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So You Want To Go To Art School

Published by Chris Coyier

I recently received an email from Ben Sima who had a few questions for me:

I'm a high school junior preparing to go to an art school and study graphic design, and I would like to know about your experiences in the art world in an effort to better prepare myself. I would also like to get some testimonials to convince my parents that opportunities for work do exist in the art world, and that not every artist is starving.

I asked Ben if it would be alright if I shared my answers with everyone and he agreed. My answers are below.

toothpaste for dinner

What was the main reason you decided to pursue a career in art?

I was in college for programming and it was just too damn hard for me. Art looked easier and a heck of a lot more fun. There is more to it of course... I have a desire to create things, and art helps me satisfy that need.

If you attended art school, was your overall experience worth the money and time?

It wasn't "art school" per say, it was just a state university, but I did get my Bachelor of Arts in Ceramic Art and Graphic/Multimedia Design. Yes, it was worth my money. College, to me, was 25% about academic learning, 25% about learning how to learn, and 50% about just experiencing life, having fun, and growing as a person.

Do you think art school helped you more than a regular university would have? (Or vice versa if you attended a regular university.)

I have no idea, but I bet "art school" would have been pretty damn fun too.

After attending art school/university, what was the major decision you made that helped you launch your career?

My first several jobs after college were based around the printing industry. They were pretty good fits but I knew I wanted to work on the web. The best decision I made was just not giving up on that goal and taking every opportunity I could get to work with it.

What advice do you have for a student artist, both during their studies and after they graduate into the art world?

Learn fundamentals and don't get too caught up in specific technologies. Learning how to create things that are beautiful and work well supersede specific technologies. You can learn a technology on the fly to help you accomplish an idea. Making that idea great comes from you.

Comments

  1. I’m also in highscool and was planning on attending a web design class offered in my highschool or local college – both teach table based splicing. Then I figured I’d enroll myself in a photoshop class since I know I can always improve my web graphics – then I saw the work of some of their students. (dramatic gradients, radical colors)

    so I stuck to what I consider ‘online school’ my feeds :D

  2. Permalink to comment#

    I went to “art school” for graphic design … I didn’t realize people think that going to school for art has no career or no dollar value behind it. Shame on parents for not supporting their children.

    80% of it was relative learning, the other 20% was general education that was still relevant to life. I’m pretty satisfied.

    • Saurabh
      Permalink to comment#

      There are surprisingly a lot of people who do that. My co-op teacher laughed at me when I told her I wanted an internship at a web design place saying “Anyone can pick up Dreamweaver and make a website. There’s no money in that industry” I was like.. chya ha!

      Anyway I’m graduating from high school this summer and I’ve gotten into a couple colleges already. Up here they go through everything from photography to typography in the design course so it’s great. Also try to find a course that offers co-op, you get quite some exposure plus if you do well you could get a job right out of college/uni. That’s my plan.

  3. Sean
    Permalink to comment#

    The question for you now: Do you have any desire to continue your formal education with grad school, or is a Bachelor’s enough at this point?

    • Hey Sean, I’d love love love to go back to Grad School. I’d do it tomorrow if I could. I’m scared I can’t really afford it right now. I really should starting thinking harder about it though. Maybe I can help teach a class or something and offset the cost.

    • kyle
      Permalink to comment#

      Whenever I watch your screencasts I think you’d make a great teacher. If you ever get bored of doing the actual design work, you should teach it.

    • Jillian
      Permalink to comment#

      I agree with Kyle, you kind of have a natural teaching thing going for you. Your screencasts are easy to follow and humorous, it makes learning fun!

    • I’ll third that – Chris your screencasts are so helpful and well put togther!

    • Permalink to comment#

      Chris you are already a teacher, you don’t need a degree to do that. I think it is time you bumped up the price on those sponsors a little and go to grad school.

    • Korek
      Permalink to comment#

      I fourth… or fifth?

      I learned more in three hours watching your incredibly detailed screencasts than I ever did reading three books over CSS. A book teaches you the talk, but you’re the only one I’ve seen that has shown how to walk and talk like a man “Puttin’ on the ritz.”

      I am currently taking CS at my local university, but I cannot wait until I am able to enter into a graphics design/art field. C just doesn’t show my creativeness as much as JQuery does.

    • User
      Permalink to comment#

      Start-ups need to be 100% in all of those to compete :)

  4. Permalink to comment#

    Oh and Ben- one word for your parents: Advertising. It’s a gigantic industry that involves all kinds of art, photography, illustration, and creative work. It’s an industry that involves A LOT of money and is demanding and extremely competitive. I can guarantee you a job in that industry, because companies will never stop advertising, and they’ll never outsource for fear of people from other countries not understanding the business practices, languages, and customs of American citizens.

    • Ben Sima
      Permalink to comment#

      Thanks Alison. Advertising is definitely a path I’m considering. I’m taking a marketing class right now. It’s a two year class (I’m a junior) but I don’t think I can take it next year b/c my workload will be too much with painting class, an AP Portfolio class, and 2 other AP classes. But yeah I would love to work in the advertising business, so I will keep that in mind.

  5. Matthew V
    Permalink to comment#

    Hi Chris, Great artical. It prompted a question of my own too…

    Would a graphics course be more suitable for a web designer, than say a photoshop course?

    Also I intend to become a freelancer, so as a startup what would you say is more important to learn (i.e. 40% graphics 30% coding 20% client communication skills 10% other, if you catch my drift). It would be intresting to know what skills you use most often.

    Thanks alot

  6. Permalink to comment#

    Sean: I don’t know if you’re asking me but I was considering getting a Masters, but I don’t think it’s necessary at this point. It would just be for looks. I’m always learning on my own, and I think getting a Masters won’t benefit me that much. I might go back eventually. I love learning!

    • Sean
      Permalink to comment#

      I feel much the same. I have been considering a Master’s on and off for the last year or so. It won’t really help me move up at my current job, and I am not looking to change jobs any time soon, so that isn’t an issue.

      I suppose it is some for looks, and Lord knows there is a lot of great info on the web that make me a better designer every day. But at the same time, I feel like I am missing some…”refined” education, if you will, by not going back.

    • For me it’s just to be part of the school culture again. I’m a little lonely working from home alone and I think it would be cool to go back to school and work on projects that aren’t really for clients.

  7. Permalink to comment#

    Funny you bring this up, because I was telling myself if I had a chance to go back to school again, I would go to an art school :-)

  8. Permalink to comment#

    Art school was a totally different experience for me. I wound up helping teach some of the classes, instructors would come to me for guidance, and it’s way way WAY too much money. I left after three semesters with a fun burden of $40,000 on my back. I promptly got a great job, with great pay and great people.

    The only thing it did for me was confirm that I already knew enough to have a relatively successful career and in my opinion that wasn’t worth what we have to pay for schooling as young adults. Make sure you really really need the education and you really are sure it’s your only option. Everyone tried to convince me when I started that it would be a lot of money and may not be worth it, I didn’t listen but they turned out to be very right.

  9. Permalink to comment#

    Hey!

    I went to “Art College” for about the first semester – this was back in Sept 1997. I was 16, fresh out of school and although I pretty much failed at everything else (que fail whale) I got the highest mark in Art and Design at school. Art College for a foundation course leading onto a BA at Uni was the obvious route.

    For me at that time though it did not work out. I really wanted to do 3D Design, as in 3D Studio Max, Maya – the college said that this would be an option… it wasn’t. So I ended up leaving and moving on to a web design NVQ course.

    Now, that was fine for then, and it was kind of naughty that the art college dragged me into the course to fill a place.

    From where i am now, like 12 years later, I think I would have enjoyed the course more… then again since leaving school I have changed so much anyway…

    My words of advice… check out the course, make sure its exactly what you want to do. If you have a career goal in mind then keep going through the touch bits (for me it was fashion design… uurrg…)

    Thinking back I really enjoyed what I did there, maybe I just was not ready for it.

    Oh and Art School is full of freaky arty people… I had one guy obsessed with rotting flesh, and another who liked taking a dump on the floor of the toilets… you have been warned… lol

  10. Permalink to comment#

    Ben,

    show your parents every single logo, or magazine graphics, as this is all art and part of the creative essence in design.

    if you show them when they least expect to be seeing graphics/logos/imagery/marketing then you will show them that it can be a big bucks business.

  11. Permalink to comment#

    I don’t think that any education is bad at all. The only thing I would say about “Art Schools” is that unlike some other careers I don’t think it’s something that can be taught and that’s where I think a lot of people get delusional in thinking they can design—90+% of the stuff out there is crap. I’ve interviewed tons of people with degrees from art schools and their work wasn’t great at all, some were, but not all. Unless you have a God gifted talent already, I wouldn’t suggest going to art school. If you are talented already and have the money, by all means—GO—it will only give you the edge over the other person when it comes to getting a job.

  12. Permalink to comment#

    I spent 4 years at Art Institute in Pittsburgh. My time spent there was mainly getting annoyed with classes I wished I could’ve tested out of, and teachers who didn’t teach. My most rewarding classes were psychology and physics even though I don’t use them in my current job. I owe sally mae 20k, I’ve been paying for college since senior year in HS. I highly suggest not going with sally mae if possible. I suggest looking though this article printed in the pittsburgh city paper last spring: http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid:43423

    Art of the Deal
    There’s big money in studying art … if you own the school

    BY CHARLIE DEITCH

  13. Josh
    Permalink to comment#

    Just thought I’d share my story.

    I went to the “best” (grades/test scores-wise) public high school in San Diego, where half the kids with >4.0 GPAs made Paris Hilton look like a genius. My general senior year assignment could have been done by a fourth grader. Needless to say, I was very disillusioned with the education system, and never applied myself because of it.

    When it came time to enter college, I was already doing freelance web design for local organizations and businesses. I knew all through high school that I wanted to do web design for a living, but my abysmal grades weren’t going to get me into any decent art school.

    I ended up attending the Art Institute of San Diego, which turned out to be an expensive scam for people like me. I spent my first year there getting a fantastic education in design fundamentals/principles, then everything fell apart when I got to the web classes. They spent 6 weeks explaining why you should use a div instead of a table! Things I had already taught myself in a few hours with some Googling. They showed us the senior’s final web design project, which was laughable. I could go on and on about the horrors of that place.

    After dropping out of the Art Institute, I tried a few local community colleges. It was like junior high all over again, with the professor fighting a constant battle over the cacophony of voices.

    I started applying for web design jobs, and got hired to do some basic HTML maintenance for existing sites. That was a year ago, and all I knew then was basic HTML and CSS. At the time, I didn’t know AJAX from JSON, or even what those terms mean. I spent my evenings reading books and blogs about web development, and now I’m the lone Javascript Developer.

    The morals of my story: drive > school, good grades > self righteousness

  14. Ted
    Permalink to comment#

    DON’T DO IT! Art school is a waste of time and money. Get a BA in ANYTHING else, please. You WILL starve. You WILL fight over the scraps and get SCREWED all the freakin’ time by your peers and Art Directors. I’ve spent 15 years in this biz, finally got out of it two years ago.

    Get an in demand degree with the medical field (radiology, anyone?) or government. You can a) be an IDIOT and suffer for your craft, or b) get a REAL FREAKIN’ JOB and enjoy money and success.

    I wish somebody had smacked me around HARD when I said “I’m going to art school”.

    • DukeMantee
      Permalink to comment#

      I hear that a lot. I also see recent graduates who enter the workforce with no practical knowledge of the everyday tools, such as Quark, InDesign, Illustrator, or what PMS color is or CMYK, or dot gain, or offset, or how important resolution is for print or web. They are steeped in design theory but can’t build a business card that will be printable.
      I tried to get out a few times, but I guess this is what I do.

    • Ben Sima
      Permalink to comment#

      Well Ted, the problem with that is I love art. I could probably apply myself and become a doctor or a lawyer or whatever, but I would only ever be a mediocre one because I wouldn’t put my passion into my job. If you really are doing what you love then you will succeed in it.

  15. @GraphicsGeek
    Permalink to comment#

    I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer since middle school. In my last year of middle school we were given a list of elective classes to take in our upcoming year in high school. I wasnt quite sure what I wanted to do but I knew I liked computers and art. So I was browsing the descriptions and came across a class called Graphic Communications. I chose that I took a class every year in high school. I was very fortunate because the classroom actually had 3 small 1/2 color AB dick presses. My senior year I took an HTML class because that was really all it was back then.

    At first I wanted to go to art school. I went and looked at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. I got really excited about it and then my dad broke the news to me that he didnt want me going there because it was in the middle of Philadelphia. But it really wasnt in a bad area at all. So I applied to James Madison University and Lynchburg College in VA. I got both replies on the same day. The JMU one was really thin and the LC one was really thick. Can you guess which one I got accepted to? LC was good for me because I was able to major in graphic design and run track on a partial “scholarship.” I use quotes because it was a Division III school and arent allowed to give scholarships, but magically I was given all sorts of small academic scholarships and grants.

    Graphic design then was much different than what it is now. Now if you say you are a graphic designer, everyone assumes you can build a website with you eyes closed. When I studied, it was primarily print design. A flash class was offered my senior year in college so I took that. But to be honest, I kinda slacked in college and spent a little too much time partying and didnt really take my major seriously. I got good grades but I didnt really put all my effort into it. I regret that now wholeheartedly. Ive learned more about graphic design since Ive been out of college. Now I work primarily in print design and dabble in web design.

    All in all, if you are able to go to an art school, by all means do it. You’ll find a job. If you want to do strictly studio art, it may be a little harder but graphic design jobs are out there, especially if you are in a good area. You wont be a starving artist at all. The graphic design industry has gotten to much more popular than it was back when I started so more and more jobs are opening up. Especially in web design. Good luck to you.

  16. Permalink to comment#

    I got an art degree in sculpture and painting at a state school. Worth the time, effort, and money. When I went to art school, the graphic design department didn’t allow students to use computers, but the classes were good.

    I highly recommend getting a degree, but I wouldn’t worry too much about what it was in. College is to learn how to be who you want to be, and to learn how to learn. Everything else you can pick up as you need it.

  17. Permalink to comment#

    Hey all, just wanted to add my two cents on the subject.

    I am a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, a private arts school downtown. I spent three years there, and before that I spent my freshman year in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Illinois. I can tell you that the art program at U of I was much more difficult and challenging than any of my art classes at Columbia. I also spent WAY more per semester to be at Columbia. In my experience, you can only be taught so much at college, regardless of where you’re going. What you need to do while you’re in school is learn how to teach yourself, because no class will teach you everything you need to know in order to be valuable in the web design/graphic design fields.

    Basically, my advice is to go a school that you think suits your needs best. Do you like the campus? Do they teach what you want to study? Do they have any sort of reputation in that field? Can you afford it? College is not so much preparation for a career as it is preparation for the rest of your life. You will learn all you need to learn and more through real world experience, working with clients on projects that have real deadlines. Just make sure you end up with a degree after all the time and money you’ll spend at school :)

  18. Just don’t ever go to ITT. It’s a BIG waste of time and money.

  19. Jillian
    Permalink to comment#

    In high school I wanted to go into something creative, but I was also concerned about going into something that I could realistically succeed at. I think web design is great because it allows you to be creative and there’s a great calling for it to, and probably will be for quite some time.

    I majored in Computer Science – Web Applications Engineering at a liberal arts school (and graduated a year ago). I don’t really use much of what I learned for that degree, I had to reteach myself a lot of stuff. But I probably wouldn’t have gotten hired with a college degree on my resume, and I still gained countless other experiences at college.

    Someone quite a few comments before this one mentioned they want to go into freelancing and asked what they should be studying for it – I wouldn’t suggest jumping right into freelance-only after college. I think it’d be extremely difficult to do that. Right now I work full-time at a company doing web work, and I do freelance on the side. It works out pretty well, and I think in 10 years or so when I’m a little more financially secure, I will considering doing strictly just freelance.

  20. Permalink to comment#

    I graduated with a BA in graphic design a few years ago and believe it was worth the money, solely because it was in state and affordable. You will learn a lot in a 4 year program if you want to. It’s a great way to push your creativity and see what others are doing.

    However, the web design classes that were offered, and many today that are still offered are extremely below standard. they were still teaching basic html and splicing with barely a mention of CSS. However, this was a few years back but I have heard that not much has changed. I’m a self taught web designer and rarely use anything that I learned from college.

    Was it worth the money? Yes. It was a great time, I met tons of life-long friends, and learned a lot! I suppose if I had not enjoyed my time there I would be more bitter about the money. the BA helped me land my job but did not supply me with the skills to actually do the job, those I had to learn on my own.

    If you can afford it, go. If you can’t than don’t sweat it. Push yourself to get a job in the industry anyways. Do some freelance for friends and family, whatever it takes. Build a portfolio and teach yourself.

    Education is great, but experience is better.

  21. Ben, watch this video, It’s really inspiring. Show it to your parents as well. (Make sure to watch the whole thing, first time I watched it it kinda cut out 5-10 minutes in and I had to click something to keep watching.)

    Sir Ken Robinson: A New View of Human Capacity

    http://fora.tv/2009/01/29/Sir_Ken_Robinson_A_New_View_of_Human_Capacity

  22. Hi, My parents were very worried when I told them I wanted to go to art school. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew I liked to draw, was creative and didn’t want to go to a regular school

    I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. First i wanted to be a fashion illustrator. Then I wanted to be a writer. I studied with two of the best writers in Chicago – James McManus and David Sedaris. Yes, the Christmas story guy. That’s the thing about that school – all the teachers have to be working in their field. The teachers there are amazing.

    And I ended up getting a full-on, Grade A education. We had to study TONS of Art History which means I know more about History than some other college grads. And because we were in art school we studied critical thinking without even knowing it. We also had to take regular classes and if I had changed my mind at any time I could transfer to a “regular” school with accumulated credits. But I never wanted to. Even though I didn’t figure out that i wanted to be a Graphic Designer until my senior year.

    When I got out I worked mindless jobs for a year until that same friend got me a job,. Hopefully you’ll figure out what you want to do before you leave school but don’t stress it too much. Lots of people went on to do non-art related things but I think that’s ok. I’m sure they bring a lot of creativity to their work.

    My advice is go somewhere where they require you to be educated – not just art educated. That way you leave smart enough to be able to work or continue your education anywhere. There are lots if career paths that are creative based – teaching, Advertising, Design (2-d and 3-d) Film, Photography, Writing. And there is money to be made.

    I’ve been in GD jobs since that first one 15 years ago. A couple of years ago I went freelance and I LOVE IT. There’s good money in GD if you have talent and a good work ethic. Right out of school you may want to intern somewhere in your prospective field while you still live at home.

    The most important thing is if you want to be creative that’s a really great thing. Creative thinking moves the world forward. If you choose a career that is not fulfilling you’ll be miserable. Your parents may just be worried that you’ll be finger painting for 4 years. Be sure to get a full education and see what they offer in the way of career counseling.

    BTW – My parents now LOVE to tell people what I do. :)

    Good luck!
    Emily Lozano

    • Ben Sima
      Permalink to comment#

      Thanks for the advice Emily! I love art history and I actually visited the Art Institute of Chicago while on an art field trip. Great school from what I saw.

  23. Just had to put a word in here…

    I think going to art school could be either the best or the worst decision you ever make. It was the best decision I ever made, for sure. The fact that you are launching a research campaign to pitch this to the folks says you might just want to go to school for art. Passion is required.

    Your parents may never be on board with the whole idea of you being an artist. But you are an adult and need to make some decisions regardless of their opinion. It is important to note that a degree in art will not actually qualify you for any type of employment. You will never see “art BFA required” anywhere. Art school is about finding one’s self, rather than any kind of monetary gain. The journey to becoming an artist professionally is long and arduous, I would say only 5% actually “make it”. I spent the year after college, which took 6 years, delivering pizza. That year was by far the most money I have ever made, a whopping 35,000. (meager by most people’s standards). The most important thing to note is that I LOVE what I do for a living, and the successes are starting to pile up, I am on the verge of “making it”. I really don’t care that I have a rusty ass car, eat dog food(not really), and can’t afford to go on expensive dates, etc., because I get to do what I love all day long, and nothing else.

    I can tell you with great certainty that private art schools and Academies are not worth all the extra money you have to pay. The teachers are selected from the same pools as all of the state schools, and the diversity of people you will meet is quite small and insular at art schools. Find a good state school, one known for it’s art program, and then go there would be my advice. In the world of art, the work you do is infinitely more important than the school you went to.

  24. James
    Permalink to comment#

    Andy Rutledge wrote a great article titled “The Employable Web Designer.”

    It’s a very good read.

    http://bit.ly/OBAC

  25. DukeMantee
    Permalink to comment#

    I have been in the graphics business for 13 years. It has been my experience your parents are echoing the societies values toward art and graphics. There are 1000+ places on the web giving away design for free, most print shops consider the graphics department as a drain and a department that never makes money. Most advertising companies hire the newest talent for nothing and don’t give raises. It would be nice to think that art, creativity, and original design work would be valued, but it is not. That being said, go to school, learn design, but also learn the technical stuff to. Hardware, networks, code and programing if you can. More then once the ability to trouble shoot an Exchange server and fix email problems has saved my employment more so than my ability to design a good logo. People think technology is magic because they don’t understand it. They think art is easy because they “think” they know what looks good and they “think” they understand it. Today you need to be a Designer/IT Manager/Programmer/Video Editor, just take a look at jobs listed in CraigsList. They want you to know everything.
    Graphic design and website work is great, just go into it with your eyes open. I also keep a valid Class A truck drivers license, you never know.
    P.S. Thanks Chris, you are a life saver!!!

  26. Mitch Green
    Permalink to comment#

    I’m also a high school student with the intention of pursuing web design and graphic design as a career one day. I just recently completed a web design course at my high school, and finished with 100%. Now I’m looking into more courses that are available and reading as many web tutorials and articles as possible.

  27. Matt
    Permalink to comment#

    What do you actually learn at Art school?
    I just try and get inspiration from the web and learn myself.

    • Permalink to comment#

      That’s kind of why I’m actually studying visual arts and not graphic / web design. I love graphic / web design and I do it anyway, so I wanted to learn to do crazy and and be forced to think outside the box. Which I am, I’m in a university and it’s extremely theoretical and decidedly not technical. However, now that I’m entering the workforce, hopefully as a web designer, I am a bit scared that I won’t be able to get a job or that there will be some secret they teach you at school that i won’t know. But also, I would hate sitting and learning things I already know. And I do read up on standards etc and it’s not difficult to tell a good design from a bad one. And looking at Andy’s employability thing, I think I did an OK job learning most of that stuff on my own.

  28. Alexis M.
    Permalink to comment#

    hey,
    I’m in my freshman year of college right now, also aspiring to be a graphic designer, my advice:

    Go to a regular collage with a strong graphic design program,
    for what I’ve heard and seen, not everyone is into artsy environments, a regular collage will allow you to see what else is out there, like other random courses you have to take, this might allow you to consider double majors/minors and things like that. My best advice is that you do all that is in your power to go away for school, commuting will drain the life out of you and will make college not such a pleasant experience

    • Alexis M.
      Permalink to comment#

      and for what I’ve heard, graphic designers aren’t like the other artists, when it comes to money, just look around you and see how many things were made by graphic designers( books, magazines, packaging,etc)

  29. Permalink to comment#

    Graphic/web/marketing design relies heavily on the artists’ ability to think outside the box, in an open space I like to call “why is it that way?” which invokes though well beyond what these hustlers (‘institutions’) push (‘teach’). I’m a skeptic of school, that’s my honest opinion, though I’m sure there are many benefits to traditional education that I have missed out on.

    My advice to this young man, and anyone considering ‘art school’ (so green and cute by the way) is…

    1) Don’t believe everything they tell you, or everything you read.

    2) Challenge your instructors to challenge you.

    3) Turn your school projects into client projects and/or real websites where you can.

    4) BUILD and DESTROY, there’s always another approach to building a website than the one you’re being taught. Challenge yourself to build your school projects using different techniques. On the same token, don’t try to reinvent the wheel; the www is chocked full of valuable resources that give the answers to most, if not all, of your technical needs and desires.

    5) Network/socialize your ass off with other budding designers… you can be sure there are 100 kids on campus that are better and more experienced designers than you, and chances are you’ll learn more from them than you do in the classroom.

    peace…

  30. MKL
    Permalink to comment#

    I think the most important part of undergraduate education is getting the widest range of studies you can. I’ll be graduating from a top liberal arts university next year and THEN I’ll be applying to graduate school art programs. I’ve taken so many classes in an incredibly wide range of subjects. What can make your work interesting is the different perspective you bring to it through various things you’ve learned/experienced–and these don’t even have to be art related. So much can be drawn from psychology, history, philosophy, even math and science. Though at the time I never considered to pursue art school for undergrad, I know that I still would have wanted a more well rounded education first.

    When it all comes down to it though, it really depends on financial ability and how sure you are of your path. I bet 90% of high school graduates will change their mind along the way, but if you’re sure, definitely pursue what you want to do. And remember, it’s never too late to change.

  31. Permalink to comment#

    I had a similar experience in choosing my career. I was in a state school (Creative Writing major), and I just knew that web design was a perfect fit for me. After graduating I stuck it out for a while as the manager of a beer store. I kept pushing to make myself a better designer and focused on getting involved in the design community. At the end of the day, it’s not so much which school you chose, it’s how hard you push yourself.

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    Art school is a path, but far from the only option. I did go to college, and I also stayed on to get 2 masters, but I did not study design. I actually, studied to be a therapist. Long story short, I have done art, photograpy, and design on the side my whole life (from 3 – 33). One day I dropped therapy, and started freelancing. Freelancing led to my current job at a fortune 100 company doing web design. Obviouly, school didn’t help me get this job, but years of doing art / design and freelnacing for fun did.

    The point is, school or no school, experience is king. You can learn this stuff in college or on your own. Just work your ass off, and always aim to excell at what you do. A good work ethic is the only insurance that you are going to have.

    Just remember that design (and art to a certain extent) is a visual language. More important than making cool stuff is learning how to effectively communicate with design. Fortunately, my earier carrees as a therapist made this part of design simple to learn.

    All paths will end in success…if you stay focused and work your ass off ( and if you keep up with css-tricks.com)!
    Good luck!

  33. Permalink to comment#

    I have a diploma in Multimedia Production and Design and a Web Developer’s Diploma and a Web Designer’s Certificate. After I did my schooling (took 3 years in total), I did a 6-month un-paid internship and then started working fulltime. I have been working fulltime for about 2 years, so I am pretty new to everything still :)

    I think my schooling helped a lot. I took the multimedia course at Selkirk College and it was fantastic. I learned SO MUCH.

    I think the main thing you need to go far in this industry, is the desire to learn and a strong passion for it. The people who do really well, are the ones that go home from work and do more work because they think its fun :P I think a lot of artists fail because they try freelancing right off the bat… you need to gain a professional edge before you can go anywhere.

    Andy Rutledge has some excellent articles on this kind of stuff.

  34. Permalink to comment#

    If I had to do my education over again, I would strongly suggest finishing your degree outside the arts first. This is because I’ve witnessed students who go straight from high school to art school fail on different levels. These are some of my thoughts:

    Art school is alot of work. It’s staying up until 5am in the morning to meet an 8am critique. Most fresh out of high school students are not ready for this kind of schedule. Non-arts related universities can help young students prepare for this.
    Art and design is all about context. The more students know about history and art, the better they will be at their visual craft. I can only speak about the US, but the art history courses are incredibly bad compared to universities and local colleges here. I received better value from art courses at the universities and local colleges level.
    Art school is just as much about meeting people as it is about learning your craft.
    Most art schools just want your money: and they will find anyway to retain you, including passing you on classes that you should have failed. Be very careful that you choose a school that is rigorous and that will kick your ass, so that you’re getting your value returned.

    I don’t regret attending an art school as it has greatly shaped what and who I work with. However, I do wish I had finished my degree at a university/college in another BA, then done just two years of art school. My last two years of art school ended up filling prerequisites, which were in my opinion, just a way for the school to retain my money. With the money saved from two years of tuitions and supplies, I could have had a hefty head start in opening my own business.

  35. Permalink to comment#

    i agree with a lot of what Marc P has to say. if you decide to attend and art or design school, then by all means, lear your programs at the community college level! you’ll save a ton of money that way. you can also eliminate a lot of your academic requirements through a community college as well (in CA, 1 unit at the CC level is $25. you do the math). and the web classes at the art/design school level are horrid. learn your programs and scour the internet to find your favorite usages and your least favorite usages of the technology.

    also, i would advise against going into an art or design school right out of hs. what we do as designers and artists involves putting things into context or warping the context or meaning of symbols/images/etc. take a few jobs, travel, or even take some time off for yourself. you’ll have much more to bring to the table during a critique or conversation.

    what youre doing by asking these questions is extremely smart, and it will lead you to the right path for you. should you decide that art/design school is for you, then if you’ve already learned your programs, you can focus on really understanding the fundamentals of your craft and how to make them work, and how to break them without the frustration of trying to learn a new program on top of that.

    good luck!

  36. Fantastic conversation everyone! It was great to hear everyone’s advice and hear about personal experiences.

  37. Ben Sima
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    Wow. I just checked CSSTricks today for the first time in a week and was surprised to see so many great comments. Everything everyone has said will help me a ton.

    In talking to the director of the art program at my HS, I’m pretty sure the best route to go for me is a private art school (my first choice is MICA [ww.mica.edu]) with a major/minor combination of Graphic Design and Painting. This is because the recent popularity of graphic design has made the field become almost over crowded. If I have a painting minor/major then that puts me above the rest (if only a little). Of course this could always change.

    However, I’m positive that I can handle art school because I definitely have the passion, and I definitely have the work ethic that’s required. Plus my high school has a great art program with a portfolio class that really pushes you into doing your best. Our teacher has an uncanny way of bringing out the best artist in us.

    In all honesty, I don’t look at art as a career. I look at it as a way of thinking. Whether I go into advertising or graphic design or logo design or whatever, I want to bring the same same thought process and creativity that I use when I paint and draw. The only way do that is to perfect the artistic thought process by practicing it all the time, in everything I do, and surround myself in the arts.

    With that in mind, my dream job would probably be working with a team of artists/designers on something like creating and maintaining brand identities and an institution’s image (be it a company, school, organization, person, whatever). Which means I could take a company like Apple or Coca-Cola, and help create it’s logos, advertisements, posters, and help with the overall design of it’s products, it’s stores, etc. If you think about Apple, all of their products have a similar feel to them. Even their stores and the process that you go through to buy their products all fit together perfectly. I wish everything could work together that beautifully.

    Thanks to everyone who submitted their advice. I appreciate it a ton. And thanks so much Chris for putting this out there. All the other art kids are gonna be so jealous.

  38. Carl
    Permalink to comment#

    I did the art school thing too, but like others have mentioned, I couldn’t find permanent work upon graduating. I ended up going back to school and got a BS in Business. A few jobs later and now I build web forms, do java and vb script; funny how things work out.

    My point is that it is the skills you bring that add value to the company will be what keeps you employed. A degree may only get your foot in the door.

  39. Ry-Guy
    Permalink to comment#

    Well, I guess Im pretty late in the game to make a comment but I will do so anyways.
    I agree with the predominant response to your email…Hard work, and experience goes alot further than a degree/diploma or any other education you will receive. This being said, I still advocate that an education is necessary. Education teaches you how to learn, how to balance a full work load, how to ask the right questions, how to work with other people, how to have fun and a ton of other things that are essential to this type of career.

    Web design/development is life style choice, where learning whats new and how to do should be as normal as breathing.

    Like most of the people here I did not go to school for web design / development … but rather I went to school for Computer science/ chemistry. I did alot of web design work on the side for friends and family while attending. It was only later that I found that I loved working on web design more than anything.

    I now work for a rather large webdesign company where I have assumed the role of Creative Director / Art Director, despite that many of my fellow employees have formal art education. I only mention this because it is possible to get a great design job without having to get an arts degree or diploma. Go to school get a degree in something that you think you would enjoy (if its an art degree ..then do that) that way it will be as painless as possible but you’ll get all the experience and hopefully some knowledge you can apply toward your design career. Just remember though, If you get the Arts degree…it is not necessarily a free ticket to a job! Thats where hard work comes in!

    Good Luck!!!! See ya on the web!!!

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