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Is Art School Worth It? We get asked this question a lot.
I’ll preface my opinion with either way you approach the art field, you have to be motivated. Like super motivated. I want you to eat this field for breakfast. For lunch. For dinner. For that couple of bites of cake you sneak from the fridge in the middle of the night when no one is looking. (Mmmm….cake.) Because it’s hard work, no matter how you slice it.
Private art school is expensive. Not doctor/lawyer expensive, but not state-school affordable. When you’re in your late teens/early 20’s, most of us look at the amount they want to charge you, and then look at the bank note that says they’ll totally cover you (with loans you’ll be paying back forever), and sign the dotted line without as much thought as you’d hope.
I personally had gone through community college first (shout out to Chemeketa!) and left with an Associates degree and zero to pay back. I’d worked the entire time I was in school, and went half time to make sure I didn’t owe anything when I left. Which I’m super glad I did. Looking back, if you’re going to do the art school route, it saves you a good chunk of change if they’ll accept any amount of transfer credits. The classes I took at CCC were mostly the general studies that you want to get out of the way anyways, and compared to the non-art classes at AI, CCC blew them away in quality.
So is it worth it?
Yes and no. The field I work in rarely (if ever) pays attention to whether or not you have a degree, so it’s not technically a necessity. I worked really hard and got super lucky, but art school doesn’t work out for everyone. I managed to get to the point where I have a steady job in the field that pays the bills, but a lot of people leave with a degree (or not, a lot of people drop out early) and don’t manage to land a job in the field they’re aiming for. Or they do, but it doesn’t pay the bills on top of the very hefty student loan payments they have to make. Ultimately, the Art Institute gave me what boils down to two things: Program Competency and Connections.
Program Competency: You need to know at least Photoshop, Painter, or the equivalent to start working as a digital artist (as well as having the relevant drawing/lighting/etc skills.) It also helps to be familiar with illustrator, 3D programs, and other software you might find other people using in a game studio, if that’s ideally where you’d like to work. You don’t necessarily need to be able to use them fluently, but it helps the pipeline flow between you and the 3D artists on your team if you know what they’re going to need from you and how they’ll need it delivered. The Art Institute has you take classes in all of these programs, so even if you don’t end up using them, you can at least talk about them with some competency. (Lord how I hated 3D Animation.)
Connections: I made a lot of amazing friends during my three year stint at AI, many of which I have either helped or been helped by in my career. Because you’re in school with people getting into all the facets of the industry due to the variety of majors, you’ll potentially have ins wherever your friends do. My first job was in a commercial studio, which I got because my boyfriend at the time had connections there. My initial freelance gigs with the game studios in town were sent my way because I had other friends who had also made it through those doors, and gave me a hand up. Once I got in, I started pulling my friends in as well.
(On a side note, I didn’t list “Art Skills” here, because while they did give me some, and I had a few great teachers, I did a lot of working on my drawing skills outside of this venue.)
Would I have the career I have if I’d tried to go the self-taught route? Probably not. But it’s definetly way more possible now, due to the current nature of the internet.
The “Self-Taught” Route
One of my younger (like, born the year Jurassic Park came out young) 2D cohorts is entirely self-taught thanks to internet how-to’s, youtube videos, and online courses. He’s ridiculously talented (although I’d never say it to his face.) You can find his work here:
He’s got a lot of drive, and you absolutely have to if you want to take this route. No one is handing you a course syllabus. You have to research the teeth out of the area you want to work in, craft a baller portfolio in the style that they look for, and really get into the art community socially. But it’s absolutely doable. I asked Forrest if he had any recommendations for kids looking for some instruction online, and he sent this over as a place to start:
It lists tutorials, brushes, tools, art channels, etc. There’s also sites like gumroad.com/ that have tutorials for purchase that I’ve found super helpful.
If you’re interested in distinctly concept art, he also recommended Brainstorm:
It’s not an accredited school, but it offers classes in exactly the skills you’d need. You wouldn’t come out of it with a Bachelors, but you also wouldn’t come out of it with an unbearable amount of student debt.
If you’re looking for the college experience, don’t think you have the discipline to work on your skills and get a portfolio together on your own, or just don’t have the resources to make it without outside assistance, art school may be a totally valid direction for you. A costly direction (seriously, so expensive) but a valid one. If you’re super driven and think you can bunker down and get your skills and portfolio together solo, it’s entirely possible to make it without art school if you want to. It just takes a whole lot more footwork.
Thanks for tuning in! I hope I was at least able to give you some food for thought if you’re in the position of considering either of these options. Let me know if you have any questions!
|Hey there! I'm a 2D wiz currently located in Portland, Oregon. I do a lot of commercial work for companies around town (Concepting, Storyboards, Colorist, Layout, etc.) I live with my sweet-A husband Adam and our two cats.|