Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is Art School Right For You?

For those that didn't know, Monkey + Seal have about 18 or so years of higher education under our belts. We both have Bachelor's degrees from UC Berkeley and Academy of Art University. Monkey alone has nearly $200,000 worth of student loan debt. When most people hear about that, they ask him "Was it worth it?"

Many people who we've talked to have told us they'd be interested in going back to school, or taking some classes, etc., etc., but are worried about the cost. Additionally, they're worried that they might have to leave their full-time job (making money) to spend money (or take out loans) to go to school again to learn a field that they might not be successful in. Basically, they want to know "Is it worth it?"

Well, the answer to both of those questions is: "It depends."

For Monkey + Seal, it most definitely was. Even though it might not be obvious, our educations (both in and out of the classroom) at both schools has helped shape who we are today. Besides the fact that Monkey + Seal met at Cal, and that they almost certainly would not have pursued art if they hadn't met, their education at Cal informs their art now. Seal's degree in English and narrative theory allow her to dissect, examine, and create stories. Her stint studying film influences how she designs backgrounds and her composition. Monkey's degree in integrative biology influences his creature (and more strongly) plant design. It also helps him learn new media quickly as he analyzes his experiments with scientific rigor. Our theater experience makes live painting easy (and pleasurable), and our activism in the fields of feminism, animal rights, Asian American studies, environmentalism, and social justice affects how we do business as artist and inspires some of our subject matter.

In terms of the Academy, while Seal was already skilled in painting, Monkey had no formal training whatsoever when we started. Thankfully most of the faculty at AAU (at least the instructors we had) were amazing, and after 3 years of doing 32 hrs in class and 30+ hours of homework each week, we got to where we are now. Our growth at the beginning was exponential, and even towards the end we developed many times quicker than if we were to try and grow on our own. The critiques from peers and instructors, new techniques and mediums in each class, new ways of thinking about composition, and color, and line, and space, and weight, and all these crazy things have allowed us to express ourselves like never before.

So all in all, for us, it was worth it. But before you go off spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on a new education or you quit your job, you have to ask yourself - is this what you really want? When we signed up for classes, we decided we'd be in it for the long haul. We're both extremely lucky to have figured out what we want to do in life relatively early on, and have had the chance to chase our dreams. But are you willing to put art first? If your goal is to get better and become a professional artist, then I guarantee you that you have to put art as #1 or #2. Any lower than that, and you're wasting your money and time. If you are willing to prioritize art and your craft, and you want to really get good quickly, then by all means art school can definitely be a tremendous resource.

If you're not sure about whether or not art is your end goal, then see if you can test the waters without jumping straight in. See if you can take a night class at city college. Take some workshops at places like Center for the Book or at Paper Source. There are opportunities for people to learn about art all over the country, so if you aren't based in SF, there's definitely places for you as well.

You can also go about it totally DIY and learn from online resources like the Gnomon Workshops or, or watch videos on Sketch Theater. There are also tons of amazing books out there that we constantly refer to - if you have a topic in mind, let us know and we can recommend something. Two books that come highly recommended are "Drawing People" by Barbara Bradley, and "Creative Layout: Perspective for Artists" by Budiono, Denmark, & Ng.

Regardless of whether or not art school is right for you, if you want to improve your skill set, the most basic (yet most important) advice is this: practice drawing everything, and practice all the time.


shlam said...

nice post! good, realistic advice. thanks. :)

Eve Skylar said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment. Feel free to ask anymore questions and good luck with your future creative endeavors!