Confessions of an Art School Dropout

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Last week, we had a presenter come in from the Kansas City Art Institute. Great school, great presentation, and just a first-class operation all the way. I’ve sent a lot of kids there, and I’ve had the opportunity to do an Educators’ Art Lab in their studios. We also have other art schools come in to present to our seniors–I think it’s good to show the kids what’s out there, what opportunities might be available, and try to prepare them (at least a little bit) for postsecondary work.

Those presentations, though, are sometimes just a little too slick. Not false advertising, but they definitely make art school look way more glamorous than it actually is. So I decided that it might be helpful to present the other side–the reality of what it’s like to attend an art school.

Enter Nicole–a 2011 East graduate who went to KCAI on scholarship, then left after her first year. In short order, she will be headed to either Vermont or upstate New York to study non-profit management and/or curatorial studies. She is currently a server at a nice restaurant in Omaha (cliche for a starving artist, right?) and interning at the Kent Bellows Studio. At KBS, she has the opportunity to curate, teach, mentor, and do a lot of behind the scenes work at the gallery.

It’s a great way for her to keep involved in the art community while not actually going to school. She talked about that involvement, and a few other important topics, when she came to speak with our class. Students wrote questions for her, and she had a lot of great things to say within her answers. A few points and ideas that I think are worth noting:

Art School is hard. A lot of late nights, and a lot of time spent working in the studio. An unhealthy amount of time, in fact, but that’s just how it is when you’re there. Be ready for that.

Art School is expensive. Not just tuition, but the sheer amount of supplies you go through is ridiculous. Upward of thousands of dollars per semester ridiculous. Be ready for that, too.

On a related note with expensive tuition, fight for your scholarship money. Public universities can’t do that, but admissions officers at private art schools have a lot of control over how much money you receive. Keep negotiating, then negotiate some more. Tell them you can’t make it work unless you receive more help–a lot of times they are able to give it to you.

High school art doesn’t necessarily prepare you for Art School. Your technical skill is helpful, but the focus is so much more directed toward the conceptual side of things. The ideas and process are usually even more important than the end result. And even if you look at the conceptual side of things in high school, it’s so much more advanced in Art School that there’s really no comparison.

Do your homework! With regard to your prospective school, anyway. Don’t just talk to the admissions officer–look at professors, talk to them, get in touch with current students and see what’s really going on. There’s a lot to learn if you’re going to make the right decision.

Dropping out does not equal failure. Almost half of Art School students drop out, and according to Nicole, it ceases to be surprising when someone is gone simply because it happens so often. If Art School is the right thing for you, fantastic. If not, there are plenty of other options to explore.

There’s a lot more, but those are the most important points. I think it was a great thing to have a former student talk about the ups and downs of the process, from senior year art to portfolio development to the admissions process and the first year at school. Because there’s a lot more to see than what the school presents in the 50 minutes they’re in your classroom.

Colleges Visiting the Classroom

Monday, we had a fantastic visit from Elyan Paz, Admissions Director at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I say fantastic because Elyan’s presentation was so incredibly helpful to my students–there was so much information in the way of what to look for in a school–accreditation, Community College vs. University vs. Art/Design School, for-profit vs. non-profit, etc., etc.  All the things I try to tell my kids, wrapped up in a clean and concise 45 minutes. She then followed up with a copy of her presentation so I can continue the discussion with my kids.  It was everything I could ask for from a college representative.

I like to show my students all of the opportunities available to them after high school, so I always try to have representatives from a few different art schools visit my classroom every year.  I’m generally turned off by the presentations of a lot of the for-profit schools; in my experience, their presentations are all about fast-paced pictures and videos with very little emphasis on the programs they offer.  All style, no substance.  What I prefer are the representatives that come in, elaborate on their programs, and talk about art in a meaningful way.

I want representatives that are genuinely interested in my kids.  They are passionate about their school. They help by explaining the admissions process. They spend time talking about art, and more importantly, reviewing and critiquing my kids’ art–a second voice that echoes my teaching but also presents new ideas.  They show and discuss the qualities that make a good portfolio, and how to develop those qualities.  They show the opportunites available at their school, and the jobs available after they graduate.  They tell my kids where they can go, and what they can do to get there.  And most importantly, they do these things honestly. Every step of the way.

Get some art schools into your classroom–it’s a great opportunity for kids to see what’s out there.  It took me a few years to find the schools and presenters that work for me and work for my classroom, but here’s step one: If you’re anywhere close to Minnesota, get in touch with CVA–I can’t emphasize enough how fantastic that presentation was this week.  And, if you’re lucky, you may even get some free stuff out of the deal: