Benefits of art education: What are the Pros and Cons

If you are applying to universities and colleges for the autumn intake, we propose exploring art education’s pros and cons. You might need IPR law, teamwork, and perhaps some business skills to succeed in Art. You need to seek and acquire the skills you consider essential.

Let’s jump to it:


PROs and CONs of art education in schools

Is art school worth it? Or is it a waste of time or money?


1. Low chances of becoming 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. It 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 severe 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 art venture, and it could be too much to ask. But 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. After receiving an art school education, she was 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 unsure 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 because, at school, no one taught them how to work with other artists in a team. One artist friend, an art school graduate, told me: “We all come to this world alone and die alone.” I said, “No, you came with your twin brother.” He had a twin brother! But he felt alone. I am trying to say that, regardless of whether you are in a team, you can think of teamwork or “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 up 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.

benefits of art education

Just work

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

Advantages of art education

1. Helps with professional life

Parents might push their children into activities that will ensure their future success. Art education can benefit beyond the usual expectation of a future career yet develop cognitive skills that wouldn’t otherwise. It is a paradox: people who took an art class in high school feel it helped in their professional life, even if their profession isn’t related to Art most of the time.

2. 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 attending art school, would prolong our lives. How much longer? We don’t know. If I tell you going to art school for four years will make you live four years longer, would you go?

3. A very personal choice

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 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 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 attending 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.

4. A better understanding of art and culture

In our fast-paced society, we often just stay afloat. Like with etymology for our languages, knowing and understanding Art can positively impact our lives. You then have tools to decode the swarm of images our society throws at us and develop critical thinking. However, it only works if you doubt what the teachers say.

5. Imagination and visual memory

Because art-related courses are of various forms, they can give more possibilities to express oneself. It also trains your visual memory, while our tendency with media is more about immediate consumption.

6. Conceptualization and communication

It allows expressing ideas verbally and in writing about real works of Art. On the opposite, from concept, it trains on how to visualize and concretize an artwork. The educational value is about unique approaches that give tools to adapt to many situations. Again, if the professors permit this chance.

7. Tolerance and open mindness

Art teaching can provide a different perspective on the world. It can help us to see things in new and innovative ways. It can also allow us to understand and appreciate other cultures. Understanding art can help us to be more open-minded and tolerant of others. It only works if we understand that the word “Art”, as defined in the Western world, is only 500 years old and cannot reduce other visual expressions from different, sometimes older, cultures.

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

Drop 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 depends on the reasons why you drop out:

Don’t drop out until you are kicked out

If you drop out of school because 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.

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 or just have a good time and take things easy for the four 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.

Don’t continue if you cannot pay for it

When you face financial difficulties 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 that are cheaper or free.

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 a part-time contract while all candidates got a full-time one. The reason? He is the only one without a degree. Just continue the road you have 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

How to make your parents let you go to art school

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

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, and make them realize your choice is not just a rush of blood to your head.

Make a plan

Becoming an artist is like starting your business; you need a business or career plan: Estimate the costs and chances in the long run. When you have done your research, you can convince the stakeholders (your parents) much easier.

Get approval

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

Be Liable

Imagine if one day you become parent, your kid tells you that he is going to experiment and then calls 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 safety net. That’s when you can decide 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)”