Sunday, January 09, 2011
Advice from the Climb up Art Mountain
At the behest of several friends I thought I would repost post this little essay on my feeling revolving around art schools and education based on my experience as not only a teacher, but also as a student myself, working my way along the path like anyone else in art school and as a pro for almost 30 years. The biggest issues I see in the difficulty many artists have on the early part of the climb up Art Mountain is really about artists not being prepared and not making the best choices, not being truthful and honest about their skills, not working hard enough or not being serious enough, and so I thought I would put down some thought which I hope you all find helpful.
I've done a lot of advisingas a teacher and fellow artist in the past few years and so what I am saying here is basically what I say and impart to the students who is asking for my advice. In the last several years I have had many high school students as well as their parents asking me my advice on both choosing ART as a career and path and about choosing a school, getting a degree, etc. I get a lot of students as a teacher in college who are in the 3rd and 4th year--and are suddenly scared and concerned about their skill set and path, as they should be--and about the choices they made and the ones they still have to make to achieve the best chance of success after graduation.
The whole game is changing in a big way for artists these days and globalization and technology are at the center. The whole world, culture is in this big upheaval, the digital wave along with the fallout from the financial crisis coupled with globalization change things daily and put a lot more pressure on the artist than 20-30 years ago. I think it was easier, though not always easy to get a job in art and make a living 20 years ago. Sure commercial art might---might be an easier trade than being a "fine artist,' but there were plenty of people making a living as painters. I read somewhere it has never been a good time to be an artist. There is always some kind of disaster, war, you name it. There are also more artists working now than all of history combined---thats a huge number!
The fact is things like globalization and the rise of talent pools overseas, NAFTA, the decline of our education standards and the new permanent bad economy, the huge rise in the cost of education means the student must be both more serious, focused and work harder and make better choices. Employers can be choosier, pay less, things come and go faster, technology is changing things faster and faster. Faster than we really have the ability to adjust to, sure, we deal with it because we have to, but that doesn't mean we are at peace with it or in sync.
As a result I think you have to choose a path sooner, and work on staying on that path. You can't screw around for 10 years and suddenly rush up on success. Being an artist is a serious endeavor. It's like being a doctor in some degree, like going to medical school, you do the general med, then pic the school you need for the specialty, oncology, brain surgery, etc. You must be as serious as a med student!
Art school should be serious, the choice must be an educated and informed one. Wandering around for 4 years "being an artist" at the tune of a 120K is just a bad investment and guarantees only one thing--debt.
We don't live in times where you can be simple, or soft, unfocused. Art school can and should be about exploration, but the young artist can most often be like a river, undisciplined, wild, full of energy and potential and sometimes a lot of shit, but it must be channeled in a specific way or path to reach certain point or goals and harness its energy and wealth. Too many are hobbyists! I see this all the time, and art can be a hobby, but a hobby isn't a career and a hobby isn't a serious endeavor either.
The illusion by many parents is that a degree means a job, a false belief ( and a growing one) that there is any guarantee of job security, and a degree doesn't mean that, talent doesn't either, but real talent and skill are the best bet for the artist who wants to make a career and not be a hobbyist.
Face it--most art schools are mostly a sham, turning out thousands of artists country wide, 98% or better who never land any art gigs. You don't need a degree to get a job if you have the chops, but most artist don't have the A or B level skills to do that.
Getting your skill set to that level is the most important goal one must have if you want to make your way as a working artist. Any path that gets your abilities there is themost important goal. A good school and good teachers can really help, but just choosing a school based on a name is a wrong choice and a big mistake.
What you have to do is focus and choose the school by doing research. Look at the success and quality of the work of the student body, but also of the teachers, especially the teachers, as a school is only as good as the faculty. You wouldn't go to a gym where the trainers were fat.
Some friends in a recent discussion were mentioning of not knowing about the Art Students League when they were younger. I knew about it in high school as many of the illustrators mentioned it as a place of study. However I didn't know about PAFA either as a kid, It is the first art school in America, but I'm sure my teachers did. I knew about Parsons, SVA and Art Center, and I wanted to go there, I knew artists like Syd Mead went there.
The fact is doing research is easier now than it was in 1978, so if you are interested in going to school or to be a figurative artist, an animator, what ever, you can find out so much now on line.
When I decided to go back to school I knew what I wanted to do, to become a better painter and figurative artist, get out of comics and animation and become a full time painter--that narrowed the schools down to less than a handful, I started search for Philly based artists first, I thought were good, in the chance I could study with them or go to their school.
That's how I came across Scott Noel and of course Nelson Shanks. I tracked Scott to PAFA. I had taken classes there off and on since the 90's and by now knew of the school, so that lead me to go take the tour and convinced me to go there. I choose PAFA over Shanks school Incamminati because they don't offer a degree, if they had I might have gone there. Though I am now planning to continue to take extra classes at Incamminati over the course of the next year or so as he offers things PAFA doesn't. Another important thing--no school is perfect or offers everything, you are always going to have to augment and update your schooling, skill set and knowledge--for the rest of your life.
If you are serious about painting or drawing in the classical sense, not the modern sense where any mark made is called drawing, you will easily know about places like Grand Central Academy, the Art Student's league, they are not hard to know about, especially to the serious student who reads books on other famous artists, or blogs as so many of them attended class there at some point. Cal Arts, Sheridan, Watts, Full Sail, its easy to know about these places, and you have to see if what they offer fits you.
The onus is on YOU, to inform yourself and make the choices, by doing research and committing to art in a serious way you will then be able to chart a path. If you are merely interested, this sounds "cool", then the best thing to do is take CE courses until you find a way, a path you want to seriously embark on, paying 30K a semester to 'get your feet wet" is a waste of $$$!
I have advised many parents to do that, send the student to CE classes at PAFA, many of which are taught by the regular faculty, or to any school like that and see how they do, if they do well, then they have made the right choice, if they decide it isn't for them, well they didn't spend enough money to buy a car and walk away with nothing.
And this is just the beginning, this is something that will continue all your life on some level, it will change, you will change, the world will change. When I was 23 I got into comics and I didn't need to use or know about computers. Now the computer is part of every job!
There is still a demand for art, with all of the fantasy and gaming stuff, it seems like there can never be enough good artists for that alone. Match your desires to a demand someplace, but then work to get the skill to meet the demands and take advantage of the opportunities when they come. And you have to flush them out like a hunter and have the skill to bag em'! You also have to work hard and work smart, you really have to be a zealot, it must be your religion, I feel even stronger about this now because you will have to fight many battles and if you don't have that compulsion you will just not give art what it needs to make you a success. The fact is all of this can be joyous and fun, a great experience that will grow every day of your life. Going back to school is maybe the single best thing I have done for myself besides deciding to be a cartoonist. Well that's my 2¢ from almost 30 years as a professional artist and a life time art student.