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On Art Schools

How relevant are art schools today? Do artists really require education beyond basic technical training? Do art institutions hinder, rather than help the creative expression of artists today?


Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), 1967.
Image: truthinart.wordpress.com

And what does Bruce Nauman think?

Read my opinion piece on the brand new news website, The Mark.

Click HERE.

8 Responses to “On Art Schools”

  1. Mel says:

    I’ve just graduated art school, and I’ve never been happier to get out of that hellhole of outdated, prescriptive opinions. conceptual nazis the lot of ‘em.

    I’ll give you a better comment in 3 years!

  2. Eric says:

    It’s been far more than 3 years since I graduated art school, but I think my opinion has remained fairly consistent.
    Coming from a very blue-collar city that seemed to equate a career in the arts with teaching art in high school, I found that attending art school provided me with a new perspective, and showed me that art was a (potentially) viable career option, beyond teaching.
    If nothing else, art schools can provide an environment where art is valued for it’s own sake, and that is a good thing for someone who didn’t previously know that such an environment existed.

  3. A.K. says:

    I think you’ve raised some very important questions, especially in the Canadian context, where institutions are struggling with the transition from art “school” to degree-granting institution. I’ll be checking back to see if other recent grads. like Mel, will leave comments. I hope they do.

  4. Tara Bursey says:

    Thanks for the article, Andrea. The importance of an art degree is something I give a great deal of thought to, as a dedicated young artist without one. I think you are spot on about a few things, namely the validity of alternative methods of education and art “training” in the form of apprenticeships and residencies. However, I won’t hold my breath waiting for such alternatives to start competing with post-secondary institutions in our increasingly degree-obsessed culture, and with an arts establishment that supports this fixation.

    For example, a fine arts or art degree is required to intern (work for free!) at the Power Plant. Art schools such as OCAD and NSCAD don’t grant transfer credits from alternative art colleges, and you must pay a sizable amount of money to have an assessment of prior knowledge acquired by alternative means when applying to either school. What does this say about the validity of institutions or methods of learning that aren’t centered around degrees? It makes no wonder young students aren’t exploring their options more. It also makes no wonder that, as you noted, there is surplus of ambition and a lack of talent among recent graduates. Degree-granting art institutions are doing just what their title implies- not setting forth hopeful artists into the world, but hopeful DEGREE-HOLDERS.

    Having said all of this, I am entering the CRCP program at OCAD next year after 5 years of making and showing work. My decision as an artist to enter the Criticism and Curatorial Practice program was strategic- in light of recent funding cuts and studies revealing the abysmal average income of artists in Canada, we could use another arts advocate more than we could another artist!

  5. Nick Brown says:

    Some very good points here, however I’d argue not everyone attending art school is there “in the hopes of claiming the elusive status of ‘art star,’ or at least launching a respectable career.” Many students use art school the way others use a university degree in the liberal arts or the sciences as a safe ground for bettering themselves and discovering who they are. I would caution against the notion of art school as strictly a trade school, as it’s my experience that many profit from the critical environment as a means of maturing and preparing for an uncertain future.

    That said, you raise an important issue when you ask “Can institutions simultaneously provide skills and nurture independence?” My fear is that the current fast-food institutional model is dispensing with the school’s role in teaching practical skills. Perversely, schools like OCAD seem now to be embracing (disingenuously, I would argue) the conceptual legacy of deskilling ostensibly as a means of fostering professional practice and contemporary discourse. But, really, isn’t deskilling something you do after learning your craft? Isn’t the institution in place to teach practical skills that can later be critically challenged, even dispensed with?

    The institution has a responsibility to foster criticality and practical skills, with which students can prepare for whatever their future holds.

    And as a last point to Tara Bursey– I applaud your decision to study criticism and curatorship as a means of advocacy. Would that more students of this emerging field had the same intention, as I fear so many enroll with the idea that it’s a fast track to an institutional position. Look at the numbers enrolling compared to the actual existing jobs and it becomes apparent just how untenable this trend is.

  6. Karen says:

    This is an important question.

    I believe that technical skills can be taught in a year or two, and after that it’s merely filler… expensive, time consuming, soul sucking, dream killing filler. Luckily, for those passionate souls who keep the dream alive, it IS possible to cut through the noise and reignite that fire within… with or without a degree. Good instructors can be found everywhere. Many working artists and university level artist/instructors can be found inspiring a whole range of art lovers at smaller “boutique” art schools/studios, like The Toronto School of Art (http://www.tsa-art.ca/) for example.

    I studied Visual Arts at York U. about 20+ years ago, but finally learned how to paint at TSA this summer. At York, I became disillusioned and discouraged by the lack of technical/practical studio instruction and fanatical emphasis on theory and aesthetics. After touring the uninspired work of 4th year students in my 2nd year, I realized that I was wasting my time – all for a meaningless piece of paper that would have been a minor step toward my goal of becoming a working artist, so I dropped out and turned my back on what I called the phony baloney art world. Tara is right. We live in a degree obsessed culture to the point where we feel we don’t exist unless we buy a degree to hang on the wall… if you can afford a wall to hang it on. It’s been that way for a while now. So many of my friends have degrees they’ve never “used”. While I agree with Eric’s perspective on the value of immersion and exposure to art and ideas at University, I believe that there isn’t a single institution in existence today that can claim ownership of the global experience that is art, music, food, life. It is a lifelong journey, and like the masters and artisans that came before us, the artist’s journey is often a nomadic, global, lived experience that has no end. So, learn from the best – forget the rest. Don’t let your day job define you. You are still an artist. Try to find meaningful work that pays the rent and expands your view of the world (it will be easier to do this with a degree, but not impossible without one).

    Most of all, don’t let your spark die out. Art is life.

  7. Mike Nixon says:

    I am from NZ where art education is still affordable but opportunities are rapidly disappearing under the right wing business orientated government.However, I have been reading Art School for 21st Century -Steven Madoff” . Highly recommended. I go to a school with not great facilities but an emphasis on finding your inner voice ,its worked for me, I can learn technique , but what sustains you can’t be taught just nurtured .

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