Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Here at Pleb’s, we’re all art school graduates (and one current student) and we think art school was an awesome experience that helped develop us as artists and people. We talk about school a lot, things like our experience, what we liked/disliked, what we could have done better, or things we’re really glad we did. School was a defining chapter in our lives and we want to create a dialogue that helps students figure things out, have a voice on what they love or hate, and to help us narrow down what makes art school great and maybe not so great at times. So welcome to “Why We’re Here Wednesday,” a weekly editorial where we discuss art school with students, grads, professors, and anyone who wants to have their voice heard. Topics can range from general advice, gripes and dislikes of things currently going on, what we expect, it goes on and on, we want to keep it totally open ended.
For this first week I wanted to keep things general and fun, so I sat down with Adele, one of my fellow Pleb admins who is currently a senior in the Fine Arts program at the University of Delaware, and we talked about general dos and don’ts in art school. This might sound like a total freshman thing to read, and it some ways it is, but it’s valid to everyone (I promise). Now, this is totally off the cuff and by no means is it meant to be gospel so don’t think these are things you have to do to succeed, but based off of our personal experiences this is what we got! These things are going to come up as we continue this series and the list may expand or contract as we go, but for now we’re at eight.
Talk to Everyone! - When we had our discussion, Adele and I both agreed that in our experiences there was this harsh divide between the classes, the seniors looked down on freshman for not knowing what they’re doing, sculptors didn’t associate with painters, graphics students thought they were better than fine artists, and things like that. Forget all that nonsense though, we’re all artists here! In just a few years all of your classmates are going to be your professional counterparts. The professional art world is no cake walk and you never know who is going to end up where or be a useful connection, so why write anyone off? Talk to everyone, be friendly, pick each others brains, be a part of the awesome artistic community that art school puts you into because when you get into the harsh and unforgiving world of professional art a community can be hard to find. Take advantage of what you have!
Don’t Get Wrapped Up in Class Projects- This is a big one! A lot of classes are built around giving you projects that have guidelines and all too often we see people get so stuck to those guidelines that they either create a cookie cutter piece with no identity or a piece that has no passion or personal significance. Project guidelines are a helpful tool when figuring out your process but in the real world you’re never going to be handed a sheet telling you what you need to make. So make everything your own! Your professor won’t be mad if you skipped a guideline or two in order to make a real and solid piece of art! Don’t tie yourself to guidelines, they’re there to help you, not tie you down.
Work at a Pace that Works for You/ Find Your Own Process- This is kind of a two parter but the first part is simple, find how much time and work it takes to make your best work without killing yourself and plan around that. Easy as that, there’s a lot of time between crits but the studio looks like a ghost town until 3 days before a lot of the time, don’t be one of those people to just rush and crap out a project that’s lack luster but on time. The second part might not be a popular opinion but find your own process. In your first few years you’re going to run into professors who want you to try their process, a scheduled and easy to monitor one, that’s how they can track what you’re doing. Give it a shot, it might work for you, but just like in the art itself find your own process, what works for you! There’s no perfect blue print or process in art, it’s all variable, so experiment and find YOUR process because that’s what’s going to make the best work and motivate you to work outside of a professors timeline.
Try Everything- Easy as that, you’ve got all of the facilities right there, locked and loaded so USE THEM! Once you graduate a lot of that stuff might not be accessible for a long time so try it all while you have the chance. Any medium, material, size, whatever you can, do it. School is about learning and failing so get out of your safe space while the tools to do that are accessible.
Show Your Work- Art is almost totally self marketing, at least in a traditional sense, so take your time in school to market yourself and show your work at every chance you get. Enter contests and juried shows, try and organize shows with your school or with facilities you have access to, rent a space, whatever you can do! One of my favorite things that my friends and I did while in school was empty our house of furniture, put our stuff on the walls and open the doors to everyone. It was totally awesome and something that anyone can do. Who cares if you enter a show and don’t get accepted? No one. Failure is a part of what we do! But if you never put your work out there you’re never going to have it seen so do the opposite, make it seen by everyone! Put it out there and build a resume of shows and experience, you won’t regret it.
Isolate Yourself- I always thought it was silly when someone showed up for class or crit saying, “I’m working on my piece at home.” Why? Everyone else is working on their stuff here, talking about it, getting feedback. One of the best things about art school is that it puts you into a community of artists you may never have had or may never have again. So utilize the minds around you while you can, it will help you be more critical and open your eyes to things you may not have noticed or unintentionally ignored. The studio in school is an awesome place, don’t rob yourself of that community experience.
Be Afraid to Fail- This goes back to my try everything point because school is about learning, process, trial and error. Error being one of the most crucial teaching tools! You’ll never learn anything about yourself as an artist if you stay in a bubble and don’t experiment. School is the time to mess stuff up and not worry about it! It will teach you a lot about yourself.
Typecast Yourself- Once you get towards to end of your school experience the experimenting will tend to stop as you figure yourself out. But I often see people totally give up on experimenting in the quest to create some totally cohesive professional portfolio and that’s a sound idea but we’ve all only just begun to identify ourselves as artists, never stop experimenting! I say this for two reasons, the first being that if you become “The ______ Person,” at an early stage in your career is that really what you’re going to want to do forever? Are you ok with just being stuck on that? Because both personally and critically it will get tiring and start to fade out and lose meaning. Then if you don’t care about or like the work you’re doing who will? The second reason being there’s a whole lot of life left to live and art to be made after college, but the tools you have to experiment are going to be severely limited for a time period so while you have the tools, go for it. I’ve said it a million times in my life and I’ll never stop, there’s no perfect blueprint to making art or being an artist, it’s one of the most individualistic things on the planet. So don’t stick yourself to one thing or style because in the long run it’s going to hurt you more than it will help you.
Once again, these aren't meant to be a blueprint on how to get through school, these are just some tips that we've formulated from our own experiences. This list will be a continued topic in our art school discussions and we hope to get some useful feedback and additions or subtractions from all of you! After all that's why we're here!