has done and do a project. Or, yikes, I even saw at a major city art museum the other day, where they are “re-purposing” other photographer’s art (with permission – not like Prince or Fairey). And even with the “gimmick” it still all ends up looking the same. Kind of like what happened to music in the 1980s.

    I have a friend who is completing his MFA in photography. I am going to his exhibit tomorrow. We joke around. I ask him to teach me all the “tricks” that only MFAs learn. He teases me and says that my work is “interesting”. I feel “that’s like telling someone they have a nice personality.” I jab back asking him what “MFA” really stands for. I saw some of his work yesterday… it was photographs of dirt… OK???

    It will be interesting tomorrow night.

  • I really feel for you Matthew! I know how English people can be sometimes. Don’t mean to sound bad, I am married to one (he’s the sweetest man in the world with all kinds of quirks).

    I think you are smart to worry about your future. For a short time after I quit my day job I decided to earn my living as an artist. I sold about seven paintings in one year before quitting the job and thought it’ll be a piece of cake if I do it full time. Boy was I wrong! I lost my contacts, didn’t know how to approach my friends from work. I was miserable. The saddest part was I didn’t even feel like painting. I’ve grown up since! I still am not making a profit even though I am selling but I feel I am going in the right direction promoting myself.

    Getting back to the topic, I strongly feel that somebody somewhere has to take the responsibility of teaching artists to make their own living when they graduate! They should at least provide the tools to do their own marketing. I think it should be one of the core courses in the curriculum. Almost all other fields have a clear cut path to follow after they graduate. Sounds like artists everywhere are sent out without any tools to survive in the real world. It’s as if everyone wants artists to live a cliché artist’s life as a penalty for doing what they love.

    I am so glad I found Alyson’s site. I got my contacts together and have informed my list about my upcoming shows and have had a great response. Let’s see how it goes.

    All the very best to you Matthew and all others!

    Kushlani Hall

  • So, Richard, it would seem at least the two of us are in agreement.

    Patricia

  • [...] all college professors! Need help preparing your students for life after [...]

  • Diane Paulhamus

    Hi,
    I am fairly new to this website and felt that I had to respond to this topic. I am a Studio Art Graduate and I found out too late that I was not prepared to carry my art our into the real world. It was after college that I found out that I still don’t know things like how to write an artists Statement, how to approach galleries, how to support myslf on my art, etc. I am generally a shy person so it is hard for me to communicate anything so it is hard for me to have contacts even though I belong to arts organizations in my area. I ‘ve always wanted to go back to the art department at college and tell them of the need for Arts marketing classes starting in the Junior year. Maybe I’m here on this website to look for answers.