Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Don’t go to art school (medium.com)
137 points by darkchyld 1607 days ago | hide | past | web | 77 comments | favorite

Making the case against Art School in general really needs to have better examples than RSID. Odds are, even if one dismisses the author's advice and enrolls in an art school, RISD will not grant admission. It is not only expensive, it is highly selective.

There are many other less expensive academic art programs ranging from community colleges through the land grant institutions and private colleges to enterprises as elite as RISD. None, some, many, or all may provide good cost benefit return to a particular person.

As someone trained in an academic studio environment - four years at graduate level for architecture - I strongly disagree with the author's suggestion that an online community can provide the equivalent to a shared studio. Talking to other makers is not a replacement from working alongside them 60 - 80 hours a week.

None of this is to suggest that higher education in the US is not grossly exploitive of young people, or that any art school has value for every individual or that an artist cannot further their education on their own.

> As someone trained in an academic studio environment - four years at graduate level for architecture - I strongly disagree with the author's suggestion that an online community can provide the equivalent to a shared studio. Talking to other makers is not a replacement from working alongside them 60 - 80 hours a week.

As someone trained in a studio art background, I totally agree. This is also why I don't think online learning will ever truly replace university. People always discount the effect other people have on their personal/professional growth.

I disagree- the university setting only impacts a few degrees which were historically apprenticeships/trades anyway. Art, Music, and even Law Schools would better serve students by leaving expensive universities.

Of course, some subset of students will want a university and will be able to afford it; but in the far future, that will be a very small fraction of the current college fairing crowd.

I guess what I mean is, that for Art - a group of students learning from multiple artists and working together without a teacher (art school is really about the work you do after hours anyways) is the best way. Whether that counts as being part of a University program or not doesn't matter - it's the togetherness that does. Going over Art History on Wikipedia then painting the sunset in your bedroom does not prepare you creatively at all.

Millions of people make digital art in their bedrooms. Demoscene, deviantart, 3D abstracts, threadless, processing were full of people who weren't old enough to be in art schools.

Plenty are as prepared creatively as art school graduates. Seems that it depends on what your peers appreciate, how good they are, how high their standards are. In some art schools you may end up in a less skilled group just like on some internet cliques/forums.

I think the author's suggestion is TOO extreme. As in, you don't even want to waste $500 on Gnomon videos. These videos are not good at all. Go pick up a box of Ticonderoga #2 pencils and any ruled notebook from walmart.

These are the required tools in order to become a superior traditional artist.

Absolutely. Unlike computer science topics art does not transfer well onto the internet. While one could learn a number of techniques for drawing and painting online, none of these make students into better artists, only better drawers or painters. Being technically better than your peers has some merit, but will not get you very far in the artistic community if the meaning of a piece is not conveyed well.

I think the primary mistake that the author makes is boiling art down into a collection of techniques. With this view they can easily argue that each of these techniques can be easily learned and replicated through online education. No reasonable artist would go to RISD and pay that much just to learn better techniques. If they wanted to do that they could just stay home and watch Bob Ross. Instead they to work with and be taught by the very good artists and students. And its these connections that make a RISD education worth 245k.

But to come to some kind of conclusion, art is not just a skill, at a very low level stops being about the artists technique and about its meaning, or communicative properties. Art education thrives on peer review, and the community around it. As a form of communication, you need to do and present art to other people, because without review, you can never understand how well you are communicating.

I agree with you about computer science not being so much like art.

I think programming is very much an art and that the ideal forum for teaching people to program looks a lot like an art studio.

Manifesto: Take the computers out of the lab and put them into the programming studio.

Art doesn't transfer well over any medium. That's why there are thousands upon thousands of Art School students that are not producing art after Art School. They go into different fields. You can't teach someone to become an artist in 4 years. For some people, you won't be able to teach them ever, not even in a 25-year rigorous art school program.

You can get really legitimate peer review on the Internet. You don't need somebody standing right next to you to get it.

I made a ton of digital art. Some of it decent enough to be appreciated by snobby art school people. Especially the stuff that looks painted like http://detrus.nivr.net/art/photos/01/styx.jpg

All of my feedback was through the internet. There were entire genres of digital art fed by the internet and absent from art schools.

I also went to a cheap state art/design school after. Doing the same critique/feedback stuff I did online IRL is nothing special. Especially when people surrounding you are years behind making presentable work. It's probably harder to achieve aesthetic mastery with non-digital art, which some peers did in art high schools.

Design student here.

I've never been to a US art school, I am on my way to my second year in an Israeli school (Shenkar).

Although I do not think it is justified by ANY means that any education costs as much as the author mentioned the RISD program costs ($200K+), I do know that art school for me has been a challenging and amazing experience, and here is why I would recommend it even if you do not want to be a designer, but just want to get your creative bearings rolling for a few years:

1. Assuming that you make it to a competitive program, you will most likely be with high quality people who are hard workers. Its been an absolute pleasure for me to kick it with some of the coolest and most creative people in Israel at my school.

2. Design is an enormous field, and although you can expose yourself to many things on the internet, what some schools are able to bring you (not necessarily all) is experience, expertise, a social life, hands on practice with your friends at school, critique by your teachers and classmates, the ability to see how you fare in contrast to others among many more things.

3. To branch off from that last point, since design is such an enormous field, you might think you want to do one thing, but after talking to so many teachers who are deep in the heart of the field you might switch. I was sure I would study to be a web designer/web dev, but all I want to do now is motion design.

4. This is your time to be creative. Do it within the most creatively inclined framework possible, with as many people who are like-minded as possible. There are not many opportunities for this kind of thing--if you go to design school you can mess around and be creative until you dont feel like it anymore, and then continue doing the real world as you did before.

I highly recommend you go to Art School. Just dont spend a ton of money on it, be sure of the reasons you are doing it, and research the environment in which you will be studying for the next four years because you had better like it if youre going to be there for four years.

I firmly believe that any program is exactly what you make of it. For some who take full advantage, art school can lead to great things just as any other school. For others who have no ambition or just want to party and postpone life for 4 years, you'd better live it up. Because the odds greatly favor that you'll be in for tough, disappointing times in your 20's and 30's.

I went to art school in Germany and paid a €200 fee per semester. That's about it. Education at art schools here is still very good and free - as in free thinking. When I read articles like this I'm just super happy that our education system hasn't yet been privatized. In order to learn, you'll need time to study. You'll need time without monetary pressure. My advice is to go to art school and challenge yourself, once in your life you shouldn't really care about money but about making the best work possible.

Honestly, this is a problem much deeper and more complicated than privatization.

In the post-war period the US spent a decent chunk of money via mechanisms like state sponsorship of universities and the GI-bill to ensure that university education was accessible to most Americans.

All of that spending took a downward turn somewhere in the 80s & 90s. As a consequence students must bear the vast majority of the cost of their university education starting somewhere in the 00s.

Universities began looking elsewhere for other sources of funding (since you can't actually run a university solely on the backs of students), and began reaching out for grants from the US government (NIH and NSF being two major funders). Now that gridlock in the Congress has forced the sequester on all of our federal institutions, we're seeing research dollars take a dive now too.

Private schools are part of the problem, but the real problem is that American politics has abdicated its responsibility to educate its people.

All of that spending took a downward turn somewhere in the 80s & 90s. As a consequence students must bear the vast majority of the cost of their university education starting somewhere in the 00s.

As a percentage of the total, yes, but I wrote this in another comment a few days ago:

Why Does College Cost So Much? is the most comprehensive treatment of the issue I've seen, and it argues that the main driver of college costs is Baumol's Cost Disease.

Universities like the University of Washington are also in a spending arms race: universities are increasing their per-student spending, even in the face of falling state spending: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/06/04/public_univer...

Universities are in something of a prestige arms race, and that arms race is in part being enabled by subsidized loans that can't be discharged in bankruptcy. It's not clear that greater support from states would change this basic dynamic.

That may be true at some universities, but certainly not all.

I'm most familiar with the University of California, where the state's willingness to fund it has massively decreased, not only as a percentage subsidy but in terms of actual contribution. In 1975, the state contributed $29k towards each UC student; in 1985 it was $31k; in 1995 it was $23k; in 2005 it was $20k; and today it's a mere $13k (all figures in 2012 dollars). That's a decrease of about 55% in per-student funding: http://www.kmjn.org/misc/uc_funding.txt

Overall cost of the UC system, on the other hand, has actually slightly decreased on a per-student basis, but not nearly enough to cover that 55% funding cut. Therefore, tuition has gone up to cover it.

If you want to factor out the confounding factor that a larger percentage of students go to college, you can also look at it on the macro-level and ask, what percentage of the state's resources do Californians choose to devote to funding higher education? That gives an indication of higher education as a public priority. And there it's again a drop of a little over half: in 1975 the UC system's funding equalled 0.3% of state GDP; today it equals 0.12% of state GDP. If funding were put back to 0.3% of state GDP (or even 0.25% or so), tuition could be cut almost to zero, so there is no real cost problem, just a no-longer-willing-to-fund problem.

I paid $800-$900 per quarter when I was attending UW. Go dawgs. I have no idea how I would do it today, I wasn't rich back then.

Could part of the problem actually be the widespread use of financial aid and student loans? If there was no assistance and everyone had to pay out of pocket, only the very top universities could charge $30,000+ a semester since almost nobody could afford to go at that price. It's kind of like healthcare costs; most people are insured so the hospital can charge 8 dollars for a single aspirin and almost nobody complains.

Sounds like an argument for single-payer public education, which is mostly what we had back up through the 70s.

> ..but the real problem is that American politics has abdicated its responsibility to educate its people.

Er, being a bit hyperbolic there aren't we?

It's a double-sided resource crunch. Funding is drying up, yes, but meanwhile costs as academic institutions are ballooning. Administrative costs have rocketed, while other changes such as increasingly generous tenure arrangements sap away resources from the cutting edge of education. It's not unusual for Tenured professors to get a sabbatical every three years, rather than the more traditions one in seven. In 2011, 20 of Harvard's 48 History professors were on sabbatical.

Where do you see the policy that professors take a sabbatical every three years? I've looked at the Harvard faculty web pages for several of their departments and they all say a most once every seven years after tenure.

Yes, the standard is one paid sabbatical every 7 years. And in some fields it comes with the de-facto obligation to write a book during that year. It is also the case that at any given time many of Harvard's faculty (in particular) are on sabbatical, but most of those are unpaid sabbaticals. Ivy League profs often take time off to be visiting scholars at other institutions, or at the UN or IMF and such. But they don't normally get paid for that; they take an unpaid sabbatical and are paid by the institution they visit, or by a research grant.

But in any case how much Ivy Leagues cost is hardly the main question of public interest; they could cost $80k for all I care. It's the decreasing affordability of systems like the University of California that is the major problem from a public-education standpoint, and that is mainly due to decreased funding.

"As a consequence students must bear the vast majority of the cost of their university education starting somewhere in the 00s."

Then by supply and demand, prices would have imploded since 2000. Either that or most schools went our of business. Right?

Nope, because of the deadly trifecta of easy loans available to literally anyone, young students with no life experience to understand the impact of debt, and parents who unwaveringly believe that a college education is the most important stepping stone to future success.

Yes this article was specifically for Americans. I studied at the Sorbonnne in Paris and it cost me around 100€ per year. I thought most courses were a waste of time, though.

I think universities are like libraries: they are becoming obsolete in the age of the Internet. Knowledge is easy and cheap to access now.

Credentials still matter. Qualifications act as positional goods in some markets.


Most applicants are not accepted by European art schools, though.

That's not entirely true from what I see. Look at http://hbk-bs.de/en/studium/studienbewerbung/bachelor-studie... which should be representative of other art schools in Germany. There are no very special requirements which would keep you from applying as a Non-EU citizen.

Those schools have rigid qualifying examinations. The chance to get in is low.

>The chance to get in is low.

That's a very good thing for an art school. Mediocre artists shouldn't be taking up the limit spaces.

I have a $150k art school student loan (mostly for a MFA) that will be paid in full when I turn 65. At that point I will have no retirement savings and will have to continue working until either my children can support me or I die. I work as a front-end developer on a completely self taught skill-set I wish this article existed before I went to graduate school. Had I not been buried under this debt I would likely still be a practicing artist.

Not that this addresses your pain of not being an artist, but have you tried freelancing? I bet if you tried, you could get that debt paid off in 2-3 years. Email me if you want and I can help you think it through.

As a front-end dev, you should be getting paid pretty well. Here in Austin, front-end devs make $75K/year or more (more if you have extensive Javascript experience.) Living in a city that allows you to live frugally (like Austin) would enable you to pay off your debt in 5-10 years.

I find it interesting that he starts of by saying "the traditional approach is failing us" because art school is definitely not the traditional approach.

Art is a skill arguably best learned through apprenticeship; to be honest this as a system works better for a lot of things.

I'm confused. Is the article talking about learning art or learning design? These are very different activities even if they are often collated on the same campuses or in the same buildings.

He's talking about learning art.

By using RISD (nb: where "d" stands for design) as an example... :/

RISD has several departments: http://www.risd.edu/Academics/

The issue is not that college or art school offers a worthwhile place of learning. Or that college is not a unique experience. The issue is that the cost is too high for what artists earn.

Relevant report on wages: http://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report-2013/majors-th...

Accordingly art majors make $35k coming out of college and top out at $57k. At that salary it is very hard to pay off $100k let alone $200k. In short, there is an upper bound for when going to school becomes a bad financial decision. Perhaps we have found it. Perhaps not, but I think that is the point of the article.

For the interested more numbers:

Art $34,400; Graphic Design $35,500; Fashion Design $36,300; Art History $36,400; Industrial Design (ID) $43,600.

Clearly these are averages and many people make more then this.

Too bad there isn't median data. I would be pretty surprised if these numbers weren't skewed by a few giants making a ton of money.

I went to art school to do Games and Art Design. I dropped out, and 6 years later I am a python/c dev and DBA.

I am so very very very thankful of publications such as the following listed at Stackoverflow:


*unless your parents are rich. People always seem to forget there are those with money to burn devoid of any material challenge. If you have practically infinite money, life is difficult. Art is something that transcends money and can help those more fortunate than all of us cope with not having any challenges in life.

> If you have practically infinite money, life is difficult.

Maybe you meant something other than difficult, maybe you meant "easy" instead.

Having enough money to survive on for the rest of your life doesn't mean a life devoid of challenges, but to claim that such a life is difficult is probably a misunderstanding of what difficulty actually is for the vast majority of humans living on the planet.

For a lazy analysis also see: Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

My theory of "rich" is that it is measured not in mere dollars, but in the products or services you will pay for without a second thought.

For example:

I am now nice-dinner rich. I can buy good stuff from a local restaurant and not feel the sting.

But I am not business-class-RTW-ticket rich. I can, in theory, afford it, but I have to think about whether I think it's worth the money.


So, when you're deciding between food and rent, that is a different kind of difficulty than whether you have to decide between private and public school for your kids, and all together a different thing compared to whether you have to spend your time flying coach or business class.

As a sidebar, I think it's reprehensible that we (Americans) conflate having sufficient capital to guarantee one's basic needs with having sufficient access to capital to do interesting things (say create a startup) and also with having sufficient personal wealth to slake one's desires/whims.

I'm in the weird valley between the mountain of basic needs and the undulating peaks of interesting ventures.

Those "mere dollars" are the difference between a life of unfortunate circumstance and of fortunate privilege which should not be thrown aside. The theory of which you stated is a life of luxury to live in.

You're demonstrating my point. Wealth is measured by what isn't thought about. I don't think about the life-and-death decisions. I've reached that level of rich.

I guess I notice this because I can still remember planning how to make a $20 note last until payday while not being hungry at bedtime. It mostly involved thinly-spread peanut butter on slices of bread.

Yes, having everything you need may seem easy, but have you ever thought what life is like if you never needed anything? Would you go to college? What would be the point? What about the joy of bringing your family to their first home? That experience is utterly impossible. You don't hang out with cowokers because you never had and never will have coworkers. Almost anything considered a normal life is off limits to you.

I think the author was pretty clear that those lucky enough to have money are not the audience for the article. They're not the ones who will be stuck with a $250k debt.

If you don't have to worry about money then by all means go to art school, or do whatever you want to challenge yourself.

Just a thought...

In the UK, overseas students pay a tuition fee + a bond to cover living expenses (which could be large in London) for a 3 year fine art degree.

If a student was interested in acquiring the craft skills and mixing in with other fine art students for three years, then the credentials of the university department matter less. A middle ranking university in UK would charge around £50K over the three years, plus guarantee of income to cover living costs (no cost to UK taxpayer). That income level is something like £13K per year depending on location, so call it £45K total. At current exchange rates that translates into $150K.

It strikes me that Italy and Greece might be very economical at present, given some application to the languages. The OA's 'style' seemed to me (as a non expert) to be fairly conservative, drawing based, heavy emphasis on craft, which I gather would match the teaching style in Italy.

I was expecting this to be another sort of hackernews anti-school rant but it ended up being pretty useful and listed some good alternatives. Having just finished art school myself I do see the value in learning from and being around those who see the world in that way and I don't think most people can cut corners on becoming a "trained" artist.

I also wrote a long post on the value of formal education vs. other methods that maybe some people will find useful who are trying to find their way: http://blog.benturner.com/2013/06/08/graduation-from-formal-...

Have gone through the Army, public school, private grad schools, online self-learning, so it's been an expensive look (thank you GI Bill, to some degree) at the state of US education.

Yes, the OA's suggestions under the $10K Art Education heading were interesting. I especially liked the 'create accountability' section urging people to join a community to give and receive feedback on work.

I am wondering if there is an opportunity for a local institution here to facilitate face to face networking for local artists? Perhaps mediated via a Web site?

If you're in the Bay Area, the live drawing workshop at UC Berkeley is just $4 and runs Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Best deal in art education I've ever seen.

This article seems to come from a place of frustration. My parents are recruiters, and they told me perhaps the best job advice I've ever had. They told me that I should get a degree in something that makes me happy.

Granted, I didn't have to pay as much for college as the average kid, they helped me out a lot. But I wasn't devoid of student loans and I didn't have endless money. It ended up that I would become a programmer after I began doing freelance web dev on the side to make extra beer money during college. Since there are few well-paying jobs in the market of singers and other jazz musicians, I started programming full-time.

I still believe that, if you can, you should take courses in college that are meaningful to you. You don't need a comp sci degree to be a programmer. The fact that you have a bachelor's (in ANYTHING) qualifies you for the job.

The problem is that most people don't like programming or don't see themselves doing it. Even those who do might not actually like it all that much once they get into it. While it's true you don't need a comp sci degree to be a programmer (I don't have a CS degree either), I think you need to have at least some passion about computers and how things work or trying to make a go of it as a programmer is going to be much harder and miserable. I've always felt lucky that I truly love what I do and enjoy the process of learning more and getting better, and that oh yeah - job security isn't that big of a deal in our field and we get paid pretty well. For these reasons I've tried to get many of my smart friends wondering what they are going to do with their degrees into the field, but to some, the thought of sitting in front of a computer and cutting code all day sounds unbearable to them.

This is a fascinating thread, thank you for starting it. I went to 2 yr art school and my passion for photography ended up guiding me to help artists achieve in their creative career path. I found there's a HUGE disconnect between what's wanted of the artist and what the artist wants in return. I started a company empowering and educating creative entrepreneurs by providing art and business workshops, opportunities, news and resources globally. I'd love to hear ANY and ALL feedback regarding the site: http://artme.me/ Please note I'm not trying to sell anyone anything - I'm just trying to solve a fragmented piece of the art industry puzzle to those creatives struggling to do so on their own. Thanks.

How about this: do go to art school†, and do study programming as well‡. I went to school for design—interactive media, specifically—because I was already experienced enough with programming and wanted to learn something different. Even though I took on some nontrivial debt, ultimately it didn’t matter because programming pays the bills. All you have to do is accept the golden handcuffs for a year or two. And you know what? I gained an immense amount of cross-disciplinary knowledge and experience, and had a lot of fun to boot. There is just as much value in being “an X who can program” as there is being “a programmer who can X”.

† though preferably one less expensive than RISD

‡ on your own time, not in a college setting

I completely agree with you. I went to art school and studied programming in my own time and have found it to be the best way to establish a well-rounded interest set. Art school helped me develop critical thinking skills that could apply to nearly any field. However, from what i've seen many art school graduates do not realize this.

Tangentially, if anyone in the Rhode Island area is keen on RISD but don't think they can afford it, you might consider taking a certificate course there in the continuing education program. The one I took was like 18 months of night classes for less than $5000.

Sure, you don't get to stay in a dorm or play hockey with the Nads, but the courses are taught by RISD instructors, and at the end -- as far as RISD is concerned -- you are an alumnus (insofar as you get access to alumni resources and they hit you up for donations each year).

>Throughout the year, use at least this much money to visit museums in your area. And not just art museums. All museums.

This is the most useful piece of advice in the article.

>By their own estimation, the cost of a four year education at RISD is $245,816.

>An online debt repayment calculator recommended a salary exceeding $400,000 in order to pay off a RISD education within 10 years.

... If you made $400k and had $250k in debt, why wouldn't you live like you made $100k for a year and then be done with it forever?

If you make 400k, you only take home around 240k (in the us, depending on the state you live in it could be less). It would take about two years. Depending on the format of the debt, it can be a better decision to delay paying it off.

Not to quibble, but that kind of misses the point-- I don't know how many artists and designers are earning 400K in the first 10 years out of school.

Oh, absolutely. But this seems to indicate the debt repayment math being done to support the author's point is badly off.


To the self study program, you might want to add a weekly 2hr Life drawing group, supported by any of the excellent anatomy books by Beverley Hale [ Art Students League ], Bridgeman or even Loomis.


Not sure how art schools in the US work. A friend of mine who went to art school in Germany used it to build his network, which then enabled him to survive as an artist. For example there were lots of "students of year x" art exhibitions.

The list of resources in this post is great.

I'll add in that you can find all the Loomis books on PDF floating around the internet, and certain instructors at the Art Student's League in NY are amazing.

On the flip side, continuing ed courses at SVA are AWFUL.

Unless you're a member of the trust fund set or have a full ride scholarship, attending an expensive liberal arts college is not for you. The main people being priced out are the middle class, not the poor or rich.

The flip side of that is that full rides are more easily available at some very good schools than most people realize; Harvard expects zero financial contribution from any family with total income of $65,000 or less, rising to 10% of income at $150k. (And while $65k ain't much by Silicon Valley standards, US median income was only a bit over $50,000 in 2011.)

Harvard's policy: http://www.fao.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k51861&pag...

Median income: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_...

Do you really need to be taught art?

Firstly, it's subjective which means you can't necessarily be taught it and then be graded accordingly. Secondly, it's something which comes with only practice. Cramming it in a set time period in a degree/course utterly fails to consider the individual. Also, none of it is formal or deterministic. Art history perhaps, but that's not art.

My grandfather did terribly in art at school and was graded as an utter failure and his teacher told him he was totally hopeless. A few years later, driven by this, he made an absolute fortune selling his work and has illustrated many well known books as well. He's now dead, but in his last will and testament there was "fuck you Mr Brickett", directed at his art teacher :-)

Do you really need to be taught art?

Of course you don't need to be taught art, any more than you need to be taught engineering.

There's no reason an aspiring young engineer couldn't just discover Maxwell's equations for himself, and then continue to derive the rest of physical law. It will just take him a little bit longer, is all.

Brilliant iconoclasts are the exception. Less-than-brilliant iconoclasts are generally called "failures", and they are quite common.

When I failed high school art (thanks to the mechanics of the International Baccalaureate, it's a long story), I was surprised and upset. But in fairness, I knew very little about the science and craft that supports art. I was an overgrown doodler.

My art teacher tried to console me by saying that many of history's greatest artists had failed out of art schools. He was unamused when I brought up a Godwinning counterexample of art school dropouts.

I knew trumpeter who got kicked out of his funk band because he thought he was Miles Davis. Turns out he was just too lazy to learn the fundamentals and was constantly noodling around instead of learning how to enhance the music he was playing.

Art is subjective, that doesn't mean there isn't valuable knowledge to be learnt.

Art school is no different than any other academic institutions; you get an assignment sheet with a breakdown of what you're supposed to do and if you don't follow those guidelines you get an F. The hardest part of this for most artists is the artist statement (the concept of the piece) and the defense thereof in critique. This is likely where your granddad struggled.

Alternatively, emigrate from the US to a country where school is (as it should be) affordable, or even free.

Canada is just north.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact