I went to art school from 2013-2017. As a high school student, I was a budding artist ready to learn all there was to know about art, and improve my skills enough to make it my career. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at the time (I still don't some days), but I knew I wanted to learn and absorb everything I could. But at the same time, there are some things I wasn't prepared for going in that I wish I had more knowledge about.
Here are: 9 things I wish I knew before going to Art School.
1. More About Classic Artists from All Majors
When I got into art school, I didn't know many current artists, along with the classics from art history. I felt a little silly when I didn't know who J.C Leyendecker or Alphonse Mucha were (if you don't know it's okay). As an illustration major, I felt like I had messed up by not studying the classics. It helped by taking art history classes and going to my city's museum which was right next to my college. I felt like as an Illustrator at heart, I should know these very influential Illustrators.
I'm not so hard on myself now; I follow tons of artists on social media that are generally well known, and when I talk with another artist about them, I feel good that I'm able to talk about an artist somewhat knowledgeably.
As an artist or aspiring artist, it is important to learn and study other artists, but don't worry about having to know EVERY artist that walked the earth. It does help to look at the classics, however, and see how art has evolved over hundreds of years.
2. Digital Art Programs (like Adobe Photoshop)
I knew nothing about Adobe programs when I entered art school. I only worked traditionally, while some of my peers already had experience drawing with a tablet. I felt a little behind in my studies. Luckily, my school had a very good beginner class for learning Adobe programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, which I picked up on pretty easily. But I believe I would have been a little better off if I knew at least Photoshop before attending art school. If you are a little behind on digital programs, not to worry! There are tons of how-to programs on the internet, most of them free.
3. Being Considerate with Roommates
Better known as "adulting", I didn't have too many problems taking care of myself in my own space, but there were some aspects that I wish I knew before living on my own with roommates. First off, I wish I had my driver's license and/or a car to get around with. It would have made getting groceries WAY easier and convenient, and I could do a lot more with having a car in college. (I still don't have these things). I managed though, and it helped that my school has a small grocery store near it.
While I am thankful for the experience, I wish I had known a little more about living with roommates. While I shared a room with my sister for 18 years, it's different when you meet your roommates when you're already living together. I've had some bad experiences in college because of roommates, and it's turned me off to the idea of ever living with anyone again.
4. How to Stand Up For my Art
As an artist, you are your own worst critic. You may look at a piece you're working on and wonder how you even are allowed in the door to art school. I remember going up to share my work one time, and telling the class I didn't think the art was all that good enough to show. The teacher had given me great advice: don't start your presentation saying this, ever. It leaves the audience with a bad impression upfront, and it's a great way to lower your confidence in your work. Instead, take pride in what you're showing, even if your absolutely hate it. The best thing to talk about in this instance is the techniques you used in making the piece.
For example, say you made a watercolor painting, but hate the way the paint mixed on the paper. You learned a lot from the piece about how watercolor is handled, though, and know how to approach it for the next painting. During your presentation, it would be best to talk about how you observed the behavior of the paint, and how you learned from it. This instead shows you have some type of pride in the piece by learning something from it. And at the end of the day, the teacher wants you to learn, right? I had to learn this in art school, and I wished I had known it sooner as well.
5. My Art Would Drastically Change in 4 Years
If you compare my art from high school to now, you may think they're from two different artists! I thought 100% I would be a fine artist showing in galleries because that's all I thought artists did. I knew vey little about Illustration when entering art school. I had a point in my 3rd year of college where the assignment was to make a poster based off a town in America. I created this very cartoony piece that resembled my art now; very flat colors with little shading and very stylized. I was drawn to this look, so I applied it to literally everything. My artwork heavily improved during this time, and things were looking how I saw them in my head. Finally!
I was able to take what I learned from gesture drawing classes and Illustration classes, and develop a style that would carry me to the current day. If 18 year old me could see my art now, they might think it was a joke.
6. Working for Disney or Showing in Galleries Weren't my Only Options
Going back to the art gallery/Disney idea. I thought that I had only a couple options for my art career. I had the phrase, "You could work for Disney!!" said to me by friends and family members for my whole high school/college life. While it seemed like an amazing dream career, it's not something I wanted. I honestly wanted to create art enough that people paid me. I wasn't sure what was out there; the idea of being an "influencer" or "youtuber" or "merch artist" were still coming about when I was in college. Once I saw people were selling art on Etsy, selling at conventions, and self-publishing comics, I thought, I could totally do this!
Now it seems like a piece of cake to open an Etsy account and sell work. It takes a lot of hard work, but there are tons of ways for artists to make a living nowadays.
7. Having Projects That Were "My Babies" Were Not Safe
I had many passion projects as a teenager that I wanted to see become super successful stories, TV shows, anything like that. But during my time at art school, I was told to get rid of all those old, teenage ideas, stories, and characters I had. Do this in order to make way for better, more put together and thought out ideas. This is most definitely NOT the best advice, but this is something the old Illustrators told us. While I didn't completely follow it, I did save my old passion projects for when I got out of college, and I still have a story that I've been working on since I was 10 years old.
I would change this advice to say: hold on to those ideas you had as a kid or teenager, and as you grow and improve, look back on them, and see if you still want to pursue them. You may decide that you have grown up enough as an artist to move onto bigger and better things, or you may go back and greatly improve on what you built up, and make it into a refined piece of work that you can be proud of. I wish I knew this advice beforehand, because I was set on the idea that I had to let go of my old stories. But I'm glad I didn't.
8. How to Manage an Art Business
There were self-promotion classes in my art school that taught us how to brand ourselves on social media, and how to create a cohesive brand that recruiters and clients are looking for. While I didn't have the chance to take this class, I did teach myself how to brand my social media pages. There wasn't, however, a very good class on how to go about managing, say, an Etsy business, or a Patreon, or even how to communicate with clients as a freelance artist. I would have loved some pointers when I first started out on Etsy back in 2018. We were also discouraged from pursuing a fully freelance artist lifestyle due to the inconsistent nature of it. However, as the years go by, more and more people are switching to a freelance lifestyle.
9. Oh, Right. How expensive it is!!!
Student loans are no laughing matter. We took out a ton of loans for me to go to college, and if the government never forgives student loans, I'll be paying them off for the rest of my life. If you're wanting to get an art education, but aren't sure if you want to have a college experience, there are tons of resources online for artists to look into. A great place to look is the website Skillshare. I'm not sponsored or anything, but this is an awesome site that costs way less than college does.
Personally, I wanted a college experience heavily focused on art; I didn't want to go to a big college with tons of other majors. I wanted to get a more focused art education, along with the resources and the community that art school brings. If I went off on my own at 18 and tried to make art, I probably wouldn't have succeeded in improving my craft without a classroom setting.
Again, this is my own personal experience. Many people can learn on their own just fine. But if you are wanting to go to art school, be prepared for the cost. I do wish I had a better grasp of how daunting paying off student loans would be before I attended.
Those were 9 things I wish I knew before attending art school! I hope you enjoyed this little post. I meant to get this out before the school year started, but here we are. I have lots of other writing prompts I want to tackle soon, so follow for more!