Thursday, April 02, 2009


Recently, a student wrote to me to ask about becoming an artist. She told me that she planned to go to art school "to make contacts" and to be around other artists. In my experience, art school doesn't help you to make contacts – unless those contacts are academic. I've made many more simply by exhibting my work and promoting it on- and offline.They are in the 'real world' of commercial galleries, collectors, corporate patrons, curators, critics (and their editors), publishers, as well other artists.
I didn't finish my art degree. I dropped out after only one semester. But I remained friends with many who remained. All complained that the rigid course curriculum leached as much, maybe more, from them than it replenished.
Those who were most passionate about art when they began – and in my opinion, were the promising artists of my year – abandoned art completely after finishing their degrees. They were worn down by the theory-laden criticism of lecturers and tutors and the low marks they got for what was unquestionably intriguing, innovative work. Their imaginations were strangled – not inspired – by the system's hide-bound notions about the sort of work they were 'supposed' to be producing.
The bottom line is, art colleges in Australia just aren't that good. None can claim the rich histories – or famed alumni – of Slade, Goldsmiths, or St. Martins in the U.K. And none of them can offer an aspiring young artist access to a senior tutor as distinguished as Michael Craig-Martin. Originality is elemental to the success of these institutions as well as their sustained influence on the wider culture..
In Australian art colleges, as in Australia generally, originality is actively discouraged – if it's recognised at all.


Mats Halldin said...

If you change all the "Australia" in this post to "Sweden" everything will still ring true. Is Australia just as provincial as Sweden?

Katie Gavran said...

I am currently studying art as a mature age student. The reason I returned to study was to validate my work.....ridiculous really! I can now see how education, particularly in the arts industry, can restrict ones creativity.

Paul Martin said...

A former partner worked (and perhaps still does) at VCA (the Victorian College of the Arts). I used to go to the annual graduate exhibitions and was surprised to find that the paintings by the sculpture students was much more interesting that those by the painting students. It seemed to me at the time that the college took those who had a natural inclination and fucked them up with their 'educational' processes by imposing their own academic and other ideas.

Jay Zuck said...

With the exception of not having actually dropped out of art school, this sounds like my life story.

I don't want to deny that art school has helped me, but I also feel like it really grated away at my passion for art. I haven't given up though, but it has been hard to break out of the box into which they forced me.

I am entering my last year at art school and I finally feel like I am making art again. For a while, I felt that I almost forgot how. It has been a rough road, but I am getting back on track.

Thanks for bringing up this great issue and I just wanted to tell folks that it is tough in US art schools too.

My only advice to a prospective art school student is to make sure to continue your own work on your own time. Never stop making art which you are truly passionate about. Don't forget why you became an artist in the first place and remember grades mean next to nothing. Producing good work should be your primary focus because it is your portfolio which is going to sell you at the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

I have found a lot of art school graduates do not become practising artists. I don't know if it has to do with the disillusioning and sometimes destructive atmosphere of art school or if life as an artist is just too hard in our culture which does not value art and support artists anywhere near as much as it should.


Señorita Cariño said...

Yeah I know arts students working as english teachers, and ppl with business degrees working as artists. Well, getting paid to be creative at any rate. I think you have a good point with 'playing it safe', and this is great advice for me right now.

etelka kovacs-koller said...

i think art schools can be very "dangerous" for young artists, because before someone has a powerful (art)identity art school could ruin the individual style. after visiting art school it can take many years to find back to the original diction. kind regards from germany, etelka

capturedcastle said...

Few years after leaving school, and I've all but left playing music as well. Now toying with the idea of putting together totally non-traditional repertoire. Still classical in nature, but without the heavy responsibility of Big Romantic Pieces and Serious Sonatas. I want light, small works, themes and variations and song cycles, diatonic or atonal but not necessarily modulating and developing. The repertoire I want would not be considered for a doctorate program, who can put together a program of "filler" pieces? But those are what I want to play. Keep writing, Hazel, I'm eating up your inspiration.