If you’re a young creative fresh out of secondary education, you’re facing a multitude of important and difficult decisions. Whether it’s pressure from your parents and mentors or a previous record of success, you may be interested in pursuing art school. You may also feel a need to gain immediate experience or you have enough confidence in your abilities to jump straight into practical training.

There are clear advantages and merit to be found on either of the previously stated paths. However, some creative people don’t fit clearly into either category. Different people with varying personality types will favor one method over the other and vice versa. Let’s dive into each option and figure out where you may fit.

Art School Advantages

1. Professors

Art school can provide you with an eclectic environment in which you will learn from a variety of different professors. Each will vary in their specific expertise and experience. This diversity of thought will help you round out your skills. Professors also provide professional references and mentorship after your degree is finished.

2. Venue to Refine Your Skills

Your time at school will give you the necessary time to hone your abilities and practice your craft. An academic environment is a safe one, where it is okay for you to fail. Having the ability to experiment with different styles and can help you see where you excel and where you may need to improve.

3. Networking & Collaboration

As you progress through art school, you will be accompanied by other young creatives working towards a common goal. Not only to obtain a degree in their field, but also to create new and exciting expressions of their talent. When you work with other artists it fosters a sense of community which is vital to a thriving art scene.

4. Access to Equipment

Professional equipment is expensive. Whether it’s a recording studio worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or a costly set of brushes. When at art school, you’ll be able to express yourself with professional grade hardware. This can also include specific professional training. In addition, you will have access to creative spaces without having to rent time and space.

5. Internships & Job Opportunities

Arguably the main benefit of higher education is its access to desirable internships and positions in industry leading companies. Professors and internship coordinators often have relationships and connections that simply cannot be obtained without art school. In creative circles, it is often “who you know” as much as it is “what you know”.

Best Fit

Higher ed can cater to many different personality types. If you are a goal-oriented, industrious individual, you can succeed in a structured environment like art school. Having a set schedule with measurable goals usually works well for highly conscientiousness people. Being either extraverted and introverted is okay, and you can still succeed. If you enjoyed the academic environment of high school and achieved high grades, you are most likely well suited for higher education.

Benefits of Practical Training

1. Professional Experience

You may be ready to hit the ground running once you move on from secondary education. Accumulating real world experience and working with industry professionals can be beneficial. This also provides a sense of familiarity with how creative pursuits fit in everyday life.

2. Creative Freedom

If you prefer your own space to create without limits, you know the results often break down barriers and advance the art form. With a less formal path like this, you are able to create more progressive and challenging pieces. Finding an individual voice is easier when you have the freedom to break from traditional teaching methods.

3. Mentorship

Pursuing an apprenticeship in the arts can provide you with an important voice of reason. Someone to impart wisdom and supply advice can be an invaluable resource. Industry specific guidance will help you to advance at a more rapid pace. This is also another source of professional references and recommendations.

4. Getting Paid

If you choose this path, you should be able to accumulate some amount of wealth right away. Being able to make a living while you are avoiding debt can be helpful later in life. Graduating with a mountain of student debt can be scary and may not be something you want to face. There is also often more time to work on creative projects when it is your sole focus.

5. Resume Building

Experience can be extremely useful when crafting a resume. Whether you are applying to a well-established company or vying for a respected freelance project, industry professionals like to see a healthy portfolio of work. Whether it’s playing live shows with your band or presenting at art galleries, the more real world practice the better.

Best Fit

You may have come out of your high school years with enough talent and courage to pursue a career right away. You probably have an entrepreneurial mindset. Being high in openness can be an asset when tackling new challenges and overcoming adversity. If you are lower on the neurotic scale you will tend to be able to handle the inevitable stressful situations of this path in a more productive way.


Case Studies

Artists Who Went the School Route

Many well-known artists went the traditional route and attended art school, including…

While his venue of choice is the streets, Shepard Fairey was formally trained in the classroom, earning his Bachelor of Arts from the prestiged Rhode Island School of Design in 1992.

Another titan, Jeff Koons, also went to art college, graduating with his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore in 1976, and went on to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Richard Serra earned both his BFA and MFA from Yale University, and is responsible for dozens of monumental public sculptures that can be experienced across the world.

Sculptor Sterling Ruby earned plentiful practical experience while stacking up his degrees, earning his BA from the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design in 1996, his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2002, and finally an MFA from the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California in 2005.

Let’s not forget about our musical artists! The young Lake Street Dive formed while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music and have been touring since.

But, school definitely isn’t for everyone, so if that’s you, you can relate to these notable Artists Who Did It On Their Own

Richard Prince, the often controversial aficionado of appropriation, attended Nasson College in Maine, but he describes his school as without grades or real structure.

Photographer Diane Arbus began her artistic career around 1934 as a painter, but quickly discovered she didn’t enjoy painting. Two years later, she met her future husband Allan Arbus who was working in advertising and introduced her to new design ideas. She continued to study art through summer programs but never went to college. When she and Allan married in 1941, he bought her her first camera and turned their bathroom into a darkroom. She honed her skills through various studio visits with influential photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Berenice Abbott, and her career as an artist really began to launch in the 1960s.

Finally, what’s a success story without mentioning Pablo Picasso?!  Picasso attended the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid as a teen (at the behest of his father and uncle), but he so disliked formal instruction and stopped attending classes shortly after enrolling.


So there you have it folks- ultimately, it’s up to your sensibilities to decide which path is right for you, but we hope this information has proven helpful. Let us know your thoughts below!

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