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Why You Shouldn't Go to Art School

Your parents will love this helpful accompaniment to all your back-to-school woes.
August 29, 2015, 12:20pm

If you're going to be an artist, nothing can stop you. This includes the ridicule of art lovers, dire poverty, and the lack of formal education. There are certain things taught by any art school worth its salt that will help you along in the process of finding yourself and your own unique voice. Things like drawing from life, copying the masters, and reading Van Gogh's letters really can help—but if it didn't dawn on you to dive into these things without being told, there's no help for you in or out of school. I, myself, think everyone would be better off with a normal job and life and wouldn't wish an artist's life—at best—on a dog, but maybe you're still curious. Maybe you don't have the money for college; maybe you are having too much fun partying; or maybe you're just too much of a rebel to throw away years of freedom by enrolling in art school (an early warning sign that your commitment to Art may be lifelong). If that's the case, here's a short list of hacks to help attain your own "degree."


1. Go to the best museum you can find—constantly. When you're happy, when you're sad, when you want an escape, when it's rainy, you're alone, on a date, with your artsy friend, with your stupid friend… Treat it like your living room. Wander and daydream. In a moment of focus, study the pictures with big reputations and make friends with an artist long dead—look at a Rembrandt or a Picasso until you can see their thumbprints in the paint, until you see them as real people, and understand where they were coming from with their works; or find something random, seemingly insignificant, a shard of Babylonian pottery, a Chinese Bodhisattva with one arm broken off, the conceptual pile of tin cans in the middle of the floor (open-mindedly, without telling yourself that your kid brother Elmo could do that) and ask yourself what it's doing in the collection.

2. Find an older artist you consider successful (if you're naturally the worst, and really belong on Wall Street, you'll read that as meaning "rich and famous," but if you're into art for Art, you'll understand this might be an obscure, dirty, crazy individual) and then wear out their doorstep with your constant visiting. A mentor is much better than a professor in my eyes, someone who is truly living the life. They may not see you every time you want to visit, they may curse you out and call you a talentless phony, sending you out of their studio with a swift kick in the ass, but you can't let anything deter you from trying again the next day until every mysterious part of their process has been revealed.

3. Go to the Arts Students League (or something like it near you) and draw nudes; play with clay; learn printmaking without grades or credits; meet people who are also making things, old people who never made it big but still have the fever, the runaway punks with books in their pockets; sign up for courses and don't even attend; but spend some time in an environment that smells like turpentine, one that is serious and keeps the tradition alive.


4. Go to the ballet, the opera, fall in love, take hallucinogens, travel abroad, dress like a weirdo, watch old films by Godard, Bergman, Fellini, and both Rays, listen to Coltrane, Ravi Shankar, Fela, and Bach, to get inspired—after all, art imitates life— and then, in some modest way, start to put yourself out there. If you're afraid your art is bad, it probably is—but so what? You have to start somewhere.

Illustration by the author

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