Why Art School?

Chouinard Facade Photo
Chouinard Art Institute (Early CalArts)

Is an art school education really necessary for those that intend to make creating art their profession? Can’t you just learn everything you need to know about art, on your own, through practice? What do you actually gain from a formal art school education?

Drawing Class Photo
Chouinard Drawing Class

We’ve all run into self-taught artists in our lives with incredible abilities. Which begs the question, do you really need a formal and generally expensive, art school education to create great art? The answer, I believe, is no, but let’s discuss why I still recommend an art school education to anyone seriously interested in becoming a professional artist.


Contemporary Drawing Class Photo
Contemporary CalArts Drawing Class

Sure some can reach an extremely high level of proficiency, as an artist, on their own and stand toe to toe with artists who have benefited from an art school education, without one. However, it takes an individual with an extremely high level of discipline, perseverance and hunger for knowledge about the arts, to pull it off. It also takes a long, long time to gain the same knowledge, on your own, that you’d receive in the typical 4 years dedicated to an art school education. But it CAN be done. Hell, Vincent van Gogh did it!

Art History Class Photo
Art History Class

So, what are the benefits of a formal art school education? Thoroughness, truncation, concentration and camaraderie with hundreds of other artist, from around the world, experiencing what you are experiencing, at the same time. Realize you’re learning from professors with a lifetime of unique formal and, in the field, collected knowledge. Each one is passing this accumulated knowledge on to you. Quite the shortcut! You also gain a knowledge of art history you likely never would have acquired on your own. All organized and catalogued by significance. Artists and art movements you didn’t even know existed, that will prove important to the work you’ll create in the future. Art history informs of the important work that has come before us and explains why it is important. It prevents us from trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead enables us to stand on the shoulders of the giants in art.

Paint Sink PhotoSo, get an art school education if you can, but don’t despair if it isn’t in the cards. With proper dedication and exposure, you can get there on your own, the journey is just a significantly longer one.

Teach a man to DRAW a fish…

Art Tree Logo Graphic

I just returned from a trip to Santa Clarita, CA (a bedroom community just north of Los Angeles) to make a presentation at the ARTree, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization engaged in bringing creativity to youth and adults in the surrounding community. While the ARTree expands awareness and participation in the arts to the population in general, a primary goal of the organization is to fill the void left by cut-backs or complete elimination of the art and music programs in public schools.

My presentation covered the personal opportunities that presented themselves to me over my, now, 46 years as a professional artist. Through my partially scholarship funded education at CalArts, I was able to perform as illustrator, graphic designer, animation director, fine artist, art director, creative director, chief creative officer and even CEO, providing income for my family: opportunities that stemmed from a love of drawing as a child and the continued support of family and the art programs in public schools.

Sadly, at a time when there are more opportunities than ever before in which an individual can earn a very good living as an artist, our public education system has ear-marked art and music programs in schools as unnecessary disciplines and targets for trimming from the education budget. Through public outcry, school sports programs, also once marked for elimination were able to survive, while art and music were eliminated. Sports programs do perform a vital function keeping youth physically fit, teaching cooperation and team building towards a common goal, not to mention providing activities that engage the whole family and entire community, but I guarantee, a lot more public school graduates will have the opportunity to earn their livelihood through art, than as a professional athlete.

There has long been work for artists in the creation of illustrations or graphic designs for the advertising and editorial print industry (magazines), TV commercial industry, television and feature film animation industries, but the quickly expanding Internet and technology industry has increased the demand for artists. The ever increasing demand for web sites provides endless opportunities for artists, in their design and fabrication. Television and feature animation has gone from being a solely hand drawn and painted undertaking to a computer generated discipline, expanding the size of their creative teams 30 fold. If you doubt this, stay in your seat to read the closing credits the next time you watch an animated feature. Feature live action films, heavy in computer generated special effects, now have the same increased demand for artists. The computer game industry, as big or bigger than the feature film industry, employs myriad artist and new companies in this industry appear every day. Remember when I say computer games, that includes not only games played on computers, but those on dedicated game machines (Xbox, Sony Playstation, Nintendo), tablets, mobile phones and, now, smart watches: each separate efforts by separate creative teams. You get the picture, increases in the need for artists and increases in the use of new technologies go hand and hand.

While we’re unlikely to be able to quickly redirect our lumbering ship of state to toss life preservers to the drowning public school art and music programs, bringing them safely back on board, non-profit private sector art education organizations, like the ARTree, and local government Teaching Artist programs are there to fill the gap.

These organizations deserve your support, both as a financial contributor and, if possible, a volunteer: if not just to keep cultural participation, awareness and opportunity alive in our society, than to guarantee our populations are equipped and ready for the jobs that are available!