Benefits of art education: What are the pros and cons?

Entering into March, we are again at the deadline of applying for universities and colleges for the autumn intake. So this we propose to explore the pros and cons of art education and the alternatives:


    PROs and CONs of art education in school

    Is art school worth it? or is it a waste of time or money? Here are the CONs:

    1. Low chances to become a working artist

    According to “Artists Report Back”, a report done by BFAMFAPHD’s (pdf), 90% of art school graduates in the U.S. can’t make their primary living from art. In other words, only 10% of art graduates can make a living from art. Art graduates only occupy 16% of all working artists. This means going to art school is going to probably, most likely, ruin your chance to become a fine art professional.

    2. One of the worst investment

    Before art school, I’d like to think that you get at least a 50-50 chance to become a professional artist. After 4 or 5 years of full-time study and a huge student loan, we are looking at a 10% chance? For any professional training, this is a complete failure. Imagine if only 1 in 10 medical students who graduated from medical school could become doctors, or let’s say only 1 in 6 doctors went to med school… we have a serious problem!

    3. No courses about Art business

    Of course, you might think this one is a no-brainer. I don’t just mean art schools should teach you how to start your own art venture, it could be too much to ask. But the fact they might not even teach you how to stay safe in business. For example, recently in China, a famous performing artist ruined her career due to illegal tax evasion. Having received an art school education, she was obviously not equipped to run such a multi-billion dollar business.

    4. No teaching about IPR laws

    When I was doing an undergrad major in film production, we spent at least half of the time studying IPR. It doesn’t make us lawyers or specialists but at least we know the ground rules of law practice and we can be safe. I talked to many artists who are not sure how IPR works and how to protect their own IPR. It’s a pity art schools don’t teach IPR.

    5. No teamwork mindset

    You might have the impression that artists are loners. They are because at school no one taught them how to work with other artists in a team. One artist friend of mine, who is also an art school graduate, told me: “We all come to this world alone and we all die alone.” I was like: “No, you came with your twin brother.” He had a twin brother! But he felt alone. What I try to say is, regardless if you are in a team, you can think of teamwork or think “alone”, it’s a perspective.

    6. Lack of discipline

    When we think about artists at art school, we think about these young men and women who stay late at night, drink smoke, and consume their health. It’s not all true. Now picture a military academy, you will have a totally different image. As a young adult, living alone for the first time away from family, sometimes even living abroad, it’s hard to think about self-control and discipline. It’s not what the school will teach you.

    Acquiring skills

    Again, not all art schools are the same. The art school I went to taught me IPR law and teamwork, perhaps some business as well. But most of the things you will learn in life won’t be taught at school. You need to seek and acquire the skills you consider important.

    Here are the PROs:

    1. Art education contributes to a longer life

    How can we live longer and better? We can do certain things to improve our odds. After genetics, war, and road accidents… the factors we can not control, here is a factor we can control: education. Yes, that’s right. An article by New Scientist suggested that education contributes to a longer life by doing two things: making permanent changes in a person’s brain that improve cognitive abilities and helping us to make better lifestyle choices that lead to longer lives.

    Worth the time, but the money?

    I would like to think that higher education, including going to art school would prolong our lives. How much longer? We don’t know. Maybe it’s a year or a decade. If I tell you going to art school for 4 years will make you live 4 years longer, would you go?

    2 . A very personal choice

    I think going to art school is like going under knives. It’s a very personal choice. Many people I know went through plastic surgery. I thought it was a waste of money. But one girl told me that her 15,000-dollar boob job was worth the money and she felt so confident after having gone under the knives. It was a dream come true for her. Is it a waste of money? It is totally subjective in many ways. I spent over 14 years in universities and got 5 degrees. Is it worth the money? Is it a waste of money? It’s my money, I paid for my education, and I decide if it is worth it.


    Personal reasons

    Although going to art school won’t promise you a good career, would you do it for other reasons? Intellectual curiosity? Social mobility? Or just for a slight chance that you might be the 10% who can make a living from art? Is an art school a waste of money? The answer is yours.

    benefits of art education

    The paradox of art as work

    “Nobody cares how you pay your rent. Your job is to show us something we didn’t know we needed to see. But it is, nonetheless, a job.”
    A.O. Scott
    New York Times “the paradox of art as work”
    Photo Vulture

    Dropping out of art school

    Dropping out of art school could be a big regret or the best decision you will ever make. Before making this decision, make sure you think twice before taking action. Should I drop out of art school? Or would I regret dropping out? The answer really depends on the reasons why you drop out:

    1. Don’t drop out until you are kicked out

    If the reason you drop out of school is simply that you fear that your academic performance does not reach their expectations, don’t drop out until you are kicked out. You should at least try to meet your professors’ expectations so that you have a chance to graduate. Don’t be a quitter. If you can achieve this, you will be more confident.

    2. Don’t drop out if it’s too easy

    If the reason is “art school is a waste of my time, I’m better than this”, then you can just close your eyes and pass all the exams with flying colors, why bother dropping out? You can always teach yourself something (that art schools don’t teach you, in the video, I have mentioned), or just have a good time take things easy for the 4 years. In the end, you are getting a piece of paper, even if you feel that you are not taught much. This paper can open many doors for you.

    3. Don’t continue if you cannot pay for it

    When you face some kind of financial difficulties while at art school, I think it’s time to sit down and do your maths. Don’t continue something you can not pay for. You can resume your study anytime in the future. Also, there are plenty of other programs out there cheaper or free.

    4. Continue the road you started

    In the story we mentioned earlier, the art student dropped out of art school and became a self-taught concept artist. However, despite working very hard, he only got only a part-time contract while all candidates got a full-time contract. The reason? He is the only one without a degree. Just continue the road you had chosen, in no time you will be out of it and on your way to something better.

    benefits of art education

    The art school dropout

    “The thing about the drawing is, I couldn’t turn them up loud enough. I wanted to do something where people have it on all the time. And basically now what my music is a soundtrack to millions of people’s life. You couldn’t get that feeling from art school.”
    Kanye West
    (Interview with Sway) YouTube

    I want to be an artist but my parents…

    If you don’t have supportive parents or family members who support your idea of becoming an artist, here is what you could do:

    1. Train your dragons

    Did you see the movie how to train your dragons? Train your family like that. If you are still at an early stage of negotiation, make sure you prep them ahead of time, make them realize becoming an artist is not just a rush of blood to your head.

    2. Make a plan

    Becoming an artist is like starting your business, you need a business plan or a career plan. When you have done your research, you can convince the stakeholders a lot easier.

    3. Get approval

    You can get verbal approval from someone who is already established in the art, so you can deliver a sense of ‘security’. Just get them to say:’ She will do great!’ or ‘He has what it takes to become a successful artist.’ It will bring assurance to those who are worried for you.

    4. Be Liable

    Imagine if one day you become parents, your kid tells you that he is going to make an experiment then call you to clean up the mess, would you agree? You need to be liable for what you do and whatever trouble you might get into, you have your own safety net. That’s when you can make a decision on your own if you can take care of the consequences.

    benefits of art education

    Sustaining art-making for a lifetime

    “In the long term, I believe artistic success should be defined as the ability to sustain art-making for a lifetime, whether within the profit or non-profit sectors, remaining part of the conversation about the destiny of the country, the culture and, global citizenship.
    Steven Henry Madoff
    “Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century)”

    Chinese art schools

    I would want to share with you some of my experience in different levels of art education and how it has impacted me:

    An art school in China

    When I was 4 years old, I was in a public kindergarten in a small industrial city. In my first art class, we were told to draw ‘my home’. I draw something like this: a house with a pointy roof and my family – in fact, it was my grandparents and me, rather than my parents. Obviously, my art skills are not that high. I showed it to my art teacher, and she asked: ‘Does your home have colorful windows like this?’ I said: ‘No.’ She asked me to go back to my desk and draw again. This has my first ‘shock’ with art and it was the only thing I could remember in kindergarten.

    Art Academy

    15 years later, I entered one of the best dramatic art academies in China, majored in film and tv production. My professor told everyone: ‘You love dramatic arts, that’s why you are here to study. But nowadays to make a tv series, you can earn at most a 15% margin. To run any other business like a supermarket, you could easily get this much. Stop dreaming and idealizing art!’ The year we graduated, he opened a supermarket in front of the school.

    Asian Art wasn’t fine

    After I went to the University of Sydney, studying at the faculty of art history. I took a course called ‘Curating Asian Art’. I was given some reading materials. In one document I saw back 100 years ago, Asian art was not classified as ‘fine art’. Instead, it was together with natural art, like monkeys had painted them. I was told that if you are not white, back then you were considered less than an animal. I knew this bias existed. But I don’t know when this will end. Even today, the Chinese art market rises to be the second-largest market, we are still not ‘fine’ enough.


    Through my art education, I learned a few things. First of all, as soon as you show people your artwork, you will be judged against their expectations. If you are willing to get the recognition, you must be willing to bend. I was four years old when I learned that. Secondly, working in art is not daydreaming. You must be willing to do the maths, professionalize yourself and fit into a team. Lastly, your art career is determined around the moment you were born. Some people start off high, some others start off low. You will probably spend all your life fighting to be someone different from when you were born ‘into’.

    benefits of art education

    Just work

    “I don’t think I’m good, I just work”
    Jenny Saville
    The Guardian – Photo Pal Hansen