There has been so much misinformation on the topic of Art School I felt it was seriously needed I tackled the topic from the perspective of a professional. It's a long read, so get comfy
First things first, I'm Marc (hello!) and if you didn't know already, up until a little over a year ago I was a Senior Artist (2D/3D) working for Blizzard Entertainment. I worked on Overwatch for 5 years as a member of the starting team (2nd character artist on the team) and then on StarCraft and Heroes of the Storm.
I've given talks, interviews, written workshops for ImagineFX and a number of other magazines, worked freelance on the side throughout my career and more importantly, I've never been to art school. I'm now leading the team over @ Cubebrush but that's boring so let's skip over that
With this post I want to accomplish 3 different things:
- 🔹 Debunk the importance of traditional art schools
- 🔹 Debunk the belief you need a degree or certificate to be a professional artist
- 🔹 Offer a solution to those looking for alternatives
🔷 You don't need to go to Art School to get good
Let me just begin by saying going to art school in itself is not a bad thing. There are many art schools out there with good teachers and decent curricula. It can definitely work for some, especially if you don't have to pay for it yourself or if it's free/near free where you live.
The main issue is always the costs. This focuses more on the US market but these problems are similar in many other countries as well (if you have art schools at all!). The average cost of 3-4 years in art school here in the US will vary between $60k-200k. Obviously, no student has this kind of money (even with scholarships) so most end up getting student loans, paying back insane amounts of debts over their entire adult life. Having lots of friends in that situation, it's easy to see it's a major burden and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Hell, my wife is in that situation as well, as an ex Animator for Blizzard having attended Animation Mentor.
The worse part is probably the results these art school generate. The average placement 2 years after graduation is a ridiculous 10% and the salaries can be expected to be between $20-40k right out of school. This obviously sucks if you expect to be paying back a ton of debt. Now if you don't have any debt, that's not bad to be doing something you love!
I've obviously met a lof of artists in my life, most of my friends are artists and as a result I've heard a lot of stories. What's more striking is the % of professional artists with art degrees, it's a little under 50%. This means the majority of working pros did not attend art school. Let that sink in.
The main argument that keeps coming back is that you need the networking school provides and the human contacts to help each other grow. Again, for most people that's simply not true. Most artists tend to be introverts, and introverts work better alone. Even then it's usually pretty easy to find local art meets or life drawing classes/sessions. The networking part? Most of your networking will be done online, which is by far the most effective way to get noticed. If you post online regularly, keep being involved in the art community and display solid growth over time, that's the best way to get TONS of eyes on your art and as a result: job offers. If you can't get noticed online, the whole art thing is probably not gonna work out anyways, at least not as your primary source of income. Deviant Art, other portfolio platforms, instagram, facebook groups, etc are fantastic gauges of your shot at a professional career. If you can grab people's attention that way, you should be just fine. It can sound silly for some, but more views/likes/shares = more opportunities. The more you get, the better the opportunities as well, as in, more money.
🔷 Do you need a degree to get hired?
Aside from placement expectations, this is probably the biggest lie/misconception floating around. You do not need a degree to get hired, ever. At this point you might have realized it based on the fact most pros don't have any like I just mentioned, but it's something art schools and misinformed parents keep repeating to students and it couldn't be further from the truth, and it actually ruins the lives of many as a result.
To make it worse, a lot of studios actually mention in their application requirements you need some sort of certification or degree to be considered. Let me make this very clear again, this IS NOT TRUE.
Then why mention it at all, right? Here's the logic - and once again this is not my opinion, this is coming directly from friends that are recruiters and from countless studios my company interviewed over the last 2 years - it's a requirement simply to make their life easier. Think of it as an applicants filter.
Basically, it's much more likely an applicant with an art degree will have a decent portfolio than someone without. If the applications were opened to everyone (they are in fact open to everyone) studios would get floaded with applications from amateur artists thinking they are good enough because their parents told them so.
It's simply a filter for the studio. The logic works in most cases even if they might miss out on a few qualified artists who don't apply when they see the requirements. Same with the requirements asking for x years of experience - it's there to filter out applicants, but really it doesn't mean anything.
What you actually need
Then what matters you ask? First, your PORTFOLIO. Second, your personality. It's pretty much 50/50 between those 2. Nothing else. Your portfolio will get you the interview, your personality will convince the employer to hire you.
Don't believe me? Email/call the studios and ask this question:
If I have a good portfolio, does it matter if I have a degree/formal education or not?
The answer will always be "no". Try it.
I mentionned at the beginning I didn't have an art degree myself - not only that but I have no degrees at all. I'm a dropout!
There is actually one scenario for which having a degree can help, but it's probably not what you expect: Getting a work visa if you plan to work abroad. The custom agents don't know if your portfolio is good or bad, so they rely on formal education to issue work visas. Not having one isn't a deal breaker though, again in my case, I didn't have one yet still relocated from Canada to the US with a work visa and had no problems doing so. Still, it usually helps.
Having work experience can also serve as an equivalent to formal education however, so again, a degree is not "needed" if you really want to work in a different country.
🔷 If going to a traditional art school is often a bad idea, then what?
Now comes the good part, the solution!
There are many alternatives to a formal art education - online tutorials, art workshops, study groups, figure drawing classes, plein air painting classes, YouTube, etc.
For a lot of people this can work. It did for me. You can start with some go-to art books (here are some recommendations) and then supplement your learning with tutorials, workshops, etc.
There is one thing missing with all these though, the structure of school. The curriculum.
If you're really good as self-teaching you should definitely be able to make it, it might take some extra time to find everything you need by collecting bits and pieces all over the place, but it's definitely doable. For others who need the structure, that might be a harder pitch. That might be your case.
Still, in both cases, having a solid structure and solid content will always speed up your learning significantly. Time is our most valuable resource, don't waste it!
Regardless of your learning preference, during my time working as a professional I was somehow always expecting something to come along and fix art-learning. With the technologies we have today it seems ridiculous for people to still have to attend traditional schools with a format that hasn't changed in hundreds of years, or find themselves scouting the entire intrawebs to find the bits and pieces needed to build a strong foundation. Still, after all my years in the industry nothing that could fully replace school ever poped up.
So last year, I said f*** it and decided I'd just tackle this damn task myself. This is how ART School for Digital Artists was born.
I spent the majority of 2017 sneaking around asking friends/colleagues who were teaching to show me their school curricula hoping to see what they were doing right and what they were doing wrong. I collected about 15 from all the top schools around the country & abroad and used those as inspiration to carefully build the perfect curriculum for my own ART School project.
The result is a 10 Term online course with the best curriculum you'll find if your goal is to be a successful digital artist (any kind of digital artist). There is nothing out there like it, and 4 terms in, I can see why! The amount of work required to put something like this together is absolutely insane. At least it's a ton of fun!
Last year, once I felt the curriculum was great, I started working on the course. I'm about to release Term 4 soon and while it's been incredibly difficult and time consuming, the feedback has been 100% worth the efforts. I release each Terms as I finish work on them so you can already get started.
If you want to get a better idea, please check out the video trailer and curriculum here.
It's basically the spiritual equivalent of a BFA, but focused on digital art.
It's meant to be a complete art education, whether you're starting from nothing or have a good base already. It comes with assignments and there's a forum dedicated to it where students can share their process and grow together. There's also a Discourse channel and more ways for students to interact and grow coming in the near future (Google hangouts, streams, etc!).
I have 100% confidence in the fact you will not find a better way to learn and build a killer portfolio. Not only that but there will be classes on marketing yourself as an artist, and others on the business side of art, both topics you would definitely NOT learn at a traditional school since it takes someone who's made it (successfully!) to teach it.
Did I mention the price? It's cheaper than the art books you would need going to traditional school alone. It's just slightly over $1 a day for a full year.
This is the biggest project of my life so far and I couldn't be more excited to take you along for the ride. With 1500+ students already enrolled taking control of their career and nothing but perfect reviews, I think you might get quite a lot out of it too I've been teaching for many years now in the form of video tutorials and 1-1 mentorship so I wasn't too worried about the quality of my teaching (jk I was super worried) but seeing the fantastic feedback really is the confirmation I needed. For a project like this, art chops are important, but teaching skills equally so!
Sorry for the plug at the end here but I feel it's an important project for a lot of artists out there so I needed to share it!
Whether you're interested in the project or the other alternatives I mention, I really hope this post helps clear things up a bit when it comes to art education.
Don't hesitate to shoot your questions in the comments below, or share your feedback or personal experience going to art school if you can, good or bad! The more people know, the more educated everybody is about it, the better.