Does an Art Education Matter?

Whenever I’m talking to artists about their biographies or resumes, the question of art education, or lack thereof, often comes up. Artists who have completed extensive academic training want to know how best to leverage that training to build their credibility. Artists who don’t have formal training, want to know if it will hurt their prospects for gallery representation and sales.

Both those that have been formally trained, and those who haven’t, are curious to know how much I think art education matters. I suspect, those who went through extensive schooling want to know if it was worth it. Self-taught artists wonder if they should matriculate or face the consequences.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to the question, “Is an art education worth the investment?”

Let me approach it this way – the following list can be advantages to a formal education:

  • Technical Training. For some styles, subjects and media, a formal, academic environment is an efficient, effective way to learn the techniques required to become proficient in creating the work.
  • Structured Learning Environment. Some artists are predisposed to learn best in the formal environment that an educational institution will provide. The academic classroom and atelier, along with the relationships built with teachers and fellow students, can nurture learning and development.
  • Expansion of Horizons. In addition to learning techniques specific to your style, during a formal academic education, you will likely have the opportunity to try your hands at other media, styles, and techniques. This exploration will broaden your horizons and enrich your understanding of your craft. Art students spend time immersing themselves in art history as well, giving them perspective on their work.
  • Credentials. A degree in the arts can help you on many levels, especially if you wish to teach, or take a position in an arts organization.

I also see the downside to pursuing a degree:

  • The Cost. Tuition continues to climb, and you can count on a BFA or a BA costing tens of thousands of dollars or more. Unfortunately, according to AOL Finance, a fine arts degree is one of the ten lowest paying college majors.
  • The Time. Four years spent in art school creating what someone else is telling you to create, instead of creating what you want, can feel like a waste of time to some artists (an expensive waste of time . . .)
  • Stylistic Constraints. I met a gallery owner years ago who said he wouldn’t typically represent artists with degrees because he felt they were too uptight in their work. I think he was probably exaggerating his opinion a bit, and I also think that broad prejudices like this are counterproductive, but it does make some sense that some artists who are trained in academia might be more artistically conservative.

There are certainly many other benefits to both sides of the equation, and I’ll count on you sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

As a gallery owner, however, when the question is put to me, the artist is generally wondering what impact their education level has on my decision whether to represent their work in my gallery.

The truth is, education has almost no direct impact, though it can have an indirect influence.

When I’m evaluating an artist’s work for representation, the key factors are the quality and consistency of the work, the personality of the artist, and the artist’s track record of sales. I can’t remember a time that I asked or thought about the artist’s education.

With that said, there have certainly been artists that I’ve selected for the gallery whose work is of the quality that it is because of an academic background. Some artists can only achieve their vision and their artistic destiny by gaining an academic training. For these artists, an art education is a critical means to an end – it can’t be an end in and of itself, and an education alone doesn’t guarantee artistic or commercial success.

There are other artists who will better spend their time gaining their own education in non-traditional ways.

One final thought. Of my top ten selling artists, four have degrees in fine art, six do not.

How Important Do You Think an Art Education Is?

Do you have a fine art degree? If you do, do you feel it’s helped you? If not, do you feel you’ve been handicapped by the lack of a degree? How much impact do you think an education has on an artist’s career? How much impact do you think it should have? Please share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the comments below.

 

 

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

96 Comments

  1. It really depends on the individual, what one thinks art is about. Would I do it again? My work is a spiritual journey but the terrain is new york city. So yes, navigating and not loosing ones way requires a rigorous sense of things and a degree from one of the best institutions was my choice.

    1. I thought I would be much better with an art degree and gain knowledge I didn’t think I had, soI studied for Advanced Dip of Fine Art. I found I sold far more art before gaining this and I didn’t really learn much at all. The art director was just there for the money he didn’t have great skills himself . I felt it was a waste of money at this college in particular ,I feel I would have been better doing seperate modules , in subjects I lacked in knowledge.I have learnt more by belonging to an art group as people don’t mind sharing their knowledge.

    2. I personally think that art is about ideas and the creative investigation of those ideas. Without interaction with thinking people who actively explore new ideas and innovative ways to express them, an artist’s work sometimes winds up being common and boring.
      There are many ways to meet people who push you into at least considering unique ways of looking and thinking about life, but college campuses are a fertile ground. That is the purpose of a college education…to open a person’s mind and to encourage active research into the world of possibilities. Professors encourage their students to take chances and to risk failure. Also, the best works of art seem to have a historical perspective, a philosophical perspective, a personal viewpoint, and often contain some idea of the current state of the world. On top of everything, the pieces must look good enough to attract attention.
      An actual degree(s) is only worth what it brings you. At the very least, it tells people that you have started and finished something important to you and have worked your butt off in the process.

  2. I’m an engineer by degree — no formal fine art training — and I’ve found that to be interesting to those who follow my work. My business background has also been immensely helpful to my career as an artist. That said, I sometimes envy the length of extra experience other artists have who had an art education, while I was spending 18 years in high tech (plus the 4 year degree).

    1. I hear ya, Julie. I spent a lifetime building a ranch and feel so far behind those that have been doing art for YEARS and know so MUCH! However, that work is the fuel and subject of my art, a story I wouldn’t have to tell if I hadn’t LIVED the life I have. Would I have better painting skills if I had started art at college level? Undoubtedly. But would I have the clear vision and purpose? Unlikely.

  3. Re: “artists who are trained in academia might be more artistically conservative” – Are you joking???? Have you looked at the zillions of self trained plein air painters whose work all looks the same? The only way to tell one artist from another is by the location they chose to paint. They write glowing reports of the wonderful workshops they attended to learn to paint exactly like every other plein air painter. Don’t get me wrong- I love plein air painting and respect anyone who takes the time and trouble to learn outside of academia. But the artists who take risks and explore new media and techniques are those with MFA’s. You might take a look at some of the New York galleries and high selling art works at international auctions to see what I mean.
    But if you can sell those look alike self taught artworks- more power to you! For me the excitement is in tackling a new idea or approach. Hope this helps.

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more. I also have known “self taught” who resort to projecting images, using light boxes, putting a grid on top of a photo, and sometimes almost painting by numbers right on top of photos- what’s that all about?! Very few admit to it though until they are really pressed. Every once and awhile artists with degrees fall into this also, I should mention. I have a really hard time respecting that work- in fact, I don’t.

      1. People like Mary Pratt’s 13×21 inch pieces enough to pay more than 50,000 dollars and she uses optical devices. Caravaggio is thought to have used optical devices. I’m not ‘bugged up’ about people using optical devices, paint from tubes, or primed canvas for that matter. I’m not willing to investigate 400 years of painting and reject those who may use optical devices or grids.

      2. I really dislike these techniques (projection especially). They are easy to spot, and in my opinion, have a tendency to make the painting look dead. I went to art school for a year or so and we had to draw freehand. Honestly, it would not have occurred to me to do otherwise. Because practice.

  4. Art “education”, technique, learning a process, equipment, even having the desire or will, all of these have some say in what it is to be an artist.
    But there is nothing that can teach anyone how to be creative. This is because creativity has to come from inside, process and technique are acquired from the outside.
    There is a very good reason why great artists of the past – Picasso comes to mind – had very little to none, formal art training.

    Anthony Steventon

    1. That is not true. Picasso’S father was an art educator and Picasso received tons of formal training in his early life.

  5. I majored in art at a junior college . I feel very fortunate that my JC had an outstanding art program and exceptional teachers . My last year there the San Francisco Art Institute came to recruit . I applied and was excepted. However after weighing the cost per year which was fourteen thousand at the time, I decided not to go forth and to continue my art education working as an artist. I belive that a good foundation is critical to any artist. After all a foundation is needed to to build a solid career on, and an education does I introduce you to techniques and knowledge that otherwise you may not obtain on your own. That being said. I have learned more by doing the work and running my business then I have learned in all my years of schooling., but I still utilize the basic and the advancrd skills that I learned in school.

  6. Thanks for your comments on education, it has been a concern to me for long time. My personal feeling is one which I am drawn to always is in the emperfect art expression. As I alway felt it was some the error or accidents that accrue during the creative act are sometimes priceless. I always mention to student that the things they find wrong in the process may be the very thing they look for to recreate as their skill develops . There was a book I read that mention this THE LANGUAGE OF DRAWING AND ANOTHER THE LANGUARE OF ART.

  7. Like Julie, I had a full time technical career before switching to a full time career as an artist. My technical and business background are immensely valuable now in my art career. I am perhaps more adept at marketing (including social media), project planning, and other “left brain” activities, and these serve me well when I feel like my credentials or experience are less than what I’d like them to be. My point is that we all need multiple skills that contribute to a successful art career. If you don’t have a BFA or an MFA you may have to work a bit harder to gain recognition in some arenas… but you may have a leg up in other situations.

  8. I was fortunate to study for my MFA as an adult. I was older than most of the faculty and was mostly left to work on my own. None of them told me what to do; they just gave me studio space and let me go, checking on my work once a month with their insight. It was a wonderful time of total immersion in art – trying every media, experimenting with different techniques, learning art history. Because I was a non traditional student I was treated as an equal by my professors and even asked to teach classes while I was studying so the university paid for my education. I graduated on my 50th birthday. For me this opened up the world of art and I was able to finally find my passion. At one point I asked myself why did I wait so long. Then I realized if I had studied art as a young person I wouldn’t have had anything to say.

    1. That is so inspiring! I just started exploring and learning basic techniques in the last year or so. I’ve considered looking at programs, as possibly a means of “catching up” with techniques and media exploration. It’s difficult not to feel the challenge that being older brings in terms of time… the prior years NOT spent practicing, refining and exploring. And with full-time work, I feel the time constraint. A part of me would LOVE full-time immersion in doing and learning.

    2. Kathy, thank you for your story. I just started BFA in my 46. I was painting all my life but had technical education. I always wanted to study art, but 9-5 work is giving me money for living. This year I decided that if I wait it never happens. I am older than most of the teachers, but we established a good relationship. It widen my horizons and gives me better understanding which direction I want to develop. And I think that my life experience makes huge difference in my approach to the study.

    3. I really appreciate your comment. I am a self-taught artist and have recently begun to consider taking some formal classes. I’m also nearing my 49th birthday. However, with a BA in English, I don’t believe I have the background to jump right into an MFA, and I ask myself if it would be worth it to get a second undergraduate degree, or should I just audit some courses for personal enrichment.

  9. Jason, I always enjoy reading your blog. I have a BFA, which I thankfully got when tuition was way lower in the 80s. It helped me get a lot of jobs, but never had any bearing at all when applying to a gallery. I believe in formal education, but there are some artists who do just fine without it too. However, there is one thing you might have overlooked. That is that every artist owes it to themselves to learn new techniques and it doesn’t have to be in a degree seeking way, just to go study with an artist you admire, or through a workshop every now and then. I consider that education as well. I studied with a very skilled painter friend for 3 years. He taught me wonderful things I never learned in art school. There are so many great artists who give workshops, and I think it’s a great way to force oneself out of their comfort zone and who knows, in the end, have a rather profound effect. It’s important to keep evolving as an artist, so this type of informal education is important.

  10. I paid a lots of money for my MFA. I did it because I thought it would make it easy to access a college or University teaching position. It was 2012 when I got it , at my 60th birthday. I have applied all over the USA with no good results at all , which has made me think that my age is against my desire. It is much more rentable for any institution to hire a 22/25 yo young gradué an invest in he’s formation that to hire and old artist with 40 years of experience but in retiring age .
    School help me with the discipline and with the rigor that the skill demands . During my MFA I attended, for 8 months , in different dates , an art residency and it was extremely helpful . Now I know that only there I could have invested so much time and concentration in the development of my art , conceptually and practice .

  11. Hmmmm…..I have no fine art training…just a self-taught full time artist who has taken a few workshops over the last 20 years. My prior 16 years in the military in logistics (contracts and inventory) has given me a huge leg up on the business side which I think is my secret weapon. I am presently represented in ten galleries across Canada and doing very well. It has been a slow progression to get to this level of course Have been full time for the past 10 years but painting for longer than that. I have artist friends that have fine art degrees and others that do not but I don’t think that matters one bit as far as being successful selling your work, it’s the work that speaks to clients and gallery owners you may wish to approach. There is no better thing than “miles on your brush”.

    1. I agree that it is the end result, and the quality of the work you do that matters. How you got there was/is irrelevant to the Gallery owners that I have had represent me. I have NEVER been asked what education I have, and I have been a professional artist for over 25 years, and represented in numerous galleries. Lessons in your field are important to save hours of futile experiments in learning to master any art medium. Whether it is through a formal education, a mentorship or through taking good courses, some education is in almost every case, helpful. The longer you practice your art, the better you should become. Definitely ‘miles on the brush’ are needed to accomplish the quality of work most Gallery owners want to see.

  12. My degree is in fine art, though my career was as a graphic designer thanks to a couple of classes I got “stuck” with my senior year. I know many artists who don’t have formal training. A difference I see is in their drawing ability, the figure, perspective etc. I supplemented my income painting, doing street shows and commissions. For me none of it would have happened without my education. In addition I’ve taken advantage of workshops. Being an artist is an amazing ride.

  13. I do not have a formal art training. But I think that education and training occurs on many levels and over a great amount of time over the artist’s career. We never stop learn gin and applying what we have learned. Even with a formal art education the amount of learning and growing can dwarf the formal education over time. A degree in fine art could become a small part of the influence in a mid to late career artist for example.

  14. Jason, I think that art education is absolutely necessary. Whether it is formal or not is not really the question. My experience as an artist is that formal can be a hindrance as you have already enumerated some of the pluses and minuses. Of the utmost importance to me is to continually improve your art through study of artwork of all kinds of art. whether a gallery wants to represent your art is up to other factors of what they like in their gallery.

  15. I think the greatest benefit is the networking that a formal institution and the resume of the instructor can offer. Often, I look at the author blurbs of many artists’ books and it will say something about an award(s) they got in school or just after graduating. The clout of a respected school brings dealers to shows that the outsider either doesn’t have the connections to know about or can’t get into for want of being in a recognized program. I’ve got Betty Edwards books, and in Color, she talks about taking fabric swatches and creating these color excercises to help students understand value, hue, and saturation, and people wanting to buy them at a show of her students’ work. EXCERCISES!

  16. It is all bull, as are most art critics, and galleries! You can go to college for 25 years but it will not make you creative, and it will not make you a great painter, study the life of
    Vincent Van Gogh.

  17. I strongly agree with much of what you’ve said, Jason. I currently make my living as an educator. My long-term goal (which I pursue fervently but with patience) is for art to play a bigger role in my future. I also hold a Masters degree in education and a Bachelors degree in art. I’m still figuring out who I am as an artist, so my “credentials” don’t carry much weight.

    One thing I learned going back to school for my masters as an adult in America is that anyone can get a degree if they’re willing to put in the money (or assume the debt) and bare minimum time/effort. Our post-secondary education system is a mill. For those who make it a formational experience and are tenacious in their pursuit it can result in a wealth of knowledge and experience to propel them towards excellence. For others merely chasing a diploma it can amount to as little as a credential they wave around to try and compensate for their mediocre work.

    Ultimately the art speaks for itself. What makes an artist successful and relevant is how intensely and deeply they pursue their craft and vision, and how that translates into meaningful, personal work. Some personality types need the structure and accountability of a university or apprenticeship to get there. Others may get there on their own. How well the artist knows his or her self may also come into play. This is something that a university can help a person explore; encountering opposing and diverse points of view in a university setting can enrich a person spiritually, philosophically and artistically. So can being homeless and struggling to survive on the streets for a few years.

    There are too many variables to focus just on formal education alone. Therefore, it should not carry a disproportionate amount of weight in considering an artist’s potential or achievement.

  18. I have a BFA, also got it in the 80’s. Then I became an art educator and got my master’s in Communication Design. I never planned on being a teacher but it became my second love right after painting and drawing. I regret not getting an MFA because I cannot teach what I love on the college level. That and along with all the reasons that Jason listed is a great reason to have a formal art education.
    Otherwise, your art is either liked or it isn’t. Art is an emotional purchase.
    For those self taught people, great! However don’t just rely on videos and books, take a continuing education course and learn from an experienced artist on how to “see” your art and make it better.

  19. I don’t necessarily think a degree in art is a necessity, however the whole experience of going to college and learning to critique, be critiqued and the exchange of ideas is priceless.

  20. This is an intriguing topic and I’ve heard pros and cons on both sides. I definitely believe that an artist who studies at a fine art college with a strong reputation ( such as Art Institute SF, Rhode Island School of Design. . .there are many others) has an advantage over an untrained artist because serious collectors do look at that. Part of it is because it is hard to get into these schools, they tend to take the creme de la creme, and usually only hire professors that are famous artists. Now I do know friends that have gone to one of these schools and said the experience was not worth the expense or the stress. I got my BA in art from a state college, I had excellent teachers and the experience was wonderful (also affordable) . But I know that it doesn’t look as good on my resume. Despite that, I have been a professional artist since 1977, I’ve been in many shows, have several galleries that represent me and have had lots of sales. I just kept plugging away.

  21. I got a BFA degree back in the early 70s, and even then the emphasis was on being “shocking” rather than fundamentals. My chief complaint was they gave us zero training on how to present and sell our art. Everything I know now, I have taught myself. A few good mentors would have saved me much time and trouble.
    But art school did expose me to many media, ways of thinking, and most of all I learned to “see” the world as an artist.
    I don’t think anyone at a gallery, or any art director in my freelance illustration work, has ever inquired about my degree. The work I present has been far more important.

  22. “In addition to learning techniques specific to your style, during a formal academic education, you will likely have the opportunity to try your hands at other media, styles, and techniques. This exploration will broaden your horizons and enrich your understanding of your craft. Art students spend time immersing themselves in art history as well, giving them perspective on their work” Jason Horejs
    I am a big believer in SOME form of academic art education. I do not have a degree, but I have formal training just about throughout my scholastic career.
    I think “self-taught” artists are a myth. One can Google up a particular topic on art instruction and find You-tube videos. I still do so to this day… Because one NEVER stops learning about creating art. There is also no shortage of “how-to” books on painting, sculpture, drawing, multi-media, collage, jewelry design….. you name it.
    In the sense of “self-taught”, whether you went to a craft store and bought a set of paints and began painting on your own, or have a degree in Fine Arts, or somewhere in between, no one sits you down and “teaches” you how to paint, how to mix colors, how to create whatever it is you are creating. It is a very much hands on, learn by doing pursuit.

  23. Going to an art college was the best path for me. At 18 I was very naive about what I wanted to do after high school. College gave me the structure I needed to work toward a goal. It clarified my direction into a 30 year graphic design career. Along the way I dabbled in fine art while raising a family. Now, I have time concentrate more on creativity and a second avocation, in between cooking, gardening and motorcycle rides with my husband!

  24. I have a BFA in Visual Art and by chance ended up teaching art for 35+years. I loved art school (not the art history) and I would hope anyone going that route would have as great a time as I did. Some people may be intimidated by the “education” thing, or feel that there is some elitist snobbery in education. I won’t generalize. If I may, can I relate a recent experience? An artist with whom I came in contact after doing a demo at their art group asked if I would give feedback on their paintings. I checked our the artist’s website and had a good look at the paintings which can most accurately be described as “non-representational” that would more commonly be called “abstract” (though I think that term is not a good one). I tried to point out strengths and interesting aspects to the body of work I saw, and I used art-specific terms which to my mind were not difficult to understand. Are notions of push/pull, visual movement, interplay of organic and geometric forms, the interaction of colors’ intensities and simultaneous contrasts etc too unaccessible(?) in discussing pure painting? Well, for this artist they were, for the response was that they didn’t understand what I was saying. To me, this said that this artist did not understand what it was doing. So I had to basically praise the intuitive qualities of the works and that artist’s passion for painting, but frankly, a little background in art appreciation/art history, i.e. education, would really help. We don’t need artist’s statements to read while looking at their paintings, but we do need a “vocabulary” with which to discuss and share what we see. The “I like it-I don’t like it” reaction does not suffice.

  25. As artists progress in their careers I think it gets less important what is in their resume regarding their education. The focus becomes entirely on the artworks themselves. On the other hand if one wishes to pursue a career of teaching art at the University level it is absolutely imperative to have an MFA if one wishes to be considered. And also one should consider the fact that getting into a grad MFA program is like getting a grant to study art over several years. And finally the exposure to art ideas in most MFA programs is far beyond what one might get on their own.

  26. We sometimes confuse “Decorative Art” with “Fine Art” . An academic degree typically doesn’t tolerate Decorative Art. Therefore an academically degrees artist can have difficult time selling Fine art in a Decorative market or gallery. There is a place for both but the general public typically don’t understand the difference in that…….the artwork has to match the sofa

    1. Ah, thanks for bringing out that difference in markets, Kevin. I’ve been calling it Gift Shop Art, whether it’s small or large. And Ian’s point about the vocabulary of discussing art is well taken. When I switched from third year photography to first year painting at the School of Visual Arts I realized how advanced my perceptions had become compared to the first year students I volunteered to study with.

  27. I have a very mixed background in art. My first, very informal, art course was taken at about age 34. Late as it was, I was Bitten. I could not stop drawing, anything and everything!! I later attended design school, which was an absolutely amazing experience – mostly in self-discovery. It challenged me and pushed me to creative limits I had no idea I could attain – which made me more self-confident in my art expression. My only regret is that I came to the party so late. I now paint with the passion I first experienced for drawing. — I believe formal art training is valuable for some, while others might find it stifling. The most important thing is to figure out what’s right for you.

  28. I started in the arts at a young age. Wanted to go to art school but was discouraged and told there was more money in Engineering which I got my degree in. I enjoyed the engineering but never discontinued creating art. Every elective was art related and I attended an all day weekend art program at another college. I have continued studying art through my adulthood. I have owned my own studio where I have worked and taught for 20 years now. I am always showing and selling my art. I find teaching art forces growth and creativity that I have never aquired in a classroom. In the end I believe every artist needs the fundamentals but the end result is what matters.

  29. My degrees are in the arts, the B.A. in a double major of Art and Theatre with a minor in Music, the M.A. in studio Art. This grew out of living with musician parents, into a very small liberal arts college to a major university (UW-Madison) for the M.A. and additional grad work at N.Y.U.
    All this formality provided a rich set of opportunities for me to explore the histories of those who have come before, the connections that exist between some of them and me via education or apprentice, e.g. I am tied to both Rodin and Brancusi through some of my professors. I was able to explore the current world of art work while in school, though there was no Internet then and the time spent in N.Y.C. was profound.
    All of that has helped me in a rather non-linear way to becoming an engineer in hardware and software technologies where I hold numerous patents that feel to me like the artifacts of conceptual creation (art?) while also working creatively for myself as time allows. Most recently, I’ve found a path to return to my studio with more capacity to produce my works and have been seeing an increase in group shows, in curation and have been offered a solo show next Fall at a solid gallery. There has even been some sales, though I am super blessed to not have to depend on those fiscally, since I am still, even at this point in my life, an emerging artist in the eyes of the art world. I would not trade my formal academic experience, however the advice I was once given by one of our modern “masters” was that it is probably better to find a group of artists who are passionate and hardworking to connect with and get busy. My counsel here, FWIW, is that given the state of social networks today, this is a crucial element to work and work hard. Having other eyes on your work can really help to keep the energy up, as well as keep you honest about how much you are doing in the studio.
    Cheers!

  30. The bio of the artist often makes me pay attention to his/her work. A unique, well-thought-out, articulate bio that clearly shows the artist has understands his or her work on a deep level makes me want to spend time with that artist’s work. Wonderful artwork with a bland bio, however, is still wonderful artwork, but I might not spend as much time with it as I would if the bio got me thinking about the work on a deeper level.

  31. The real test of the artist’s education is the work itself. Everything you really know is found there in plain sight.

  32. Bottom line – show me your portfolio.
    A wall of degrees won’t sell inferior work. When people walk past a display do you frame your degree or your work? I have two-plus years in fine art but life got in the way … I wouldn’t trade those experiences for any credentials. That ridiculous resume enriched my skills and I am deeply thankful for them.
    With the resources available today an art education can be had with your own personal study, MOOC online courses, workshops … the options are endless. I have an extensive personal library of art books I still refer to.
    “Education” verses “formal education” never stops. I had to unlearn some absolutes from college that were wholesale nonsense. The late Canadian artist, Robert Genn, used to say “Go to your room.” In other words, any technical problems you have can be worked out in your studio hour upon hour, alone, until you solve them. There is no other way.
    Your resume may accompany your portfolio, but no artist is accepted into a gallery without an honest evaluation of the work. The art is what endures ….

  33. One: Getting a formal education teaches the artist how to learn and be a scholar. That is above all the greatest benefit, because most of the learning for artists happens after school is finished. Those who are not trained in how to learn and study independently are at a great disadvantage. Those who are naturally curious, who research and experiment, will probably do well, and grow with or without a formal education. The education is a luxury for sure, and a jump start.
    Two: I can always spot an artist coming out of college or university a mile off. The work has the academic look of basic curriculum that has been handed down in modern times since the Bauhaus really. Installation art has also been influencial in shaping what universites often advocate or teach via assigments. For some reason it seems that university education is always a step (or a mile) behind what is really happening in the art scene. Student looking work is also not a bad thing, but it usually takes what happens after school to really prove an artist’s worth.

  34. My business degree helped me be a better entrpreneur, independent study and creating my own technique helped me discover myself, art expirmentation crafted my identity. I know the necessary information to explain my style, technique, but more important, my business acume helps me turn the art into profit… Business degree much more recession resistant too.

      1. Are there programs out there that combine both art and business? And if not, why? I have many friends who talked of leaving VERY expensive art schools with not as much as a portfolio or knowledge of how to freelance effectively. I studied art but not at an art school and since it was so long ago I had to go back and learn digital art (to illustrate and market myself online). I also had the advantage of having really good junior high and high school art classes. This shouldn’t be overlooked as a part of overall education. The bottom line is mentoring is a good thing, being given artistic challenges to grow is so helpful and being comfortable with basic business and marketing skills is simply a must.

  35. If you want to become an artist and are right out of high school, I’d say definitely get an art degree if you or your family can swing it. Or if you are older and want it for yourself, it’s a great experience. But, obviously, not a requirement. I got a BFA in Interior Design, and then a Master’s in Education. Had several careers, mostly art-related. Now, finally, I’m a full time artist. I find that my art foundation courses from 30+ years ago still have value for me. I remember much that I learned in architectural and art history, which helps me immensely in developing my own style. Education is always a good thing, whether it helps on a resume or not.

  36. I have a fines arts degree which I acquired in the mid 60s. I say this because art school has changed dramatically. My major was Art Ed and yes, I taught and made art throughout. I had as a requisite, a double minor- one from the “studios” and one from the “academics. I have never regretted the time or the money I spent. Art school was then and definitely is now not for everyone, but an education is.
    What I realized in art school was that I was not the genius my insular high school would have me be, nor was I anywhere near skilled to be an artist. Constant work, critique, and exchange pushed me forward.
    My professors were models of the artist-teacher. The Dean was a world-reknown art-historian who chose his faculty carefully for their skills as artists and as teachers. It was impressed upon me early that my education was mine to make of what I would. I felt I had access to the whole faculty and used it. I know that was not always the case and certainly isn’t the case now as history and aesthetics if included at all is an addendum.
    There is no such person as a self-taught artist because of the influences that they have had. It is a double insult to claim so.
    BUT- an education can be had from a variety of sources. All it takes is an honesty with ones-self, a desire to be better tomorrow, and a certain humbleness to seek guidance.
    Thank you, Jason for what you are doing with these blogs.

    1. Thanks for your remark – have the same degree same area with a lot of emphasis on the exploration, which had and still drives $ into my accounts . I have always done art for a living- not famous but I love what I do.
      I still teach. One cannot teach talent , but there is a lot to be said about learning to draw and understanding technical skills. In my opinion , there are too many “artists” out there who lack basics and drive. And call themselves self taught. My opinion- do not really care – if you do not agree!

  37. I simply create the art I am inspired to do. I know that the welding techniques I have developed allow me to do things with metal that have not been done in my industry. When welders see what I do they don’t believe it even though they are seeing and touching it. I am positive that learning how to weld and form metal the way I do is possible because no one ever said to me “that isn’t possible or we weld like this”. I could see it in my mind’s eye and did it.
    I have secretly wondered if not having a art degree would hold me back but my clients don’t seem to think so. Most importantly I am learning everyday and directly applying all of that in my studio daily, I make a very good living and I am happy.

  38. I have encountered a couple of gallerists who have told me, ” all of our artists have BFAs or MFAs”. And it does seem that ‘some’ people (mostly those in the art world) see artists who do not have a degree, in some way ‘lesser’ than those who do. I also know artists who seem to feel ‘more credible’ having gone and acquired a degree. Me, I left art school at the end of my second year as I was offered an internship and then full time job with an established artist. This job taught me more than I could have ever learnt in art school and to this day I have no regrets. I believe that ultimately the quality of ones work stands above all else- and great work can only be achieved by hundreds and hundreds of hours at the canvas and a deep need to push and explore. A degree does not assure this- only an artist’s commitment to their mission does.

    1. I spent some time gathering an art education up to a certain point. It helped, but the truth is, deep art that means something comes with the hundreds of hours of practice and the inborn creativity. I find that my most loved works are those that are created with an intuitive input, not at all following art techniques, although when finished they do have the elements clearly stated within. But every type of art created has its audience, so I would say it is not about the artists nor how,the artists gained their skills, but about the audience and what touches them in the art. I don’t work for any specific audience, I work with an idea that inspires me at the time. There is always an audience for it. And I usually get heartfelt responses to the works. To me this is the key, the reason for my work. It is never about me, it is always about the meaning that the work has to someone. It is about meaning.

  39. Very interesting thoughts. A very big advantage to graduating from college with BFA was that when people asked me what I did I replied I was an artist because that was what I studied. Although I financed my life by other means I was always producing art. Because I claimed I was an artist at 22 and people believed me – I became one and still am an artist at 67 years of age.

  40. Isn’t it really miles on the brush, honest self critiques and creativity! Some of the most educated people I have met lack true intelligence and can’t see past their arrogance. Nothing comes without true commitment, desire and hard work.

  41. Marketing and business courses should be part of getting an art degree. Designed specifically for running a freelance art business. It’s one thing to learn technique, but if you don’t know how to make a living as an artist, then an art degree will most likely not serve you well.

  42. Here maybe some slight twists not previously mentioned. I have a B.A., an M.A. and an M.F.A. so my comments I’m sure will be biased. With that formal education I taught at the college and university level for almost 35 years and was responsible for operation of the college art gallery at one institution for over 25 years. The selection of the artists for that gallery was never based on the education of the artist rather on the quality of their work. With that being said I would imagine that a vast majority, probably 80% plus of the exhibitors had some level of formal education. Being both an educator and an artist I believe that learning is a lifelong requirement, be that in the classroom, in the studio or in life experience. The difference I believe is that in a formal education the motivated student is exposed to a broader range of art experiences in both the history of art and studio exposure in media, process and technique in a shorter time frame as well as the exposure to critical review and peer support. A motivated artist without a formal education maybe still be a creative and talented artist and spend a lifetime and never gain the range of exposure mentioned above. However, the importance of that is up to the individual, there is no one answer that fits all. Now, the twists I mentioned in my opening statement. Upon graduating with my Masters Degree my Dad said, “I’m proud of you son, now what are you going to do with an art degree?” I replied that I did not know but that it would have something to do with the arts. So, I went the route of the starving artist perusing my artistic ideals and a bohemian lifestyle. Although quite successful in the 70s being in over 20 galleries in 8 states I soon tired of the roller coaster ride, the lack of steady income, benefits such as health insurance and building financial security for the future. So I became an art instructor at a community college and then in my Dad’s eyes all was well. What I found was that teaching was very rewarding and very freeing. I was able to share my art history and studio experience in media, process and technique with a new batch of motivated and creative students every year which kept me young at heart, motivated and creative. It also freed me up artistically because I no longer had to produce art to feed a specific market and I could be much more creative and experimental and not concerned about selling. Over the next 35 years I completed my M.F.A. and evolved from a printmaker to a painter and now a sculptor. I now have enough retirement income to live comfortably and still produce my art without worrying about the next sale. I just know that every individual MUST do what is right for them and that being an artist comes from within and takes every once of desire and commitment. It is a lifestyle not a hobby.

  43. If you want to make any valid progress or comment about art you need to study it to as high a level as possible. This is entirely different to churning out art work for sale – that needs no theoretical training, it is about marketing yourself!

  44. This is all very interesting, but I have come to believe the art of an individual artist is the result of observation combined with navel gazing and applied to a surface or medium for interpretation. I was trained years ago as an architect/engineer, and people think that is a strong background for art. Then I practiced architecture – without a computer – and I took great pride in my presentation and construction drawings. Now, that all is a great hindrance in my plein air work, because I find it hard to loosen up. But I know from much experience that the greatest lessons learned are the ones we teach ourselves, so I have devised exercises that I am working on daily, and I am getting better, even when painting a building into a scene! But in my mind, it is all very personal and self taught every time I pick up a brush, knife, or pencil and decide how and with what I am going to use them. And most importantly, it is frustratingly fun and I love it!

  45. I graduated from Kendall College of Art & Design in the late 70s as an illustrator. At that time, Kendall was a small, private art school so that even though I graduated, I had no degree. Because I was trained there, I got a job as an artist at the University of TX Medical Branch right after graduation and I learned so much about various techniques, styles and learned to create everything from non-objective paintings to photo-realistic painting at Kendall. I always wished that I had a degree and at 50, was faced with re-entering the job market as a graphic designer. I no longer had the computer software knowledge to compete with younger job candidates so I got my associates degree in graphic design online through the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. My GPA when I graduated was a 3.99, but I couldn’t get a job in graphic design because of my age. Luckily, my mom passed away and left me enough money to pursue my fine art career for a few years without working another job. On my art resume, I do not include my associates degree in graphic design because that Art Institute has gotten bad press regarding the quality of an education received there. The degree cost me roughly $30,000.00 and was a huge waste of time and money! My time at Kendall was invaluable and I’ve never regretted going through that program. Also, I have found that people with college degrees tend to do non-objective or abstract art themselves and have few skills to be able to paint realistically or think that there is value in representational art. I’ve noticed that most judges for art competitions do have degrees and lean towards handing out awards to artists with little knowledge of composition, use of color, line, texture, proportions, perspective, etc.

  46. My mentor in 1969 (a professor of art at a liberal college) advised me that if I wanted to teach; to go to art school. If I wanted to BE an artist, to develop on my own. when I found an artist who I admired and had technical expertise in an area I wished to explore to apprentice or take a workshop. My mentor felt that to many art professors taught the way they wished they could create and didn’t look for ways to help a student create the way they wanted/needed.
    If an artist chooses to grow their art via self exploration, they need to understand the long road; keeping their personal vision strong, making the sacrifices needed to continue towards their ultimate goal. Cultivating the dedication and commitment even in the face of extreme difficulties.
    Has this path been an issue for me at times? Yes, once had a gallery owner as she step across the threshold of my studio said “I don’t know if I can represent you, you didn’t go to art school.” Though she did carry my work and sold a good number, she ultimately decided she had to let me go, she was just to uncomfortable.
    Others have valued my creativity and versatility and together we have created successes.
    Creating the art is the easy part, getting good at it is work!

  47. I studied art at a small, private women’s college in the midwest, graduating in 1981. I chose the school because of its good reputation, believing I would receive individual attention there.

    The art faculty was anything but supportive. They were only interested in earning a paycheck to support their own art careers. For the most part, “teaching” consisted of leaving us alone in the studio to create something and then either viciously critiquing the art to the point of bringing the artist to tears or completely ignoring it. In either case the results were devastating and baffling.

    I am a person deeply inspired by nature and I was constantly ridiculed and degraded for this. My printmaking professor made me sit and look at slides of classic cars for inspiration because my own ideas were so “inferior.” I was forced to paint over and destroy the two paintings I had created that were the most heartfelt and personal because my painting professor deemed them “schmaltzy.”

    I am now, 30 some years later, working to take back what I paid many thousands of dollars to have stolen from me. The life experience I have gained since getting my art degree all those years ago is much more influential than the few art techniques I managed to learn in college despite the negative environment.

    1. Oh my I had this experience in the 70s! Or, work like the prof does or, it’s all about design principles and nothing about expression. I wonder if I know the school lol… although I didn’t go there. Again, an excellent program is inspiring and irreplacable, and a lousy one is just lousy.

  48. In mid-career, I started painting in an adult education community college class. The teacher was excellent, and I stayed with her for about 10 years. I also took painting workshops in the Midwest as I traveled to tourist/art towns. When I opened my own studio and gallery in an arts/retail building, I came in contact with many of the art institute students here. They wanted to know about my work, and I wanted to know about their work. When I decided to teach art classes to adults, I explained what my goals were– one of which was to help each student develop into the artist they wanted to be. Many of them said the school was trying to tear them down and build them up again into something else that they thought wasn’t necessarily their true calling, and they wished somebody would help them develop the artist that was within them. So, my thought is that a formal education is not necessarily for everyone. (My website is under reconstruction. I expected it to be up by now, but I’m having technical difficulties. I hope to have it up in a week or two.)

  49. Knowledge is power. The more a person is educated on key topics is essential to become a successful artist: the knowledge to create sophisticated art, the knowledge to market art, the knowledge of customer service, the knowledge on tax benefits, and the knowledge on bookkeeping and organization. Only once all of this knowledge is obtained will the person become a successful artist.

  50. I am fortunate that in our city, the university offers an art certificate program that consists of 10 courses, portfolio review and an exhibition. It is far more compressed and not so in-depth as a Fine Arts degree, but certainly still educational. It is a program that can be taken over the course of several years. I am taking one course per semester and am presently just completing course #6. A few more years to go. Perhaps other universities offer extension program like this for adults wanting to learn more but in a format that is not so involved or lengthy. At the end there is a diploma or certificate that can be used in your resumé.

    I chose to take the courses as a way to fill in the blanks, be exposed to different approaches and to be with other artists. If the teacher is a good instructor, the course is really enjoyable and a great learning environment. If the teacher is bad, not so much, but you still get the opportunities to learn if you take some initiative … though spending $500 on a class with a bad instructor is a bit frustrating. In the end the teacher gets a bad review and is hopefully removed for future classes. So far only 2 of 6 teachers have not been up to par.

    So far, I have learned a lot, have been exposed to many different approaches, had deadlines and requirements that pushed my learning, and discovered an appreciation for “the dreaded” art history that really helped me see the art world differently and with greater appreciation.

  51. I’m in my last semester of earning an MFA at the age of 56. I’m very grateful for my instructors who have not only taught me classical methods, but also continue to encourage me to go beyond my comfort zones in my own work, through materials, technique, and more. I decided to go in order to learn all that I could and keep my options open for opportunities post graduation. I could teach at the college level, write and illustrate books, teach workshops, market my own work, work in galleries, etc. Was the high cost of an MFA worth it? I think it has already proved to be a good choice based on the huge difference of my work before and after attending. Fontbonne University has been the best choice I could’ve made. The instructors are not only mentors, but I consider them friends.

  52. I personally am a self taught artist. That is, no four year college degree (no way to afford it back then), but I attended evening art college classes and continue to take workshops. Am I as proficient as friends who did the college route? In some ways yes, but for me it’s more of a struggle to achieve a result than the others who had more formal training.

    However, my daughter attended a four year college majoring in Animation. As often as we asked teachers and department heads questions about employment in that field, we never got a straight forward answer. The answer is there is virtually no work in the field. Everyone wants to be an animator. Those that do find employment are paid very poorly (because there is a glut of animators out there) and the working conditions are so stressful (unreasonable deadlines, bullying, constant layoffs, sending parts of the jobs overseas), you wonder if it’s really worth it. She is a wonderful artist and was grateful for the opportunity and support to go. However, in my opinion, I don’t see the value. I feel disheartened the colleges are not honest and upfront about employment after college. They feed these kids pipe dreams. I think the cost of art colleges are out of line.

  53. Jason: we can always count on you to bring up the controversial , but this one really seems to have hit a nerve with so many. I don’t think it matters how you develop your skill or how you find your ideas as an artist, as long as you do. It is hard for highly educated multiple degree holding creative types like myself to admit that someone with little or no formal education, but perhaps other attributes, like desire, perseverance, the courage to risk, even naivety, could go on to make great art. And you with all your degrees are struggling so mightily to be noticed, but the truth is , they do all the time. I wouldn’t give up my education or the time I had in the company of great critics, because the point of an education is to be educated, not necessarily to be successful at business. I may desire more success with my art but I no longer believe it is somehow my right because I have a masters. if you want to see some pretty creative, adventurous and experimental work by folks with little or no formal training just take a look at The Visionary Art Museum , in my hometown, Baltimore. Of course galleries and collectors are focused on the work, not the degrees. Regardless of how smart you may be, or how well trained, or how skilled, in the end all you’ve got is the work, so I say make sure you love it.

  54. I don’t think it matters in the big picture. I actually think it would be better for an artist to become educated in how to represent their art in a business sense. Producing work is only the first part of this equation! Taking the next step in sharing it with an audience is the part I feel can stop an artist in their tracks. I have compiled a body of lovely paintings and now I’m embarking on this next step. I decided to take my time and try and understand today’s art world before I make poor decisions in relation to my creative pursuits. So thank you, everyone, for their advice! I’m so excited to embrace this new chapter!!

  55. Hi Jason,
    Emotions and artists, freedom and art are always interconnected. Attending an art school, will put one in an unexplored territory and the art instructors will push the limits and boundaries in many aspects, although one may not want to do what they want. So, an art education is similar to carrying a Sharpe knife. It will help to cut through situations and give power, confidence, poise and strength to get out of one’s comfort zone and become a firmly established artist and to gain the freedom on a long term. I think, employment issues are not only associated with art degrees, but with many other fields too.
    It will also help an artist to navigate the art world with ease and will eventually open doors at higher levels at various stages. Therefore, it is a personal choice. Either one can use a powerboat or paddle a boat. But in the end, there is a price one has pay in its own way. Also, it will give the courage to use one’s original name instead a pseudo name.

  56. I have a BA in Psychology with a minor in Studio Art. I am not literally self-taught (since I do have some training in painting and printmaking), but I feel that everything I have created that is important to me is the result of working methods I have developed myself. I taught myself sculpture, pastels, monotype printing, and my current style of painting is certainly not based on any classes taken in college. I have been told that my imagery and technique is unlike any others, and I do believe that is because I didn’t go through a formal, degreed art program. My skill comes through looking carefully, repetition and – as many others have written – millions of brushstrokes. I am constantly pushing the envelope in my work. I don’t think a lack of an MFA has hindered my career.

  57. A degree is a acknowledgement of commitment to one’s craft, whether one is an artist or not. A degree telegraphs accomplishment, belief in oneself, and ability to work with others. Having said this, the Art Degree is an incredibly important platform for an artist’s visual voice. I continue to put into practice the training learned from a formal art education. Back in the 1980’s art and business weren’t mutually exclusive in education. As a professional, real-world business experience is indispensable. Success is in the doing (never giving up), a love learning and solid business skills. “A triple braided cord is not easily broken.”

  58. I think it depends on what someone wants the artist to do or to produce. For esoteric value or the pleasure of a beautiful piece, I would say formal education is not necessary. Skill is what is important here. However, for certain purposes, including commercial purposes such as advertising, animation, certain types of design, or formal teaching in an academic setting, definitely.

  59. I found it so important that I did it twice! In 2015 I returned to school at age 59, to re-evaluate my art and explore new ideas and to shake up my practice. I spent 4 months in an intensive art program called Studio Process Advancement. It was incredibly tough, and totally life changing. I have always felt that an education gives you a strong framework for advancement because in the arts, schools seem to push innovative thinking and risk taking. Without taking chances, their can be no mistakes and for me, mistakes are the real source of growth for an artist. Artists should throw away the safety nets and take a class or two.

  60. Getting a BFA gives me credibillity and the confidence to know I am an artist. I went back to school at the age of 65 to learn how to draw and paint, and I learned both and truly loved being in school. I have always been creative but never thought I could draw. The professors were all very accepting of me, and I progressed. I was exposed to many forms of art, drawing, painting including oil, watercolor, acrylic, printmaking, ceramics, illustration, computer and art, and 4 semesters of art history taught me a great appreciation of many artists and different periods. It was a time of perserverance and discipline. You learn to take criticism and to organize your time for deadlines. I do agree that you develop your true style after you graduate and start experimenting, but the experience of being in school to me was wonderful and gives me credibility as an artist. Regarding tuition costs, my state offers free tuitiion to people over 65. I took advantage of this opportunity.

  61. I think some people do better with an academic education and others with workshops and mentoring by established artists. The quality of the art school makes a huge difference. I got my BFA in the 70s at a professional art school and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was one of a very few that required 2 years of life drawing, painting and design and did not succumb to the prevailing expressionism of the times. All the faculty were part time since they made a living with their medium. Some instructors taught extras like how to photograph jewelry–extremely important to get into the market and they would bring in working artists who explained the business successes. Since then my art school has a Business and Professional Practices curriculum that is mandatory for all students. My biggest takeaways from art school were critical thinking, pursuing excellence and developing a curiosity about art that led to learning a lot about other artists. It was way harder than any university I went to. Critiques improved my work. I worked commercially and privately as a jeweler for about 20 years. Through that I learned about pricing and dealing with customers. Now I’m painting and workshops and a yearlong online mentor shop greatly improved my work. Plus books, magazines and even the internet have helped too. I find the term ‘self taught’ to be a little silly. If you have read a book or taken a workshop then someone else has taught you. In the end it’s the work that’s most important. How you learned isn’t as important as what you’ve learned.

    1. Excellent points, especially the last sentence! You were blessed to have that sort of art education during that time! I agree, “self-taught” is really a misnomer unless a person is on a desert island with no outside influences. Taking classes, workshops, critiquing with artist friends, learning history and staying current with what’s going on now helped me to make it without a degree, though it would have been nice to be formally-trained.

  62. I don’t have a degree and am trying to prepare a portfolio, artist statement and Curriculum Vitae so I can approach galleries as I finish building a cohesive body of work. It’s difficult to make my CV impressive when my only credentials are some juried shows and an occasional award. Any helpful thoughts on that?

  63. I had only a year of junior college in the 80’s, and for decades thought I’d never be a successful artist without a degree to validate my work. Ironically, it was my former college instructor who made me realize that my success as an artist really had nothing to do with my getting a degree. I would have loved the opportunity to be formally trained, but my success didn’t depend on it, mainly because I’ve continued educating myself. A friend who is still paying for her long-ago art schooling told me she wishes she’d just taken a business class instead.

  64. In general, I agree with the article. I have taught art fundamentals in academia for over 20 years. In my opinion, there is a great deal that can be helpful, particularly if you haven’t formed a vision of your own. The greatest downside to a formal education process is that many instructors encourage their students to do the same thing, rather than encouraging critical thought and intellectual exploration. These things are among the most important tools any artist can own. Everything else is mutable.

  65. Art school helped me develop a super thick skin – not an impenetrable one but one that scabs over and heals quickly so I can get back to work. Developing a healthy respect for deadlines has been an ongoing process, but it started in school. Probably the most important thing I have taken from my 1970’s BFA quest, besides the degree from a reputable institution was not expertise in anything, but the knowledge that I took myself seriously enough to pursue the education and my family took me seriously enough to pay for it. When sales, creativity and motivation thin out from time to time, the identity I was able to adopt & develop in art school has provided a firm platform from which I can bounce back. It may not work that way for many/most artists but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it

  66. What I saved by going to college, I opened up a studio gallery 5 years ago on a famous art walk. Have learned a lot about the strange biz of art and Still operating

  67. For me, it was important. I grew as an artist, I learned about other artists, and I learned about where I wanted to go with my art. I gained confidence within my art. It provided a great art base to build off of the over the years that followed in non traditional manner. My better art connections today are people I met during that time. I would not trade it.

  68. Great article! I took some basic art classes in college and took every art history class I could take. I was very lucky to have awesome teachers. But I found that in some of the advanced art classes I would go off into my own world and couldn’t create what the teacher wanted. I always got good grades but I quit school and painting because it was so depressing. I agree with Anthony and others that a degree does not teach one how to create or guarantee success. But the early classes saved me a lot of time that I would have spent trying to figure what and how to do things on my own.

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