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I pretty much applied to Art School on a whim. It was my freshman year in college, and I was miserable at the uppity private school I was attending. I knew I needed to transfer out. Already under crippling student debt, I searched through the programs at the state university near my hometown and found they had a Visual & Performing Arts College within the university. I had taken a few film photography classes and I fell in love with photography. So, when I found a photography program, I put together a portfolio and applied to the program and by the end of the semester, I had been accepted. But, the truth is, I really had no idea what I was getting into. While my overall experience in art school has been positive, there are some things I wish someone had told me before I had committed to the program.
1. The classes are incredibly long.
At my school, each studio class is 3 hours a day, two days a week. Depending on the level of the class or the availability of the professors who teach the class, some studio classes are as long as 6 hours one day a week, or 6 hours a day for two days a week. By first semester my Junior year, I was taking 5 studio classes and an Art History course. I had class from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm Mondays and Wednesdays without any breaks, and 9:30 am to 6:15 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When Art majors say they have no time, they aren't kidding.
2. Scheduling yourself so you don't have class on Friday is NOT worth it.
This may be generally true for other majors, but it especially pertains to Art Majors. With classes 3 hours long, you need to space just to maintain your sanity. If you cram all of your classes into a few days, you are going to regret it. Studio classes not only take up a lot of time because they are 3+ hours long, they also take up a lot of time outside of class to finish assignments. Make sure you schedule the time you'll need to get everything done.
3. Art School is Expensive, so plan accordingly.
One of the perks of going to art school is that you have to buy minimal to no textbooks, depending on the courses you're taking. However, I assure you, what you don't spend in textbooks you will spend twice over in materials for classes (especially painting classes). And unlike your typical academic class (where you only have to drop cash at the beginning of the semester), when you're enrolled in studio classes you are required to replenish your materials when you run out. So when you're budgeting for the upcoming semester, make sure to budget in a few extra pads of paper, paints, packages of photo paper, etc that you may need later on in the semester.
4. Michaels and ACMoore may be convenient but they are not your friends.
These stores sell mediocre products at jacked up prices that can really break the bank. At best, you should consider these stores there for your convenience when you need a specific material last minute, but do not bother to purchase all of your supplies from either of these chains. If you're in a bind at any point and you have to purchase an item or two at one of these stores, make sure to look online for coupons (they almost always have coupons for 50/40% off one Item). Instead of turning to these craft stores for materials, I recommend using www.dickblick.com (everything short of electronics), www.bhphotovideo.com (everything and anything photography), or just plain old Amazon.com. Between those three sites, you'll find everything you'll ever need.
5. You're going to have to take lots of classes outside your major.
Every college has their own college requirements which usually include: English 101, some Math, and some Science. Aside from the university requirements, there may also be studio requirements within your major that do not seem like they directly pertain to your major. As a Senior Photography Major, I have fulfilled requirements for my major thus far by taking two sculpture classes, a digital media class, a fibers class, a sewing class, an illustration class, and several drawing classes accompanied by my core major classes. Initially, this was a little bit frustrating, but, I have come to appreciate the new skills I have learned as a result of having to take these studio electives.
6. Drawing classes suck, and yes, you will draw actual naked people.
I loathe drawing classes. Unless you have an extreme passion for drawing, steer clear of drawing classes if you can. I was required to take structural drawing and figure drawing along with a drawing elective (which I satisfied with landscape drawing, over the summer). In my Structural Drawing class, we spent the entire semester accurately drawing cubes and cylinders from different perspectives. I promise you, it was even more boring than it sounds. Forcing myself to stand at an easel and draw blocks for 3 hours was potentially the most painful thing I've ever had to do. Figure Drawing focuses on accurately drawing the human body, which is a more interesting subject at least, but just knowing that you have to draw for 3 hours without a break just takes the fun out of drawing.
7. If you tell people you're an art major, you'll get asked for favors all the time... and most people will not intend to pay you.
I was never asked for favors when I told people I was a Neuroscience Major, but when I tell people now that I am an art major its like I've opened the floodgates. Your major determines what people ask for. Illustration and drawing majors get asked all the time to design tattoos for people. Graphic Design majors are often asked to design logos for minimal to no cost. Photography majors are constantly asked to take family pictures. The truth is, most people don't understand the time commitment they are actually asking for. Additionally, when you tell someone you're a "so-and-so" Major, people will make assumptions about what you are good at based on the work they have seen by illustrators, graphic designers, painters, printmakers, etc. in the past. The truth is, I'm a photography major interesting in street photography, and the last thing I want to shoot is your family portraits. Similar to how one Graphic Designer may primarily design Logos, while another may hate logo design and strictly create infographics and do web design. Each Major has its own subdivisions within it where people can take interest and specialize... But not everyone knows that.
8. People will ask you about your "back up plan."
When I told people I was a Neuroscience Major everyone was incredibly encouraging. They really had no idea what it meant, but to them, it sounded smart so it would probably make me successful. When I switched to Photography, I got a vastly different response from everyone I interacted with. And time after time I was asked this question I had never been asked before: "so, what's your back up plan?" I've heard this hundreds of times from people I was close to and from strangers that started conversations with me. The truth is, back up plans are where dreams go to die. While I acknowledge that all these people meant well, there was no question more discouraging than being asked if I had a "back up plan." So be prepared.
9. Your studio professors are REAL artists.
This is something I didn't come to realize until I found my photography professor's book in the library at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Professors are really just artists who wanted a high paying, steady income. But they were artists first, and they've probably made some cool stuff. There is no better networking opportunity. Create professional relationships with your professors and show interest in their work.
10. Art School teaches you more real-life skills than you ever could have imagined.
This last one is definitely the best part of Art school. To fulfill my studio elective requirements, I made sure to select courses that would teach me a multitude of different skills. In my sculpture class, I learned how to use a laser printer, 3D print, make and sculpt plaster, wield steel, and I refined my woodworking skills. In Fibers classes, I learned how to knit, spin yarn using a spindle or a wheel, dye cellulose and protein-based fibers, felt in a multitude of different ways, and follow clothing patterns to make a garment. In my photography classes, I've perfected Photoshop, learned to shoot with a studio lighting set up, and learned to develop and print photographs from film and digital mediums. Learning all of these real-life skills really makes art school worthwhile.