Why Art School (may or may not) Suck!

 

Graduation_by_Aaron_Murphy

Actually I guess that’s not really fair because as a writer, I never actually went to art school because I was stuck in “writer’s school” which I’m pretty certain sucks.

What I’m really talking about is any type of  so-called “art school” whether it’s music school, design school, fine art school, or your plain old useless Liberal Arts degree (of which I am all too familiar).  While I’m certainly not the first person to question the value of attending a traditional art school, I still can’t help but wonder if attending an art school or a liberal arts program really is the best way to become a better artist, musician, or writer? 

A simple question

I suppose the basic question behind this article is this:

Does the learning and training that you receive from these types of arts programs really help you become a better artist/writer/musician, or is the time (and money) you spend on them better used for getting the experience of actually doing your art?

Let me back up for a moment

Before all of you begin to accuse me of unnecessarily corrupting the minds of our youth and somehow suggesting that school isn’t cool, I want you to know that I have always been a supporter of higher education.  As both a former high-school teacher as well as someone who has invested literally thousands of dollars and hours to obtain a liberal arts eduction, I am the poster boy for racking up hefty student loans on a couple of degrees I barely use.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m certainly not suggesting that going to college or art school is a bad thing.  Getting yourself an education is a good thing, and I truly believe that anyone who has the opportunity to attend college should consider going . . . if really you need to.

 

How to open a Philosophy Store 101

Those of you who were a liberal arts major will probably already be familiar with this old joke.  For the rest of you, the story goes that one day a student told his parents that he wanted to major in philosophy in college.  His parents, who were paying for his education, asked him if he was planning on opening a “philosophy store” after he graduated.  The moral of the story, of course, is that liberal arts majors such as philosophy, art history, creative writing, and yes English Literature — often do not lead to jobs in the real world, unless that job includes steaming milk at Starbucks or sorting books at Barnes & Noble.  The irony here, of course, (and we English majors love our “irony”) is that you don’t actually need a college degree to get any of these jobs.

I’m a living cliché just like the rest of these guys. I’m the guy who keeps dropping out and changing his major just because he’s afraid he really sucks at everything. ~Bardo (Art School Confidential)

Let’s think about this for a moment. If you want to become a doctor, you go to medical school.  If you want to become a pharmacist, you go to pharmacy school.  On the other hand, if you want to become a writer, you simply tell everyone that you’re a writer.  If you want to become an painter, you buy some paint and tell everyone you are a painter.  If you want to become a musician. . . .you get the point.  When it comes down to it, there aren’t any real degrees or licenses to become an “artist”.  Sure we can enroll in art school and wear a lot of black clothes, but essentially all you have to do to become an artist is to have the guts to call yourself an “artist” (and eventually break the bad news to your parents).  That’s it!

Yes, you will also eventually need the skills to back it up, but how exactly we best develop these skills is what we’re going to talk about.

 

Knowledge vs. Experience

So how do we really become better artists?

Is it through knowledge of technique, reading books, taking classes, training under a mentor, or do we learn best through the experience of trial and error.  I’m not about to speak on behalf of everyone, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most of us would be far better off saving our tuition money and spending that time working solely on our art. Does this mean that we have nothing to learn from others? Of course not.  I’m just think that we should consider designing our own curriculum, and not allowing others to decide what we need to know.

 

You see, I had this problem. . .

I used to have this bad habit of wanting to know everything that I would possibly need to know before starting a new writing project. So for example if I was going to write a story that was set in a park, I would become obsessed with finding out, not only about what kind of animals lived in that particular park; but also what type of flowers, trees, and rocks could be found there as well.

Now did I really need to know all of this before I could write this story? Probably not, but what I initially justified as being an exercise in literary accuracy, turned out to be little more than an excuse to put off writing for another day (or ten).  You see instead of actually writing anything, I was busying myself with research.  Why? Because as a teacher, that’s exactly what I had been trained to do.  I had been taught to research the hell out of a subject and then methodically break it up into smaller digestible chunks for the students. So what would happen is that I would spend vast amounts of time preparing to write, and very little time actually writing.

I was simply following the plan. . . their plan.

 

Stumbling upon enlightenment

Okay, the word “enlightenment” is probably a little strong, but after years of continually doing things the “stupid way” I finally discovered something that was incredibly liberating and changed my entire working process.  It was simply this. . .

Learn what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Stupidly simple I know, but what it made me do was give up this obsession with trying to know everything I might possibly need to know before I got started. Now, my goal is to start a project and then figure out what I need to know as I go along.  It doesn’t matter if I’m writing an article or setting up a website, I make it a point to learn as I go. Now do I make a lot of mistakes along the way? Absolutely, but I also make it a point to learn from these mistakes and (hopefully) not repeat them.

The interesting thing is that I discovered that none of these mistakes, that I could have potentially avoided, were all that bad.  Instead of busying myself playing useless “what-if” games in my head, I made it a point to simply find out what I need to know to get started and then go from there.

 

What does any of this have to do with Art School?

At it’s essence, art school/design school/photography programs/music departments/and liberal arts colleges are all in the business of preparing you to create your art.  Yes, of course you are writing and painting and playing and designing and snapping pictures as you go along, but this is not really your art.  In other words, you are still following their curriculum, their program, and their path—not yours.  The only way you will be able to discover you own path, however, is when you have given yourself the freedom to choose as well as the freedom to fail.

 

Now it’s your turn. . .

All right, I’ve said my piece and now I would like for you to finish this post.

I would like to hear from those of you who have attended some type of formal art/music/writing/liberal arts program.

  • What was your experience like, and given what you know now, would you go back and do it again?
  • What do you think is the most valuable thing you learned during your time there?
  • Looking back now, what is the one thing you wished they would have taught you more about in school?
  • Finally, if you could go back and talk to your younger self, what would you say to this person who was just starting out?

Let’s hear it!


Image courtesy of Aaron Murphy

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Comments

  1. Drew says

    Hi Erin, Thanks for stopping by :) I recently discovered DesignForMankind and I have really enjoyed nosing through the archives and your excellent Dialogue video series. When I decided to do this Art School write-up, I knew that I would have to include your video as well. I look forward to seeing more!

    • says

      A couple semesters to get started in art school is a good idea. After that, total waste of time and money! That being said, I do teach private lessons, and there’s a lot to be learned from one on one classes. Great article!

  2. says

    Great post. I studied art in high school but chose the business route for undergrad and grad school. I felt that what I learned there could be applied to the business side of my art. Art school wasn’t going to help me an artist, I already was one. Classes here and there are great to refine old and learn new skills and techniques but what’s the outcome when pursuing a degree? That I’ve learned to paint the way they wanted me to? No thanks. Your point about “In other words, you are still following their curriculum, their program, and their path—not yours. ” is dead on. Plus teachers can play favorites too which can be discouraging too.

  3. says

    Another terrific piece, Drew. There’s a storied liberal arts school where I grew up, we used to say, “What do people do with a degree from ** *****? Get a job teaching at ** *****!”.

    For the record, it wasn’t my creativity that took a licking, it was the justification I’ve often heard from others for a wide variety of actions NOT taken by them on their own behalf; people who were convinced they were getting nowhere either because they did or didn’t study at a formal institution, when in reality it had more to do with the fact that they weren’t actually making any art.

    I do believe, as you do, that skill acquisition is critical, and in it’s purest sense, vocational training is what virtually every other professional program offers to it’s students; med school, law school, you name it, that’s what it boils down to. But even in that context we are taught to practice medicine, not necessarily how to be doctors, just as we are taught to practice art, not necessarily how to be artists.

    I believe this is all actually part of a deeper mythology that we perpetuate in our society, that our identities are inextricably linked with the work that we do; this has the effect of creating an entirely different set of very unrealistic expectations in learning environments, and later, for whatever we do to generate income (though that’s veering in the direction of a different discussion). We can be assisted with resources, but no one can dream our dreams for us, and as in other professions, being an artist isn’t strictly about the dollars rolling in.

    All of that said, different priorities, different values, and different motivations eliminate the possibility for anything resembling a cookie cutter career path in the arts (and I actually believe that beyond base levels this is true in any profession, really. We always get to decide for ourselves what we’d like to make our work about), but education, whether in the form of Académie, workshops, picking up a book, or checking out a blog like Erin’s can be a great place to start. To those not fortunate enough to already be deeply embedded in the culture of art and creativity it can be a revelation, however initiatory, and it’s also very useful to know which end of the rifle to hold. ;)

  4. Drew says

    Wow, there’s some great stuff here!

    Michelle,
    First of all, it’s good to hear from you and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I love your quote when you say that “Art school wasn’t going to help me an artist, I already was one.” I think that’s a great way of thinking about all of this. I would also be curious to hear how you think your business background has helped or will help you better market yourself as an artist?

    You are also right when you say that most professors have their own set of favorites and biases. I remember far too many professors who would stray from the syllabus regularly and ramble down some dark tangent with no end in sight :0 because they happened to be writing a book on 19th century European Bordello Literature. . .zzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Anyway, before I ramble on too much further and follow their bad example, I’ll just say thanks again for stopping by and I hope to hear from you again soon!

  5. Drew says

    Jamie,
    It’s always a pleasure to see your blue one-legged dancing avatar appear and inspire us with your insights. I was hoping that I would be able to bait you into joining the conversation by referencing your seminal essay on the subject :)

    I think you’re right that far too many people tend to blame their lack of success as an artist on not being able to attend art school, or not somehow being afforded the same opportunities as so and so –when the truth is that they would much rather justify their failure than actually work on their art.

    Yes, skill acquisition is always critical and I certainly did not mean to imply otherwise, but you nailed it when you said that these schools are a type of vocational training and that “we are taught to practice medicine, not necessarily how to be doctors, just as we are taught to practice art, not necessarily how to be artists.” I think you’re right that it’s important to separate the more mechanical “skill” of creating art with the the more intangible “art” of being an artist.

    The idea of our identities being too wrapped up in our profession is an issue that has always bothered me and one that eventually I would like to explore in the future, but you’re right when you say that all of this creates more unrealistic expectations and unneeded stress on top of our already fragile ego.

    Always a pleasure Jamie :)

  6. says

    Love this piece Drew…I can’t say I agree with its premise completely. In retrospect, I think college for me was more about critical thinking, learning to question everything and learning to navigate bureaucracy (oh, and aggressive parking 101). It gave me a place to better grow into myself. What I am saying is it really isn’t about the degree or the grades, but social interaction, finding yourself while providing a wee bit of structure.

    Given the cost these days of public University, you are probably right on the it may be better to spend your dollars on learning your art. There are tons of learning sites like on the web that can provide traditional workshop and class environments, hell youtube is free if you have the time to wade through the junk. Amazon has more books on art that I can shake a stick at. You could buy a lot of books for the cost of one semester at University.

    Traditional learning is full of pitfalls and possibilities. But like the song goes, You take the good, you take the bad, you take em both and then you have…The Facts of Life (did I really just quote an 80′s TV theme show song). I think people attending college need to go in with a critical eye. I think personal creativity can be done within the system. The greatest auteurs of classic cinema, for example, worked in a draconian system, but directors like Hitchcock found ways to bring about their vision working within the boundaries they were given.

    For some, school may work best, others the self taught method will be better. I will always believe more knowledge is better than less, but a book really can’t teach you to take good photographs, produce good paintings, music, etc. Its something that requires lots of hard work and practice.

  7. Drew says

    Out of all the things I learned in college, I think that Aggressive Parking 101 has probably been the most useful (although navigating bureaucracy is probably a close second)

    You’re absolutely right Brian, that the real value of going to college/art school is often in the skills you learn outside of your major like critical thinking and learning to see outside of your own world/perspective. I’m just not sure that the cost these schools are demanding justify these benefits.

    I know, how can you really put a price on critical thinking and “hairy buffalo” parties–and that’s what I thought too until my student loan bills came due! Somewhere along the line, I guess I just crossed that line between being a cool free-thinking college kid and being the parent to three kids and a hefty mortgage.

    So when the time comes, am I really going to forbid my kids from pursuing their dreams of going to college majoring in philosophy (hopefully not their actual dream) or fine arts. . . . probably not, but I will do my best to make sure their passion for their chosen niche is real, and I’ll also make them read this post a few dozen times just for good measure ;)

    Julia Forsyth had an excellent idea about the solution to all of this, but I am trying to force her to post it here so I cannot not reveal her secret plan . . .

  8. says

    Okay, now that I’m back from Googling what a hairy buffalo party is – ha! – I’ll post in a few minutes. Hairy Buffalo Party = Everclear plus fruit if Wikipedia can be trusted on this one. I think HBP is a Midwestern thing that we call Trash Punch in the South. :) Both linguistic choices are super-classy – hee hee!

  9. Drew says

    You see Julia, we’re all about class here in the Mid-West! I think the Everclear eventually makes the hallucinatory Buffalos appear, the origin of the hairiness is another story that I’m afraid I cannot share because like you said . . . . we’re super-classy!

  10. says

    Art school did provide certain opportunities that I wouldn’t have had access to if I had just worked within the confines of my home studio. For example, as a painter, I had the opportunity (sadly wasted by immaturity) to learn how to expand my painting series into related series of lithography and intaglio prints and even expand into 3D through related clay and fiber constructions. Then I could have had one strapping, massive superseries spanning multiple media but all united by subject and technique. And even if I stayed completely within the boundaries of painting, access to a kick-butt woodshop afforded me the luxury of building a canvas of any dimension imaginable rather than adapting my idea to work within 4 or 5 predetermined standard canvas sizes. I seriously wish I still had access to that woodshop!!

    Commercial Design/Graphic Design would be learned a lot faster and easier in a group (college) setting, and just the computer programs alone would be cost-prohibitive for most college-aged students to purchase on their own (plus most can’t afford the cost of the big ol’ computer and oversized monitor you would need to run and view all those specialized programs.)

    I think the community college option, as someone else brought up, could be a great choice (unless someone decides to kickstart a modern revival of the Medieval Craft Guilds.) I’m completely with whoever wants bring back some massive Guild Power to the 21st century.

    Another outdated idea that is looking pretty good in hindsight is apprenticing with the master of your chosen craft.

    My main concerns w how college is done now are the superhigh cost and how young most people are when they enter college. I’ve heard of some countries encouraging students to work in their chosen field during a Gap Year between high school and college. Okay, USA, time to find out how amazing a Gap Year can be! Who’s with me??

    Another concern of mine is how much influence your art professors have over you creatively. One thing that professors (at least mine) do/did is impose their own personalized set of quirky rules on all your future artwork done in that prof’s class. The professor is armed with a powerful ultimatum to fail you out of college if you decide to go against his or her rules, I.E. any and all blue paintings suck, (guess there was an issue with blue), no text could be incorporated into a good painting, no green mats, etc. This might explain my volumes of blue text-based artistic output post college. I’m with them on the no-green-mats rule, though.

  11. says

    Actually, gap years are something I’ve spent a lot of time discussing with people as well, and I agree that they would be a very good thing, be it in the form of work experience or community service. I believe that additionally it would be wise to allow students to begin pursuing studies directly related to their chosen fields at the same time they complete their SATs. Nothing makes or breaks a whim like actual experience.

    However, this is where the arts diverge from the rest of the professional world somewhat, not in principle, but in execution. I found your comment very interesting Brian, and I know bureaucratic nonsense is justifiably a great source of ennui and discouragement for many students, again, pursuing any profession, but commercial art aside (and in that I include the gallery system) at its heart pursuing a life in the arts is more akin to an entrepreneurial venture. There is no bureaucracy, or for that matter a clear beginning, middle, or end. There is you, your work, and whomever you’d like to serve with it. Ideally we do have partnerships that are mutually beneficial, but there are no rules, and really what is called for here is creativity, and plenty of it. This is not something we will find in institutions, and it makes a strong case for mentors and a freer passing of the torch in contexts outside of them.

    And Julia, you may or may not be amazed at how common it still is, in my experience anyway, for successful artists quite far along in their careers to do their work as though that heckler of an instructor were still peering over their shoulder. For myself, my fifth grade teacher Mr. Pacheco was the best I ever had. ;)

  12. Drew says

    You’re right Julia (of course) that there is something lost without the shared resources, communal vision, and yes competitive environment that formal training programs provide for their students. These factors alone expose you to new ideas, techniques, and self-discipline that you might otherwise never learn. Not that you couldn’t learn them, but you would have to develop them on your own.

    The gap year is an intriguing option as well, although I have to tell you that I actually worked at “The Gap” for several years while in college and found those “Gap” years to be no more satisfying then my previous “Sears” years. So take from that what you will (true story)

    Even though I realize this will most likely cement my old-fogey reputation, I do believe that for the most part it’s true that education (including my own) is often wasted on the young.

    At a time when we are expected to live for 70+ years, why do we continue to believe that we will somehow be able to find our true purpose in this world at the age of 18? I remember being eighteen (vaguely) and I know that I wasn’t doing that much deep thinking. I mean here I am now pushing 40, and I’m still trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to be doing. Yet for whatever reason, we expect our children (as a society) to have this all mapped out by the time they’re a junior in high school.

    Besides with the Guilds their room and board is included, right?

  13. says

    This is all fantastic stuff…I personally feel like if I would have started school even a few years later I would have been in a better place to get more out of it. This coupled with the fact that I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do (thus the 4 major changes).

    If I had it all to do again, I would give myself a backpack, a camera and a year or two traveling the world, living in hostels, meeting people, and experiencing; then University. Of course I wouldn’t be where I am today and today I am pretty excited a where I am and where I am going.

  14. says

    I went to art school and while I wouldn’t change my experience, I am somewhat skeptical of the whole thing. I certainly didn’t learn what I thought I’d learn. I learned next to nothing about techniques and absolutely zero about business/marketing. What I did learn was theory and critical thinking, how to examine my art and myself. For that, art school was invaluable, and I don’t think I would have learned those things otherwise. And if I hadn’t gone to art school, I probably wouldn’t have spent that time working on art. I would have ended up in some other program and would have a much better paying job right now! Whether or not art school is the right choice really depends what you’re wanting to get out of your experience. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people, like me, are misled when it comes to the value and purpose of art school.

  15. says

    Most of what I needed to know about art I learned in the art classes I took in junior college. However, looking back, I wish I would have followed through and bit the financial bullet and went to art school. I think an educated artist is the best artist and school offers an experience that a person just can’t get from a book or the Internet. It takes a lot of self discipline to study on your own, and I think most of us don’t possess that kind of drive.
    On the professional side of art, I have gone at it through trial and error and it has taken a long time to accumulate that knowledge I have. Art school would have put me more ahead of the game.
    With that said, I think it is ultimately up to the individual artist to have the intestinal fortitude to succeed because in the end, art directors, buyers, etc. aren’t impressed with fancy degrees, they want impressive art.

  16. Drew says

    Brian,

    I’m with you, although I remember how difficult it was to get re-enrolled in my program after I was forced to sit out a quarter one year due to some bureaucratic snafu. The competition to get into (or get into again) some of these programs is pretty fierce these days. It makes me wonder how taking a year or two off after high school might affect your chances of being accepted?

  17. Drew says

    Miranda,

    First of all, it’s always a pleasure to see you here! If any of you haven’t had a chance to visit Miranda’s site LearnToArt.com , you’re really missing out on a fantastic resource for visual artists.

    I think “skeptical” is the perfect word here. I think from what I’ve read in these comments, we all recognize the value of attending a formal arts/writing program, but at the same time, we’re not really sure that it’s necessarily worth the price in both our time and money.

    Jamie mentioned earlier that so many of these programs teach you about art, but not really how to be an “artist” And it sounds like you’re saying something similar in the fact that they teach you a lot about theory, but they don’t give you any of the business/marketing tools that will help you to actually succeed down the road as a working artist.

    Why is that?

    On a broader scale, it’s kind of like how we completely ignore teaching our kids anything about managing their money and finances in school, but then we are all shocked as a society when our kids develop serious money problems down the road. I think that if these schools really expect us to succeed as creative professionals, they are going to have to do a better job preparing us for the real world.

    I also completely agree with you when you said that if you “hadn’t gone to art school, [you] probably wouldn’t have spent that time working on art.” I think that’s the key. If nothing else, art/writing/design school forces you to work on your art. . . well not exactly your art, but your professor’s idea of art. Above all, I would have to think that it is this period of full-time practice, that ultimately makes these programs worthwhile (at least from an artistic standpoint).

    Great stuff!

  18. Drew says

    David,

    You are right when you say that most of us probably don’t have the self-discipline to study, work, and learn everything we need to know on our own. I also think, however that art school or not, we all experience those growing pains of trial and error simply because that’s how we are able to discover new techniques and find our unique voice as an artist. I think you summed it up beautifully when you said that when it comes down to it, people really aren’t going to be “impressed with fancy degrees, they want impressive art.”

    Ultimately, all of us will have to find and walk our own path as an artist; whether that involves classes, workshops, mentors, books, Julia’s medieval guilds, or simply 16-hour days painting in the studio or banging away on a laptop writing that elusive novel.

    In the end it doesn’t really matter which road we choose to take, as long as we don’t stop walking.

  19. says

    This is all so refreshing and *honest* to read. I love it. Julia, I like the sound of Medieval Bohemian Artists Guild Cooperative (: Why should we have to promise our entire adrenal system, for the stress caused financially and otherwise, to Universities so they can hold our children hostage in an overheated classroom with a professor who was just knighted by the queen and drones on ad infinitum about Marxism and how great it is/was? (a true college horror story of mine). My entire first term at U of M felt like I had been sent to the Cold War. But back to art school. I think Junior College or Community College is a great idea. Better yet, Guilds of Masters and Apprentices. I love it. Sign me up. (Drew? Skinny Artists Bohemian Art School Guild ?) (:

  20. Paul says

    Interesting comments. I started art school and never got a degree (had to drop out for lack of funds). I never experienced the constricting vision of an art professor – what I remember the most is the encouragement to continually explore and the intelligent critiques.

    For me the value of art school is not necessarily the skills you gain but the opportunity to be in community with like minded folks who can speak to you with credibility about your work. This is what is missing from the vast majority of online forums and self education available via the public library. Admittedly the internet has this potential but it is not being utilized as such. Its strength of not having gatekeepers is also a weakness.

    What has not been addressed here is a person’s individual learning style. Some artists learn best in an intentional community with defined assignments (art school) others learn best on their own making discoveries through trial and error. I would venture that each of us is somewhere in between. As we mature I would argue that we need less formal structure to motivate us, but we always need feedback from a community. The key is knowing how you best thrive and putting yourself in that environment.

  21. Drew says

    Hi Amy!
    I think perhaps developing more specialized or continuing education type programs might be a good option so that we could pick and choose our curriculum as our time and money permits. Of course we would end up missing out on some art-history or literary theory, but it seems that so few of us have the ability (time+$$) to enroll in a 2-4 year full-time art, music, or creative writing program.

    Now I’m not talking about classes like “How-to-hold-your-paintbrush 101″, “Clay is your friend”, or “Discovering the musical octave” kind of continuing-ed classes for widows and orphans, I’m talking about more advanced classes that might cover a particular genre, form, or technique more in-depth. In other words, real classes taught be real working artists (not professors of art)

    Now would there be enough interest to support these types of specialized programs outside of large cities? Or are they already out there and I’m just out of touch? I don’t really know. . . Either way, we should start work on the S.A.B.A.S.G. immediately ;)

  22. Drew says

    Hi Paul, it’s a pleasure to hear from you!

    It sounds like you had a great art-school experience, and I think you’re absolutely right that it depends on a person’s individual learning style. I think that it partially comes down to how well a person knows themselves as both a student and an artist.

    How self-driven am I as an artist/student?
    Do I need the structure/competitiveness of a class to keep me moving forward?
    How well do I generally work in groups?
    Do I know exactly what I want to do or am I still searching?

    I think it’s true that the internet has the potential to bring this type of artistic community together, which is one of the reasons this site exists. I also think that social media sites that create communities and provide instant feedback are changing the way we come together as artists. We are no longer limited by where we live or who we know. We can now go out and find our like-minded tribe online no matter what our interests may be.

    It’s certainly not a perfect system, but then again, it’s really only getting started. You have to remember that ten years ago, none of this existed. . . .

  23. says

    Luckily, I still have age on my side somewhat (mid-twenties).

    I attended two private art schools and never finished either of them. The structure of the education did nothing but nurture apathy in me, but I certainly wouldn’t argue against anyone going. Mostly this is because of what Paul mentioned, individual learning style. It’s only logical that this factor would spiral somewhat with art specifically, as addressing the individual is still imperfect in general education too. It’s closer to a waste of money than a waste of time, and the distinction should be made there.

    There’s a lot of quality things one is forgoing if they’re just deciding to skip the entire experience though. Most of these things I see have already been mentioned by various commenters; critical thinking, social interaction, general access to privileged information, etc. As much as those things are worth though, they’ve also begun to transform themselves, with the growth of out dear Internet here. We’ve never been able to keep up with our technology and this is just one of the thousands of results from that.

    Personally, I’m more of the introverted type, and have always learned and processed information more efficiently when strictly on my own. Most of the time however, school in general just isn’t set up to accommodate such minds and said people get marginalized somewhat. I started noticing that much in middle school, so when it crystallized during the whole college experience, I wasn’t really surprised—and I couldn’t really bring myself to do anything other than just drop out. It was the only rational move really.

    I have to say that I don’t regret it either, as the two years I’ve spent out of school have been FAR more productive/enriching than the three I spent in it.

    • Drew says

      I think you and Paul are right when you say that it essentially comes down to your individual learning style. I also think it a lot of it has to do with your personal level of self-discipline as well. Are you the type of person who needs a firm deadline to get you off the couch and working or do you need the peer competition to keep you motivated to produce? One of these methods is not necessarily better than the other, and artists have been using organized art groups and writing salons for hundreds of years to push and prod themselves into producing their art.

      Whether you learn your tools and techniques in a classroom or on your own is not really the most important point, however, because it’s the actual experience of creation that’s going to make you a better photographer, writer, musician, or visual artist.

      More importantly in my mind, however, is that you need to know what you need to get off your tail and create your art every single day. Are you one of those people who wake up in the morning and gets after it, no matter what other distractions you may have going on in your life? Or are you one of those people who generally works better having someone else or some group of people hold you accountable for getting something done?

      Either way, you need to find out what really motivates you and gets you working. Learning how-to do something is great, but no matter how you learn, it’s only the first step. After all, I know how to run on a treadmill and how-to perform the perfect ab crunch, but unfortunately knowing how-to do something and actually getting my ass up and doing them, are two completely different things.

      In the end, Art is not about knowing but doing.

  24. says

    I think if you are going to become a painter, you may not need art school and can figure out a lot on your own. I know a lot of competent self-taught painters who took beginning art courses through art centers for very little tuition.

    I come from a background of being an arts educator (k – 12) and a working artist and there are some fields that would be extremely hard to master without a good arts education:

    hand thrown pottery: it’s a lot deeper subject than it seems. To really be creative, refined and to be able to expand within the medium and demand higher prices for your work, you need a lot of knowledge and practice. There are a lot of technical aspects to this medium.

    architecture: you’ll get leaky, dangerous buildings without an education in this field.

    graphic design: again, a lot of technical aspects to this medium.

    sculpture: in art school, you get instruction in a lot of different materials: plaster, wood, metal, et al and a working knowledge of how to work with any medium you want.

    fiber arts: again, you get a lot of instruction in different materials and your knowledge can expand your creativity and refinement.

    As an art teacher, painting was just one of many, many mediums I taught. The list includes jewelry, pottery, sculpture, stained glass design, sewing, emroidery, quilting, making paper and paper art, tapestry, beading with a bead loom, beginning architecture, landscape design, weaving, dyeing, printing, graphic arts, advertising design, illusration, mural art, leather arts (including belt-making and moccasin-making), art history and all aspects of design: perspective, composition, abstract, impressionism, realism, color design, rug design, wall paper design, et al.

    Granted, these were all for beginners in elementary and highschool.

    We do have to think of what kind of world we would live in if art colleges were extinct.

    • Drew says

      Great stuff as always Lise :)

      First of all, let me say that I think it’s great that some schools are still teaching this type of well-rounded art education in our schools.

      Unfortunately, my own children don’t attend one of those schools and they are lucky to spend a week shaping clay before they are back to watching videos and taking art history exams.

      I think it’s a shame that we don’t seem to have as much hands-on art experience in our primary schools anymore (at least in my neck of the woods) once you get out of the elementary school level.

      For most of these kids, the only way they will ever get to experiment with most of these different mediums will be to blindly enroll in a fine arts program in college or go at it on their own, and even at that point, I would have to think that their ability to freely experiment would be severely limited.

      Perhaps art school really is our last hope. . .

  25. says

    thank you all. .. . .I’m meeting with someone at an art institution tomorrow to discuss my enrollment but, I think I ‘d be doing it for all the wrong reasons. I am very satisfied with my ability right now…I just want the discipline and competetive enviorment.. . .Can your online community help with that ?

    • Drew says

      We can certainly do our best to support you and point you in the right direction, but in the end it’s still going to be up to you to have the self-discipline to work on your art and not allowing life to get in the way.

      One thing that art school excels at is providing you with the time and supportive environment to work on your craft. Unfortunately, I’ve talked to far too many former writers/artists/musicians who decided to go at it on their own only to later discover that without that constant pressure of a deadline or the competitive pressure of their artistic peers, their art is put on the back-burner reserved for “someday”.

      You’re the only one who knows yourself well enough to know if you have the self-discpline to get up early or go to bed late to work on your art while still working a day job to pay the bills. I can tell you that very few people are strong enough or motivated enough to do this all on their own for long.

      If nothing else, you need to find a handful of like-minded artists either locally or online who you can bounce ideas off of and hold you accountable for creating something every day. You might also want to consider joining an online group such as #Draw365 on Twitter where its members are expected to draw something every single day and post it for the group to see.

      Keep us posted!

      • says

        It’s not easy finding support on the road less traveled but, you seem to have set up camp on it. I’m just glad to have found you. It was surreal really. I googled “is art school worth it” not expecting to find anything useful, and this page showed up helping put things in a new light for me. For that, I thank you. I will consider all of your words respectfully.

      • The Legendary Ghettobilly says

        Hey Drew,

        Sounds to me like what those people need is boot camp or some other course in self-discipline! I know how hard it can be to juggle and hustle but when it comes down to it, if you REALLY want something, you’ll persevere against all odds. We all have artist’s block sometimes but I believe that art boils up from within us. If we don’t embrace our soul’s desire, we may hit a mid life crisis (or for some, a quarter life crisis!). Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals does help but at the end of the day it all boils down to you. We are born artists, not bred.

  26. MJC says

    Artschools suck, I agree!I did illustration on 3 different artschools and I’ve quit all of them. Now I’m a happy fulltime illustrator. Here are a couple of reasons why I don’t believe in artschool systems:

    1: A lot of people think they will learn how to draw & paint. The reality is that they learn you how to ‘think’. I can do that pretty well on my own.

    2: Artschools don’t teach you anything about marketing&business. MAYBE they’ll tell you a little bit about how your portfolio should look, but nothing about: going to events, how to present yourself (online &offline), how to find your market, how to talk with clients, follow-ups, talking about budgets, scheduling your assignments, how to manage your deadlines, how to make a contract, etc. When more than 50% of my business is all about that!

    3: Teachers on artschools seems to me very old-fashioned. The first year you are not aloud to use the computer, because you have to learn how to work with materials. I’m fine with that, but even in the second year and in the years after that, they prefer the smell of paint and glue. Artists who use computer programs like 3Dmax, Photoshop, AfterEffects and Illustrator are less appreciated. While we are living in a time of computer development, I think this is stupid!

    4: Art is about an opinion. Teachers are teachers because they like to preach there opinion. If you have bad luck, you’ll have a teacher for 4 years who likes art that you totally hate. And he/she will force you to work in a certain way you don’t like. Of course, experimenting is a nice way to find out what you like/hate. But for example: If a teacher hates details and loves minimalism…. How can you confince him that you like detailled illustrations? You will not learn from teachers like this, but this will be your creative block for the rest of the schoolyears!

    5: The money is not worth it. In the Netherlands you will pay €1500,- a year for your school education. So let’s say €6000,- after 4 years. And what exactly did I learn? Hmmm, let’s see. They told me a lot of times:”your doing this the WRONG way. I can’t tell you what the right way is. You have to figure this out by yourself.” This doesn’t help a thing of course. Since I’ve been working for myself I’ve learned SO many things, that a teacher couldn’t tell me. Besides that: Why did they become a teacher? Because they didn’t handle their business, they needed money, that’s why they became teachers. Well, I don’t need to pay people who failed in life.

    • Drew says

      I think that you bring up some really good points here including if art school is really worth it purely from a financial perspective. More and more it seems that traditional fine arts programs (and liberal arts creative writing programs) are still not teaching much about the business and marketing side of being a professional artist.

      You’re absolutely right that at least 50% of thriving financially as a professional artist is about getting out there, networking with your customers and your fellow artists in addition to things like budgeting, accounting your expenses properly, scheduling and time management, legal considerations, etc… I just don’t understand why these programs refuse to address the practical considerations. Sure teaching Accounting for Artists 101 might spoil the “kumbaya” atmosphere these art schools try to create, but completely insulating these artists from the realities of the business world until after they graduate and are left on their own, is just plain stupid.

      As far as all teachers bringing their own opinions into the classroom, you’re exactly right — however — unless you are raised in a commune of writers/artists/etc… I still think that there is some value of having someone who’s done it (assuming they have) show you the path they followed and what they learned along the way. Now chances are, it probably won’t necessarily be your path, but it will at least give you an example to follow.

  27. The Legendary Ghettobilly says

    I stumbled upon this page while I was doing research to write a song on the same subject. What I’ve found here has been most helpful and if I could add anything from personal experience, it would be this. I indulge in art, writing and music myself and have had some pretty good feedback over the years. As a bandleader now, I’ve had to choose the musicians whose chemistry works best for the style of music we’re doing. I would take a self-taught musician over a conservatory musician at the drop of a hat. The reason being is that, not unlike myself, these are individuals who have learned the art by jumping into the lion’s den. They’ve had their moments of humility and their moments of glory, both of which have made them the artists they are today. Our mentors were our favourite artists who weren’t only restricted to actively gigging bands, they could be the homeless busker on the sidewalk busting out a signature style that grabs you by the soul and inspires. I’ve found that simply exploring the instrument myself was the best route for refining my style. Sure, people taught me a few technicalities along the way (scales, strumming techniques and ergonomics) which were helpful but what I found was that I was already executing these techniques already and these people merely gave those techniques a name to reference them by when communicating with colleagues. However, like hell I was going to borrow a ridiculous sum of money from one institution and give it to another institution so they can give me a piece of paper that says, “Yup, he’s a musician alright.”

    In this day and age, I don’t understand why anyone would really go that road. Three things come to mind when I think about higher education, at least in this area. Google, Youtube and Photoshop. Want to know something? Google. Need a tutorial? Youtube. Want a nice piece of paper with your name on it to put in a frame and hang on your wall? Photoshop. Seriously, a few years back I got stranded in Europe with nothing but a bag of clothes guitar. I met a group of gypsies and ran with them for a while. Learned their music, their philosophies, their lifestyle and so much more. It was the most inspiring time in my life so far. Unless that’s part of some art school’s practicum, you just can’t put a price on that kind of experience and in my opinion. THAT’S higher education in the arts. Cheers!

    • Drew says

      First of all, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us. I completely agree with you that ultimately there is no substitute for real hands-on occasionally fall down on your ass and make a fool out of yourself kind of experience. I also admire the fact that you have not limited yourself to learning from one particular type of music or musician. So many artists tend to pigeonhole themselves over time by limiting themselves to their “signature” style and in the process their work often begins to stagnate because in the end it’s the only thing they know.

      I also agree with you that in this day and age, there is no technical reason why you would need to attend a music or arts program to learn your craft. We are long past the days of secretive guilds and all of the technical knowledge is out there (most of it for free) for you to learn. At the same time, however, this requires massive amounts of drive and self-discipline to learn all of this on your own. A teacher/mentor/collaborator becomes a type of shortcut who can share what they have learned along the way without having to completely reinvent the creative wheel so to speak.

      The more fellow artists/musicians/writers like this that you can hook up with and pool your resources with, the better it is for everyone. This is exactly why I wanted to create a website like this online where we could freely share our thoughts, experiences, and resources with one another. Of course none of the yibber-yabbering that we do on this site is going to make anyone a better artist in the technical sense, it’s still up to you to practice your chosen craft, but hopefully it might help to give you some of the resources, connections, and confidence that you’ll need to sell your creative work.

      Thanks again!

      • The Legendary Ghettobilly says

        Hey Drew,

        Don’t even get me started on THAT one! I mean the pidgeonholing and stagnation comment you made. You don’t know how many of colleagues I must bite my tongue around due to this. Although I have respect for them as artists who are doing what they love, I can see they are often unfulfilled by their direction. Eventually, they feel like broadening their horizons but because straying from their signature style may potentially have a negative effect on their fanbase as it were, they hit a wall. This is often why “side projects” are started. So that said artist may have the opportunity to come out of the closet and indulge in his/her “other interests.” The band I’m currently recording with made sure our signature style was “expect the unexpected.” We do anything we want and although prog-punk in its essence, a drastic change in direction would be the only thing people could expect from us. Having such a diverse set of songs has really opened the doors for us to play a diverse set of venues in contrast to many of our colleagues who feel restricted to venues that only showcase hardcore. That statement you made also reminded me of a line from a Dead Kennedys song called Chickenshit Conformist. It goes, “If the music’s gotten boring it’s because of the people who want everything to sound the same. Who drive the bright people out of our so-called scene till all that’s left is just a meaningless fad…” The sad part about how timeless that song is, is that it was written over a quarter of a century ago…and what’s changed? I STILL quote that to my colleagues when they throw us on a bill with four other bands that sound strikingly similar to each other.

        Which brings me to another pondering, is the perpetuation of nostalgia really art? I’m speaking about the musical realm of the art world of course, and bands that take after the pioneers of yesteryear with little or no innovation upon the style whatsoever with the exception of being harder, louder, faster, etc. I almost see it as painting something that looks so obviously similar to Salvador Dali, only using digital clocks. I dunno, maybe it is in fact art and I’m getting a bit jaded but picture that for moment…

        Oh well, at least I get a kick out of saying it to my musician friends and getting the reaction!

        Oh, one more thing. Speaking of quotes, I’ve found myself quoting you lately. “All you have to do to become an artist is to have the guts to call yourself an “artist”. So true my friend, so true. My band may never be fully accepted by my peers (nevermind the mainstream!) but the feeling I get from executing those compositions in front of an underground scene that loves to wave the flag of individualism and “thinking for one’s self” and then stares at a band that does just that like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick is far too fulfilling to succumb to what’s expected of us.

        Cheers Drew!

        • Drew says

          I think it’s great that there are bands out there like yours who are still willing to experiment artistically even if it means never reaching the mainstream bell curve of the music buying public. Maybe it’s just the stubborn non-conformity streak in me, but I’ve always been drawn to music and books that are far outside the mainstream.

          Especially in fiction these days, it seems that creating a “series” is simply code for following the plot formula that worked (i.e. sold books) before. Authors like James Patterson, Lee Child, John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell sometime seem to be just going through the motions these days. I don’t know if this is the the result of them running out of original ideas, or that is simply what their reading public demands, either way by the time they hit the bestseller lists, their work it’s often a pale imitation of their early stuff.

          Look I know that schlocky comfort-food fiction has been around almost as long as shlocky manufactured boy bands, but I’ve always had a soft spot for those independent artists, musicians, and writers who continued to create and explore their art throughout their career regardless of the commercial response.

          On a side note, Just to give you some idea of how freakin’ cool I was in high school, I clearly remember sitting in study hall sketching the Dead Kennedys logo all over my brown paper bag covered textbooks because of course their band initials were the same as mine. Little did I know then that Chickenshit Conformist would someday come back into my life :)

          Dead Kennedys Logo

          Thanks again for the awesome comment and the flashback!

          • The Legendary Ghettobilly says

            Hi Drew,

            Been a couple years now and I finally pulled out that unfinished song I was working on. I named it “The Exorcism of Emily Carr” and in my corner of the world, it has opened up much debate already! Often between self taught and schooled artists. The album art is being done entirely by hand and by local self taught artists (myself included) and once finished, I’d like to send you one for shits and gigs at the very least! Anyway, here are the lyrics. Let me know what you guys think…

            There is no college education that can better teach you innovation
            Than the passion you’ve already got in your heart…and…
            There is no solid definition of what constitutes art
            So take out another loan, grab a Ouija board and let’s consult
            Emily Carr…

            (now you’ll go far. Hey, would you like a new credit card?)

            She will give to you a talisman for only 10 or 15 thousand
            And with this little paper charm you will go far…
            (straight to your dream job)
            Sittin’ behind a desk, pushin’ around text boxes. Then your boss says,
            “Hey kid, how do ya like this job so far?”
            Oh, hardy har, har!

            (now you’ll go far cuz you truly are a bastard of art)

            And f***ing possessed! Now you are f***ing…
            Head full o’ shit, fist full o’ debt, life full o’ stress,
            F***ing possessed! Yes, now you are f***ing possessed and…
            You need an exorcist.

            You will sign a lease on a brand new suite
            On the sunny side of Main Street
            Things are looking good for a few weeks
            Till your inner beast is unleashed
            Now you wanna be the campus star,
            Your quarter life crisis starts
            Remember your transportation is another extension of
            Your persona…

            (now you’ll go far once you have paid off your new car)

            Oh, and did I mention…

            You will buy yourself a brand spanking new
            Navy blue VW Golf cuz that’s what all the hip students got
            But now you’ve got car payments on top of loan payments
            Don’t look at your bank statements cuz now you’re getting laid off
            Go tell your college sweetheart, “baby, till debt do we part…”

            -chorus-

            Seriously people, don’t believe you’ll be a better artist
            If you walk out of a school with a piece of paper in your hand
            It’s not the only path…

            So bow your heads and let us prey
            Upon your most valuable assets
            And any money saved goes toward your debts
            Starting with the tuition you dumped in that collection tray

            Oh, by the way, another collector left a message for you today
            Something about legal action if you don’t repay
            All them student loans with their high interest rates
            Kinda makes you realize that despite how hard you tried…

            They put a spell on you…because you’re blinded
            By their high fallootin’ mind pollutin’ frat salutin’
            Sucka recruitin’ hullabaloo….

            Ya know, ya could have stayed home on your computer that day
            And Googled and YouTubed and Photoshopped your way
            To an exciting new career in the art world today
            Complete with a fancy piece of paper to go along with your resume

            You want a bachelor’s degree? Try forgery!
            After all, you’re performing art, not open heart surgery!
            And speaking of performing art, why not play the part
            The lead role of some asshole from Emily Carr!

            For indeed, they have been the machines of irrelevance
            I mean, have you seen the self portraits painted by elephants?!!
            So, let us forge a new path and blaze a new trail
            Like a young, aspiring, modern day Abagnale!

            F**k going to Admissions, take back all of that tuition
            Instead, fund an expedition to find the meaning of your existence
            And when you have found a vision, dive into your new creation
            Ignore popular opinion and just follow your heart
            Until you’re obsessed!

            Now you are f***ing…
            Head full o’ thought, fist full o’ skill, life full of art,
            F***ing obsessed! Yes, now you are f***ing obsessed and…
            You are a true artist!

            Real artists have a very different kind of pipe dream
            If ya know what I mean…
            And real artists are born and not bred
            So don’t be misled…

            -TSS 2014.

            Figure as a DK fan and fellow artist , you might appreciate this. I know it’s long but it was also written from discussions I had with a variety of artists, schooled and self taught, their experiences, opinions, ideas, etc., and my own. The album will be finished in the next couple of months and we’re aiming at shooting an RSA-style video to accompany the song. Interested to hear some feedback from any artists that wish to comment. And remember, we all knew we were artists when we got in shit for doodling when we should have been paying attention to the teacher, right? This life is yours to do what you love if you choose to, so live it however YOU feel is the right way.

            Live and let live,

            Toxic Mike.

  28. Damon says

    Hi Drew.

    I’m a 20 year old male that currently can’t decide what I want in life, more specifically what I want out of school; or If I need it at all. I’m enrolled at a local community college and I’m taking my general ed courses in “hopes of transferring to a four year university,” or at least that Is what I tell my parents to keep me off my back about school until I actually figure out what I want to do. I’ve been taking classes here for two years, and I’m going nowhere fast due to my indecisiveness (I can’t keep my mind set on one major), and laziness. I do not enjoy one second of any courses I’m taking because simply put they seem like a load of useless BS. I know I’m not going to follow through with my current plan, and have recently been thinking about pursuing a “career” in audio production. Simply put, music is my thing, its my life.

    I came across this blog after google-ing “is art school worth it?” and your post along with the comments have actually motivated me on my path of becoming an artist. All of these free, creative minds and strong opinions have made me want to weave my own future. I know I can become a great artist on my own, but I’m wondering if art school will give me a pretty solid kick-start.

    After seeing the mixed reviews, I’m skeptical but thinking about a school. As I grow older, I’m realizing that what you put into life is what you get out, and with that being said ANYTHING is possible. I know for a fact that If I take the time to learn the craft and truly perfect it, I could be something great someday; but that also makes me wonder if school would be an asset or a waste of time. Why pay $100,000 (which would come out of my pocket) to learn something I could teach myself?

    Anyway, I’m just a confused young man who is skeptical about art school. Unlike the general ed courses or declared engineering major I know absolutely nothing about, I’m beyond passionate about music. What do you think Drew?

    • Drew says

      Well I hate to be the one to break this to you Damon but pretty much all of us are wandering around this planet more than a bit confused most of the time ;)

      Obviously I don’t have any real answers here (just more questions) but as someone who spent a lot of time in our public educational system both as a student and a teacher, I can tell you that 80% of what you will learn in school will be useless to you, but it’s that other 20% that you’ll have to decide whether or not art school will ultimately be worth your time and money.

      In the end, we all learn from experience — sometimes it’s our own experience, and sometimes it’s from the experience of others (i.e. teachers, books, other artists) Unfortunately, we never know in advance where the most valuable lessons will come from, so we end up sifting (and sitting) through a lot of crap in order to get to those valuable nuggets of information that will make a difference in our life.

      Whatever you end up deciding, just remember to keep your eyes and ears open because in my experience, the most valuable lessons and opportunities are the ones you usually never saw coming.

  29. dina says

    This was a great post!! I am an aspiring artist…I just love to draw, paint and create…it gives me a joy I can never put down in words.BUt my major problem was that i had no formal training and no degree as far as art is concerned..I majored in English Literature and was groomed to be a teacher.But with the advent of time i have realized that one must pursue what one loves.i was quite skeptical as to whether I can establish myself as an artist since i have no formal training.BUt this post has motivated me to the point where I feel confident to at least give it a try…If my latent will to create cant bring out the artist in me…no formal training or any art school can bring it out. I am not saying art schools and trainings are useless….it is useful but those degrees and trainings cannot bring out the artist in you.Thank you once more for this wonderful inspiring post!!!

    • Drew says

      Hi Dina and welcome to the reformed English Lit major society. As you say life is too short to not follow your own path. All any of us can do is to do is to try and express our creativity to the world in some form. Keep in mind, however, that teachers and ” art education” comes in many different forms. Even if a formal fine arts program may not be for you, you may discover your own art mentors in unexpected places. There is an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, so do the work and keep your eyes open.

  30. Heather says

    It’s my personal opinion (and experience) that it all depends on the medium of art involved. For instance, if you are into Digital Art and Multimedia design (such as Logo designs, magazine layouts, posters, animation, video editing, etc.) then I would suggest going to college. True, you still have classes that require drawing, inking, and even writing- but learning the programs and becoming familiar with the Digital Arts world is more than helpful. That, I think, is the only form of Art school that I would say, without a doubt, is one hundred percent beneficial to the student.

    Most of my friends have gone to school for traditional art, writing, and a few on music scholarships… They’ve all told me that the classes tend to stifle the natural creativity within you and force you to paint, draw, write, or perform things that don’t inspire you at all, usually to specifications that don’t feel exactly right. While I have to say that going to college for anything, regardless of your studies, is a wonderful thing, I would throw in a word of caution to all aspiring artists out there. Choose your school wisely, and understand that it will involve things that you probably feel yourself unable to relate to artistically. It’s a challenge, and sometimes it doesn’t work out- but when it does, it’s more than worth it.

  31. Steve says

    Interesting. My personal opinion is that college is pretty much a gimmick. You will have trouble getting a job in any business (besides art) unless you go to a college nowadays. So in many ways, going to college isn’t to educate you as much as it is to help secure a job. I believe that anyone is capable of starting their own business, no matter what it be, if they have the will and common sense to do it. No lazy person will ever achieve anything, college educated or not. I do go to art school, because I love art, but also because I want to enjoy my career doing something that I actually enjoy. I cant think of any other profession I would rather take up. I know it will take a lot of hard work, and a lot of perseverance, and probably a lot of frustration and crying, but hey isnt that what life’s all about? We only live once and I am gonna live by my own rules, not society’s.

    Don’t think you have to study something because it will get you the best job or whatever, do it because you enjoy it. The generalized way that we live nowadays is such an illusion on what life actually is. No one ever said you have to get a good education, in order to get a job, in order to start a family. That is just a belief that many people have because that is how society has grown the past 300 years. As far as I am concerned, freelancing may be the most interesting type of career because of the endless possibilities. Itll take hard work and dedication, but like I said, we only live once, do it the way you wanna do it.

  32. Christian says

    Great write up here Drew! I think this is the never-ending question when it comes to justifying the expense of private art school… I recall COUNTLESS conversations with other fellow art students in regards to if spending all this money is really beneficial. I think that since some people (but not all, since lots of rich kids have their mommy and daddies pay for their schooling) are paying a LOT of money to attend these schools, there is such a high expectation from the teachers and curriculum. I know I did, and since I attended art school at a later age (I’m now 30 with a first bachelor’s in Advertising) I expect to to learn a lot and be taught real-world material that is relevant to the industry today….
    To give you a little background, I moved to California from Florida to pursue web design/ new media ( a hybrid degree program that teaches all forms of multimedia – graphic design, audio, video, motion graphics, web design). I began the schooling with endless enthusiasm and found it to be much more fun than the typical 9-5 financial industry jobs I was working. After a couple years, and bouncing between a couple schools I found myself swimming in a sea of other students with ambitions just like mine… I obtained several internships and some freelance work here and there. What I came to realize is that no one really wants to pay for any multimedia work when they can find some other young starving artist that is willing to do the work for free (as a portfolio builder). Lots of people I came across were one-man shops trying to launch a business, but never wanted to pay for design work… (They figured they could just produce the work themselves in iPhoto or iMovie…) Everyone wants to do the same job, and you’ll always have some young buck willing to do your job for cheaper (and probably better since they have the new enthusiasm and supply of red bull at their ready).
    So is the schooling worth it? I will say I learned a lot of concepts and theories which are very relevant and useful to help you create better quality work. But realistically it’s all a matter of who you know, and luck. There are so many young guys knockin on doors everywhere trying to get a design job, but realistically all those jobs are filled by references and someone who knows someone. I’m not sure that paying the exorbitant amount of money to learn better design justifies the salary that designers earn… Surveys claim that entry level designers make about $45k/year… But I’d say that’s probably 20% of the actual population of designers actively seeking jobs. I’ve found the industry to be brutal, and I was probably better off studying medicine like my father. So was chasing my dreams really worth it? At this point, I’d say NO. If you’re considering art school, just take some night classes and keep it as a hobby. Making a living off this is not ideal for anyone seeking a comfortable life…

  33. Gina Peyran Tan says

    I ditched my successful marketing career (17yrs) to be an artist. Well, I always reply Student (not artist) when asked about my current occupation. In my coporate career, I worked my way to the top, I did private night school and my last 3 jobs, I was the head of small companies. Somehow I always felt I was a fake since I hadn’t attended a fancy business university. So going into Arts was a chance for that redemption. I’ve moved to live in France and was eyeing the Beaux Arts shcool in Bordeuax. After a long and hard serious esp honest consideration, I ended working on my own (I’m very disipline…all that mktg training) and by attending individual ateliers. I couldn’t deny that I am the rebellious student, always needing to provoke and in the end I will somehow quite the rigid leanring curriculum as I am someone that can’t confine to struture. I am fortunate to find one class with a enthusiastic professor who assigns new excercise per week and we spend an hour discussing art (any forms) and critiquing art. I feel in the few months that I’ve started to paint, there has been a decent progress. I was also greatly influenced by classmates and tried out their painting styles. In an atelier context, we were not constrained and encouraged to develop our style so much so that my prof can see when I venture out of my “thing”. But, I will always feel like a phony to some extent simply because a superior art eduction just sound so professional, thorough and acomplished. When I say I am a student, people assume that I am from some art school and none of my friends or family take my current occupation seriously. I am doomed as a housewife or lady of leisure to them. It’s really tough managing kids and trying to chart a steady progress on my work which I need to own it and see that I can get better at it. No matter how often I lament the lack of time to research, paint, watch videos online, visit museums, everyone just assumes I’m over-indulgent in my hobby. And here I am struggling to be better, to produce a decent piece of work that can please just me. Sure is tough. Your website really saved me as I was really burnt out yesterday after weeks of churning out ugly paintings. I was totally discouraged and on the verge of another art suicide. And this is personal, art school or not, ateliers or not, classmates or not, it’s just hard to talk to someone about what’s trapped in your head which might take years to unravel. Anyway, thanks guys at Skinny Artist. It’s a noable cause to help these struggling souls who are living with seriously disturbing voices in their heads.

    • says

      Hi Gena,
      I enjoyed your post. I live in madrid and made similar choices 15 years ago. I attended a private atilier here and I’m so glad I did. I learned In a very intimate environment and feel that I was given the tools I needed to develop myself as an artist. I am still always looking for more growth, but I wouldn’t trade my experience there for the world.
      This is a great blog and very encouraging for those of us who have that “art degree” eternal question tugging at our egos.
      I think we’ve all been there… At the point of artistic suicide… But that may just be the nasty self-destructive voice that pops its dreary head from time to time; the same one that makes us question whether or not we need an art degree. I’m glad to hear other points of view!

  34. Samantha says

    Hello, this was a great post!

    I’m not an art school student, I’m currently in high school and have been thinking about majoring in art until I read your post.

    I think that you are right when you said that “we should consider designing our own curriculum, and not allowing others to decide what we need to know.”

    I believe that as an artist it is very important to evaluate strengths and weaknesses and try to make our art become more better.

    However, I do think that art school is important to become a better artist in the sense that it offers the opportunity for people to critique another artist’s work and learn from a group of creative individuals.

    Overall I believe that art school can be important if one puts in the effort but it does not necessarily mean that one won’t become a better artist if one does not attend art school.

  35. Katherine says

    Hello, good article as always. After reading the comments I understand how it might be diffcult to plan your own cirriculum when it comes to your art. I have been stuggling to make plans for improving my art either due to unforseen events or just because of *cough* slacking *cough*. I mean art school can help teach you skills but like a fellow graphic designer once told me, “[Teachers] They are there to teach you the programs, it is up to you to make something creative and thoughtful with what they teach you. Essentially, they will lead you to the water, but you must drink!”

  36. Alice says

    Hello there. You’ve raised a few excellent points, and you may be right. I haven’t yet attended college, but I’ve been drawing all my life and I’m trying to come to terms with where exactly I want to go in life. My original plan was to start at a community college and transfer into a good art college – specifically College for Creative Studies in Detroit, but I’m completely unsure.

    Thing is, I don’t believe I can call myself an artist yet. I can’t physically back my claims up because I’m lacking confidence in my own abilities. It feels as if I’ve hit a brick wall when it comes to art. I constantly draw the same thing, I don’t try new things… I’m low on supplies, I lack inspiration, refinement and technique. What I am honestly hoping College will do for me is to help me develup my own style and understand how to transfer my work into the real world and make money. I don’t know who I am yet, really. I think College is just as much about the grades and the education and the scholarship as finding that answer and coming to terms with who you are going to be until you retire.

    When I look at art colleges, it intimidates me. I’m really not good enough, especially not for CCS. People have always called me creative and told me that I should do something with my talent, but I don’t believe they really understand me. I’m not creative. I don’t think outside the box and I rarely know what to draw. My only real talent lies in that I’m a little bit better at drawing a person than average – and that’s only because I’ve done it so much before.

    I really hope I’m wrong, though. If I go to Art College, it will be in search of an answer to rather I can really be creative or rather I can only draw. What I’m looking for is refinement, and with any luck my own style and creativity will show up on the side.

    Sorry for rambling at you. ..I kinda needed that. x.x

  37. Meee says

    I am just in utter schock, the very disease I suffer from and Im just 19- I have this self dialogue every single day ‘NO wait you need to become a scholar in this field in order to even glance at it’ this obsession with perfection has led me to wasting precious hours, moments seconds.

    NOTHING we do is PERFECT. NO such thing as perfection. We are always in the progress of perfection- WE NEVER GET THERE- because there is NO SUCH thing as perfect- if we were perfect we would not go toilet to poop – we would not die we WOULD BE IN CHARGE OF EVERYTHING that sorrounds us – but perfection does BUT THE ART OF cultivating, learning, making mistakes and the joy of learning DOES.

    Thank YOU for opening my eyes-

    Now I can finally begin to write the book I have been meaning to write since the last 3 years, and the paint brushes that are supposed to be used since the last 5 years. Finally I need to live for me. And Im telling YOU sir, if I’m successful your definetly on my Thank YOU list if NOT my prayers !

  38. Another very skinny artist says

    Hi Skinny artist, just wanted you to know a person halfway across the world read your 2 year old article and actually found it informative!

  39. says

    Experience has been my best teacher. My college education has been equally important because it allowed me to try different mediums and pathways.

    What I wish art departments (and art schools) would teach: is the BUSINESS of being an artist:
    • How to keep track your expenditures so you know what you need to charging for your work to pay yourself for your time (in addition to the cost of materials).
    • How to track your receipts for end-of-the-year taxes.
    • How to wield the power of the inter-webs for marketing your stuff.
    • Where to find low-cost healthcare
    • How to network post art school
    • To run an artistic practice
    • How to write a grant
    • How to write an artist statement

    The above list could go on….

    What I’d my younger version of myself is: What art schools cannot teach are – discipline & self-direction. It is up to you to cultivate good habits (translation) get your ass into your workspace and create, no one can do that for you. It is OK to want to get paid for what you are great at.

  40. fred says

    I have worked as a graphic artist for 12 years and decided t go back to school to get a degree in what I do. I quickly realized that what I do was considered sub-par to the instructors who have never worked in the real world. Everything has to be done a certain way with certain colors or it is no good. Very disappointed.

  41. Anonycat says

    When in boils down, it all depends on the person, and how much effort they put in. I am not in an art school, but I am an art major in a university. I have taken two drawing classes so far. From what I have seen, most of my classmates have not improved much in their drawing skills. Our drawing one class is geared towards fundamentals while drawing two focuses on the human form. In my drawing two class at the end of the year, many of my classmates (with the exception of 5 of us including myself out of 20 or so people in the class) had glaring errors in the drawing, and this was due to the lack of good ground in fundamentals. In other words, whatever they learned in drawing one went right out the window. They likely did not continue to practice and as a result they wasted their time in the drawing course.

    If you’re not going to put in the time and effort needed to produce good drawings, then any art program, be it through a university or art school, will be a waste of time.

    Also, I find that learning art on your own has benefited me more than spending time in a classroom. Now I would say that art school is useful due to a combination of things:

    1. If the students cares enough to put in extra effort on their own time
    2. If the art school has up to date technology in the art field
    3. If the professor is knowledgeable about the current trends in the art community, with the tools used and the techniques
    4. If the student is getting an education without taking a risk on loans, especially since jobs are not always guaranteed

    I believe that a combination of these things can make art school effective

    • says

      You’re right, so many people don’t seem to realize that it’s what we do after we leave the classroom or studio that really makes us better as an artist. For whatever reason we buy into this idea that art comes from some kind of secret technique or talent that is past down from master to student. Technique and mentorship of course have their place, but in the end it comes down to putting in the work and experimenting with your craft. Unfortunately this takes time and usually involves making a lot of crappy art/music/writing along the way. Art, music, and writing are not like a business statistics class where if you manage to pass the class it doesn’t really matter in the end if you studied your ass off or did the bare minimum — if you got credit for the class you’re golden. With the creative arts, the classroom is only the starting point and it’s up to you how far you go from there…

  42. jan says

    I went to that school Parson’s School of Design in New York but dropped out after a few semesters. As I was there, many people were trying to get out and go to other schools. The school is very expensive and demanding of only the best art-supplies and brushes. They don’t allow you even to buy student grade paint. I think they have a deal with all the art supply stores in NYC. I imagined them being run by a mafia behind the scenes. Also, they are very conservative. They didnt touch on any radical ideas like maybe Magenta is the primary color instead of red. It was just very solid RYB mud color wheel. The school itself is capitalism – perhaps an argument for democratic socialism can be made for the art world?

    I have found the best art instructor is merely to take a photograph of something and study it, how the shadows and light work. It’s like the zen instruction of learning all about the universe from a single stone. That’s really what it’s about, observation. Who can teach you that? I would rather go to school to study world history or something useful that would broaden my perspective. Art I can teach to myself.

    • says

      I think you’re right Jan that a lot of university curriculum these days in any major (not just art) has become so bloated and regimented that it’s easy to miss out on the larger picture. I agree that the nature of creating art is very personal and subjective, which makes it very difficult I imagine to create a course that is able to connect with a wide-range of artists with varied interests.

      So what is the solution? I’m not sure, but I do think that art school has its place to provide you with some of the basics. Like so many other careers, however, it’s really about what you learn and discover after you leave the classroom that is going to be the most valuable. Students who think that any class they take is going to complete their art education are going to be disappointed. I think in the end it comes down to putting the role of art school into perspective and not buying into the belief that whatever you learn in school is the end of your education.

      • jan says

        It’s difficult for me to believe in art school, though I have only been to one. I imagine there must be some other variety that isn’t “posh”. When I went to Parson’s school of design, I had never encountered these kind of rich kids in my wildest dreams. They came from the most wealthy families all over the world, from India, Japan, Germany, Russia, etc. I found it very disconcerting. Then they wanted us to have guest speakers from Madison Square Garden and these awful entertainment institutions. Then at one point they tried to make us take a tai chi class from a retarded American tai chi instructor, whose feet were too small. I soon dropped out and began working in a bookstore in the stockroom. There I met other art school dropouts, as if through some magic rite of passage! What were they doing in there? How did I end up there? I subsequently quit painting for some years. Nothing is more regrettable than studying art in the USA.

  43. jan says

    Art school makes fools out of the students that go to it. I have to imagine that studying a normal curriculum such as history would be more down to earth.

  44. says

    The only reason why I’m studying art for my major is to learn the different styles and philosophies that apply to art but no doubt, I will always have my own view of how I like to draw and design and I’m pretty sure that if I keep that up, then learning from these courses will only help me become a better artist due to the fact that it’ll take me out of my comfort zone and maybe show me new ways of making art.

    But this is coming from a polymath, the reason why I didn’t want to ultimately attend a school that was exclusively for artists is because my mind can hyperfocus to the point that there’s too much for just one subject. For me, art is just one part of my being, the other is almost the total opposite of the liberal arts spectrum, politics, but my case for going this route is the fact that I believe my knowledge + talents = good activism. So do I think it’s worth it to spend the money for learning how to become a better artist? To me, the answer is yes, since I will be using the other half of my brain to end up becoming a political scientist and then a lawyer, the real challenge for me is probably the fact that I will eventually want to combine all three fields together and make a multi-faceted career out of all of that.

    • jan says

      After I quite art school, I quit painting for a long time. But then I started again, and with a technique based totally against art school, I am painting better than ever before. Art school is capitalist trick. They want you to become a graphic designer. They don’t want you to be an artist, but to work for some company producing graphic design or logos. At Parsons, I wanted to study fine art, but they have this stupid foundation year that is a huge waste of money, where they want you to do anything but fine art. It costs so much money, and they weren’t teaching fine art, but wanted me to do anything but paint. I hate that school so much. I taught myself painting and am proud of it. I will not pay thousands of dollars to go to a school that doesn’t even give me paint. As much as the tuition is, they should supply students with paint and supplies, not send them to the stores or somewhere to buy it themselves with pocket money. I want whatever money I gave them back! But for what little time I went there, I went into defaulted loans over. To hell with them.

  45. says

    I attended art school in the ’70s. The college I attended was strong on theory, history and analysing what we thought/ made/ painted, with a bias to the conceptual. There was such an emphasis on this analysis, that it really killed my feeling for freedom expression, and after I’d left art school, I gave up and got a job… for 14 years. After this time, I felt the urge to start making art again, without the constraints of all the self-analysis, and I started to enjoy it. Almost 20 years later, I am still enjoying it. I think that going to art school was a useful experience, it did teach me to be analytical, though I wonder if I learnt mostly about the experience of art school, rather than teaching me to become an artist.

    • jan says

      Yes, I quit painting for some time as well. I went to art school in the 1990s. I found it very cliche and not-serious, with people still interested in Basquiat and pop-art. Hip hop music was also incredibly popular at that school, and it was very expensive with an emphasis on graphic design and photography. Perhaps I needed a more Eurocentric art school, instead of an American one. As you say it knocked you out for 14 years. You are probably a pretty good artist as well with good hand-eye coordination. I think it is the artists with good hand-eye coordination that are most repelled by art school, because it takes away personal hand-eye control. This is undoubtedly why you quite for so long. I started back as well painting and am doing very well. I am building my own wooden panels with glue, mitre saw and hardboard and painting pretty detailed anti-pop-art works that I spend months on one painting. I am feeling pretty good about it now and the art school can go to hell with it’s modern approach and art-supply store bull.

  46. Joseph says

    I graduated with a BFA in 1993 from a large public state University. For five years (I changed schools but not majors and lost some credits), I lived and breathed art with a trickle of English, Science, and Math (yuck!). Before art school, I drew and painted all the time, loved art class in grammar school. My parents wanted me to go to college (I suppose most all parents do) and they were very supportive and encouraged my art making… so art school seemed like the thing to do. I liked art school. It taught me critical thinking and how to examine and appreciate art. Art school did not teach me skill or technique…. though sometimes I wish it had, I’m very appreciative for the strength in theory I received from it. You can learn skill and technique anywhere… just as you can learn the business and marketing of your creative endeavors (especially these days). But I find it difficult to get in the groove of art theory outside of a good art school…. magazines, books, blogs and hanging out with your artsy friends just don’t substitute for the weekly group critics of your and your fellow student’s work.

    What art school didn’t give me, is direction after school. Perhaps that’s my own fault… if you can call it a “fault”, perhaps I didn’t have direction and discipline to begin with…. I never had the confidence to believe that I would be a professional artist… I just love(d) making art… living art… doing art for money seems/ed to take all the enjoyment out of it as I discovered.

    After art school, I languished… mostly concerned with how to make a living… went to business school to learn to type… took a clerical job because at the time we didn’t have Barnes & Nobel and Starbucks to work in. I started, for a brief period, a graphic design business… but decided I didn’t like the business side of owning my own business, so I went to work as a desktop publisher (remember those?) for the “man”, punching a clock and doing something vaguely art related on those cool new computers that can do all kinds of things… it was after all 1995. After a few years of not making any art, I eventually took an evening class on drawing which got me out doing something… it provided structure… and I learned some great technique too boot.

    One thing led to another and 20 years later, my interest in art on the computer lead me to a comfortable job as a web software developer for a larger and different “man”. Though still starved by the lack of art making in my own life. I have been so busy creating a career on the coat tails of the internet “revolution”… which has been fun and richly rewarding, don’t get me wrong… I’m at a point where I feel like I’m missing something…. how do I get back to my roots. 20 years have passed since I left art school and I am in the same spot I was the day after graduation, only a bit older and a bit more settled but wondering what next? Where do I go from here? They don’t or didn’t cover that in art school. You toddle along with a bunch of young budding artists for five years, and some go on to graduate school, and others float off into the world and I found myself wondering what now. Now, unlike then, I don’t have to answer the question of how to make a living, now I have to answer the question of how to grow my art. I can draw and paint (though Life imposes lots of time obligations that challenge when I can make art) but I do so in a vacuum.

  47. michijo says

    The thing to study is actually art history, learning to do carbon dating, specialising in a field of art, making presentations, then travelling around, a great benefit of being an art historian, also is that it is a pretty stable job.

    If you want to learn to paint, think of what Cormac McCarthy said:

    “Many people go through life working hard with dull tools. Because the tools are dull, work is slow, so they never have time to sharpen them. ”

    This is the problem artists face who want to work to fast, go to a school that attempts to think for them, and not really stopping to think or observe themselves. It might be related to consumer society.

  48. Karla says

    The thing I found the worst about art school was that it was sold to me on completely false pretences.

    I entered into a course that was supposed to give me the freedom to experiment with different mediums and fields in the creative arts industries. Being fresh out of high school in a country that encourages the Gap Year, I was eager to take them up on this opportunity, as I was a still working out what I wanted.

    What I got instead was a disorganised mess of a course, with the mindset that only the most obscure and abstract ends of the field could ever be considered ‘art,’ and that to like anything more traditional was old fashioned and irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for pushing boundaries and redefining the term ‘art’ in modern culture, but this mindset was just as restrictive, if not more, as if they only taught classical art.

    There is a major problem when a school champions one way of thinking at the expense of another. A truly ‘liberal’ course would give each an equal platform of expression, and allow the students to decide which they prefer, or to use a combination, if they wish.

    As it were, my course was cut halfway through my first year, leaving me out of pocket and without a course, so I have been forced to make my own way, which I have found to be both frustrating and to be a period of incredible growth for me.

  49. Meagan says

    Well I’m still enrolled in art classes at the moment as a junior. I’ve switched my major around at least once because I failed my portfolio review for illustration(although I passed the class). And now I’m majoring in Time Arts. My experience is that if you get a bad teacher with a subject that you like and are passionate about that can REALLY screw you over. I’ve had some shitty teachers who never took responsibility and always blamed the students. One teacher I had never really explained the directions for an assignment very well and then would get mad at us when the whole class did it wrong, calling us the ‘the worst class she’s ever had’. She frequently told us that our art was horrible. She lost my art that I worked hard on and I never saw it again. So basically I agree with you because getting crappy art teachers REALLY sucks the fun out of something you love to do. And usually you have to create artwork that they like to receive a good grade. And art majors have to take a multitude of classes in areas that they don’t care about at all. All those art history classes were pointless because I have no interest in them and I’m not going to use any of that knowledge outside of school. Really. That’s just wasted money, time, and effort. I wish something they taught was how to actually acquire a job once done with school. The problem with art majors is that it is very hard to get a job and the whole ‘starving artist’ thing really doesn’t appeal to me. I’d like to be financially secure, but I want to know what to expect and what to do. I feel like if they taught a class like that then there would be less artists who kind of flounder about once they’re finished with schooling.

  50. Joseph says

    Art History to an artist is about as important as the skill he/she learns to use on the medium of their choice. It’s incredibly important to know from where we come. Nothing is original. Everything is reinvented or based on something that our ancestors created.

    Here’s an interview that a contemporary (chronologically not genre) artist did that I happen to admire and what he said about Art History and the art of painting, well worth the 50+ mins in my opinion.

    http://youtu.be/Q6XuIfC3iCA

    • michijo says

      Interesting the guy from Georgia in the link above. This seems like a new trend to do figurative classical style painting. I enjoy his techniques but I am not entirely sure about what they are doing, model painting basically. I would think this painting style could be used to reflect more real life, like if this guy began objectively painting southern themes concerning maybe Georgia or as he said economic hardship in Georgia, as he mentioned his family there suffered under, rather than self portraits and people laying around, that he would become quite famous.

  51. Shivani says

    I have to say a huge THANK you to you for writing this piece. Having started painting really late in life, after doing degrees and jobs i hated, I am always in this dilemma if I should go to art school or not. Somewhere i feel maybe i dont have enough skills and techniques and would build them in art school to then really be able to find voice in my paintings. But what you are saying is so true. Because when you want to express something in a certain way, or do some particular type of work <for eg; im working on storybook illustrations these days) then I think you carve out your own path.
    I would keep asking my art teacher, who is more like my mentor that I dont knwo so many techniques and would art school help me. She keeps saying to me – You just keep doing art, just keep walking the path, when the time is ripe you'll see the technique, or whatever is required will come to you, you don't have to go running behind it.

    Thanks again!

  52. kevin o connell says

    I’m always interested in this debate. As a composer I have to say that some degree of technical training is essential. You meet plenty of self-trained ‘geniuses’ out there who on closer inspection turn out to have bad technique and untrained ears. Of the great composers in the tradition, only JS Bach appears to have been self-taught. But he came from one of the most eminent musical families in Germany. Beethoven, Berlioz, Wagner, Stravinsky, all studied with teachers or in academies for years. The ‘naive’ Copland was trained by one of the most technically demanding teachers in Europe, Nadia Boulanger,whose teaching was stringently academic.

  53. says

    That is really comforting to read that. Because I could’nt go to an Art School. Too expensive. Or because too many people go to those school… And in the end, that brings so many doubts. (that helps to bring the 5 fears from your other article)
    So reading that is really comforting, thanks for that.

  54. annonymous says

    I am in a an art class now and it sucks! I am not an art student, but I took the coarse to fulfill a three credit elective, The instructor is a mean, bitter, middle age man who is angry that he didn’t make it as an artist. He uses the classroom to vent against artists who he feels do not deserve to be famous because he is jealous of their success and knows he will never attain it for himself. I thought this class would be fun and uplifting, while opening my eyes to the world of art. Instead it is depressing and I will never take another art class again.

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