Frida Kahlo didn’t go to art college. Jasper Johns never finished. Jean-Michel Basquiat didn’t even graduate from high school.
If your heroes didn’t need a fine arts college degree to grow into the world-shattering artistic visionaries they became, do you?
It’s become somewhat fashionable to dismiss art college as a waste of time and money for the “serious” fine artist. In your own quest for a post-high school path that will help you grow as an artist, you’ve probably encountered articles warning that your money is better spent on supplies, books, and travel. Or that you can get all the art education you need sitting at your computer.
We can’t deny that some of the world’s greatest artists never went to art college. And it’s true that there is a growing body of great online art training resources. It’s also true that getting out into the world to visit art galleries and studios, and to connect with other working artists, is essential to developing your personal artistic vision.
But think about what becoming an artist means to you. You’re pursuing the fine arts because you have something to say, a story to tell — about yourself, about your community, about the world. For you, art is a way of contributing to our culture.
For the aspiring fine artist, driven by a desire for personal growth and to make a difference in the world, there are few better places to spend the next four years of your life than a fine arts college.
1. A community growing together
Even Noah Bradley, who writes frequently about how to become an artist without going to art school, admits, “It’s very easy to be trapped in your room working on learning your art, completely forgetting that you need to also get out there and meet some people!”
Artists that make meaningful, impactful art rarely appear out of nowhere. They emerge out of a community of artists, influenced and improved through ongoing conversation, critique, and yes, competition.
When you enroll in art college, you’re not just signing up for classes and a dorm room. You’re gaining admission to a vibrant community of fellow artists, covering a range of backgrounds, disciplines, goals, and experience levels.
This quote from Steven Guarnaccia, a professor at Parsons The New School for Design, sums it up:
“I think the greatest benefit of going to art school is the shared experience of discovering, debating, and practicing one’s craft and ideas about art with a group of one’s peers, under the tutelage of a skilled guide, i.e., the teacher.”
2. The space to explore, the tools to discover
Do you know how (and where) to secure 24-hour access to well-lit, collaborative art studios with enough space to accommodate your largest canvas? What about a metal shop or welding studio? If you wanted to immerse yourself in the innovative new world of digital art making, could you afford the software and computing power?
A good fine arts college program puts all these cutting-edge tools and facilities within your reach. When you’re not confined to the cramped corner of a low-rent basement studio or making do with shoddy second-hand equipment, your creativity can run free.
3. An interdisciplinary perspective
To be an artist who genuinely has something to say, you need to expand your view beyond the art world. Great artists explore—and participate in—the social and historical context in which their work takes place.
So in this sense, the “college” half of “art college” is just as valuable as the “art.” Yes, you can study art on your own. But look at the some of the required courses for painting/drawing majors at California College of the Arts:
- Philosophy and Critical Theory
- Social Science/History
- Humanities and Sciences
From community colleges to engineering schools, almost every higher education institution offers a similar foundation of courses to broaden students’ worldview and help them become informed, active citizens of the world. This is no less important for artists.
If you skip college entirely, you’ll be missing out on a precious opportunity for personal growth.