10 Things You Should Know Before Attending Art School

You’ve spent four years taking the standard core classes: English, science, math and history. But, there was one class you looked forward to everyday — art. Whether it was ceramics or silk screening, painting or graphic design, you found your passion in creating works of art.

It makes sense that you would want to pursue your passion for the arts in college, but to many, the prospect of going to a school exclusively for art seems intimidating or unrealistic (or some may view it as the easy way out). Spoiler alert: it’s hard work. However, if you love art, why not spend the next four years surrounded by people who love it too and are going to inspire and challenge you to create your next masterpiece? If you’re thinking about attending an art school, read below for 10 things you should know before you go.

1. Reaching out to schools that interest you gives you an advantage in the application process

Visit the campus or attend a portfolio day event. Schools will give you feedback so you can find out what you’re doing well and what you can do to enhance your portfolio before applying.

“Having a portfolio review with a school you are interested in [is the] best way to get a sense of where you stand among applicants and get tips about what you should do next,” says Madison Coan, an admissions officer at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

School visits and portfolio reviews will help you take the next step in your application process, but also give you name recognition when it comes time to actually evaluate your application for admission. Not to mention, visiting the school will give you the chance to talk to current students about why they chose this particular college, and you can check out the sort of work their creating.

2. Each school has a unique artistic environment

Just like any college, you want to find an environment that best fits your needs. Do you thrive in a more open or structured situation? Competitive or more relaxed? Do you want to be in a big city or tight-knit college town?

For example, a school like Parson’s School of Design in New York City will place you right in the middle of one of the world’s most diversified and established artist communities. Your art education will expand past the studio onto the city streets and galleries. On the other hand, an art school such as the Kansas City Art Institute or the Columbus College of Art and Design might not have such a widespread art culture as New York, but you’ll join a niche group of artists and form strong connections within your school and the local community.

Additionally, highly selective schools such as the Rhode Island School of Design (which offers a dual degree program with Brown University) and the Maryland Institute College of Art will naturally have a more competitive atmosphere given the high admissions standards. Coan completely agrees with this. “Be sure the school you choose makes sense with the person you are,” she says.

The atmosphere of the school you choose will seriously impact your development as an artist, so try visiting campus and talking to current students to see if you could see yourself being comfortable but also challenged by the environment.

3. Sleep will become nonexistent

Projects in art school are long term and intense, so you might find yourself slaving away in the studio into the wee hours of the night.

Violet Cowdin, a freshman at Parson’s School of Design, emphasizes this point. “Pretty soon, [sleep will] be non existent,” she says. Just like any other college, going to class isn’t enough. Prepare to put in a lot of work outside of class in the studio to create your final product.

“Only working on a piece in class will not be enough,” Coan says. “You need to work a piece until it's finished, regardless of how long that takes.” You will be asked to create things that are dynamic, thought-provoking, and have something to say, which is a big task to undertake. Prepare to put in the hours, even if it means you might not be getting a solid 8 hours of sleep every night.

4. Art supplies are expensive

Sort through the old arts and crafts materials you have stored away and check with your parents, siblings and friends for any spare materials. In particular, sketchpads or notebooks will be useful across all disciplines for planning out your projects.

The exact supplies you need will vary by your discipline. For example drawing classes usually require a kneaded eraser, pencils, and charcoal, while painting courses might require acrylics or water colors. But, according to Violet, you'll need a lot of your product. “Trust me, it's expensive,” she says.

Many schools will have art supplies stores on campus, but it can get expensive. Paints, brushes, pencils, erasers, even notebooks can all come in handy and save you some serious cash. Explore your school’s website for guidance or try to get in contact with your professors.

5.  Be ready to talk about your work

Think about what your work means to you and why you created it. During a portfolio review, giving a vivid description and explanation of your work makes you sound more interested and committed than a simple, "the assignment was..." or "I don't know."

“Consider your artistic choices and showcase the pieces you are most proud of and feel you can talk about in a complex way,” Coan says. An added bonus of talking about your work is that you’ll be critiqued in most of your classes, so learning to talk about your art is great practice.

Since critiquing is a major component of art classes, analyzing your own work will also help you develop the mindset to critique other people's work. “Be open to it and learn how to constructively help others,” Violet says. You and your classmates are in this together to be challenged and improve your art – take criticism as a tool to help you succeed and give it out as a way to help those around you succeed, too.

6. A background exposure to art can be extremely useful

Check out museums whenever possible, get involved in your hometown’s artist community, read up on and study artists.

“Involve yourself in every art opportunity you can, so that you can have an exciting base when you get to school,” Violet says. If you’re interested in photography, check out books of collections by famous photographers, like Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. Often they’ll include personal commentary along with the photographs. Visit gallery openings for local painters and introduce yourself. They might have some helpful advice.

Studying art will help you discern the message you want to convey with your work. Analyze the ways other artists make statements with their work, and determine which methods you find most effective. The more experiences you have with art, the more widespread your inspiration for your next project.

7. You can get a job after graduating

There are more jobs than you think. You can work on becoming a professional artist and continue to engage in your field of study, or you could enter the business world. In particular, art students cultivate analytical thinking, communication skills and a unique perspective from other applicants, which can make them great applicants for communications, public relations or marketing industries.

“Art school teaches you to be a creative problem solver, work alone and collaboratively, critique constructively, research, communicate effectively and network extensively,” Coan says. You'll graduate with skills that apply not only to the art world, but other fields as well. Plus, your unique background will help you stand out from other applicants.

8. The stereotypes are ridiculous

Art school sometimes has a negative connotation associated with being unprofessional, but such stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s challenging, multidisciplinary and will test you unlike any other college experience.

“You're never just taking classic core classes,” Violet says. “You're taking classes that are forcing you to create things that are meaningful and impactful in a hands on way and there's no way to slack off.”

Not to mention, not all art students fit the dated, cliche, flannel-clad, slightly disheveled, bespectacled image. Your classroom will be filled with a variety of people with their own personal style, and that’s part of what makes art school appealing. You will witness firsthand people using a variety of mediums to convey innovative messages in their own unique way.

9. There will be times when you want to give up

Art school can be exhausting, and there may be times when you find yourself constantly comparing your talents to those of your classmates. You might spend hours and hours on a piece, only to realize it’s not what you wanted to create and decide to completely start over from scratch. There might be times when you are staring at a blank canvas or pile of clay and you have no idea what to do.

“It’s super duper competitive and people are constantly either trying to prove themselves or giving up,” Violet says. It’s going to be tough at times, but you can do it. Stick with it and remember why you wanted to study art in the first place.

Related: 7 Red Flags That a College Isn’t Right For You

10. If you don’t love it, don’t do it

Art school is hard work, and requires a big commitment of time and talent. Make sure you absolutely love it.

“If drawing in class is fun but you'd never use your Saturday to make art, then art school may not be for you,” Coan says. If you think of art as a hobby and not something you want to spend your life doing, reconsider attending a school dedicated exclusively to art. But if you know art is your passion, there is no better college experience for you than one centered around advancing your abilities and learning from the talented people around you.

Attending art school might be a daunting concept at first, and is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. But if you know you love to create, there is no better college experience than an environment centered on celebrating creativity and cultivating your artistic technique. You will meet people with incredible stories to tell and get to watch them come to life through a variety of mediums. Not to mention, you’ll discover your own artistic voice and be challenged to constantly push yourself. Art school fosters innovative thought and originality, ultimately shaping you into a valuable asset and qualified candidate for whatever field of employment you choose to pursue.

Kansas City native with a love for reading, writing, Julie Andrews, and tea.

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