Sunday, February 16, 2014

Are Visual Arts Degrees Valuable?



Question: Why don't companies like:  Disney, Pixar, Sony, Blizzard, Microsoft, Blue Sky, Mattel, Hasbro, Random House, Harper Collins, and Scholastic hire artists based on whether or not they have a college degree? Lets cut to the chase - it's because colleges and Universities routinely give degrees to students who haven't mastered their craft. This really isn't news but I thought I'd briefly write about this so I have a link to copy and paste to artists who ask me for advice on what degree they should get? The other day an artist wrote to me asking what colleges look the best on a resume for animation studios.

If a bachelors degree in visual arts said anything about the quality of students pumped out each year companies would require and interview applicants with BA's and BFA's. The truth is that these companies couldn't care less that you have a degree. They want to see what you can do. They want to look at your portfolio. They also want you to be semi normal but that's another discussion.

BUT - most professional illustrators DID go through a University or art school program. Most artists aren't motivated enough to impose the rigorous hours of practice necessary or even know what to practice to become professional. Schools provide an exposure and immersion to mentors, professionals, markets, networking, methods & techniques, history, standards, and philosophies. These introductions can unlock hidden desires and passions the beginning student never knew they had. So ironically you should probably go to school (and that could mean everything from University to art school to online classes and tutorials - one or a mixture of them) to get good at your craft but don't think too much about the certificate you get - nobody is going to ask for it.

*The bachelors degree is really only valuable if you want to teach at a public or private school, institution, or college and then you will need a masters degree to top it off. Oh yeah - and getting a degree will make your parents happy.

13 comments:

  1. I was chatting to an old college friend about our fellow BA graduates, (neither of us could afford to stay on and do Masters so had to get out into the workplace early) remarking how a couple of the most obviously talented and starry students never seem to have made much of a career in design or illustration. We decided it was because they managed to get through those years with this misty idea about waiting for "their muse to strike" and they never got round to improving their time keeping. It's one of the things that still shocks most graduates when they get out into the workplace, the speed that everything is required at and the sheer relentlessness of the workload if you are found to be hireable.

    It's great because you are doing what you love, but it isn't a soft option. You have to prove you can deliver the goods under pressure from the beginning.

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    1. Great point - you can't go in half way...

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  2. Very true. My head tutor and I didn't get on, so I didn't get a great degree, yet I've still managed to carve a 20 year career out of it and am now doing exactly what I wanted to do all along (children's picture books).

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  3. Hi Will: I went to art college and finished with a BFA. My plan was to become a teacher but it never happened. I did have a job in the printing industry before graduation and loved it and then I went onto a job doing art for printing plates. It was very hard but I loved it too. I quit because it became too much for me. The Art Director thought she was the best because she had a mass communication degree and I never saw any art work out of her for the three years I was there. Come to find out this printing plate company was all into production and not product. Also, they went through so many artists you didn't remember who you worked with. As for college, It taught me a lot and it showed in my art! I was one of the students that worked very heard at my art! Other students were like the ones mentioned above and they were very starry eyed. Also, we had many students that were very talented and the teachers let them slide on there art all the time. Half finished stuff and art so crooked you could tell by looking at it. How did they get away with it, when I had to work so hard? It made me feel better I guess. The last I heard the person I am talking about was working for the University I graduated from but that was over 15 years ago. No, I don't work as an illustrator but I do do several commissions a year and I try to draw something everyday. I am still learning and not trying to get away with just sliding by. So, I can say I am happy, I got my degree in art and as an insurance agent, I have had many people ask me why an art degree and working in insurance? I like insurance or I wouldn't be doing it!

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    1. Good points - an education takes a life time!

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  4. Funny that you right this…I went to Sheridan College in Oakville Canada…the illustration lab expansion was funded by Apple when I attended the college for Interior Design…the Queen Elizabeth herself even visited, with rumour that one of her grandsons would attend…pixar and the like scouted these grades supposedly making all of us other art students feel that we where wasting out time in say furniture making…your heart is at the pulse as usual as a teacher, keep on with the open discussion!

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    1. "grads"…I suck at proofing my work!

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    2. Interesting - but sometimes we place too high an emphasis on what other people think of our art - like Pixar - Jim Carey was passed over by SNL...the big boys often get it wrong.

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  5. our time crap…I really need to proof read:)

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  6. I think the artists who learn to be really fast and prolific --wherever they happen to learn to do that-- are the ones who succeed the best. Casting another vote for artistic speed.

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  7. Art directors will hire based on your portfolio. You can learn great portfolio building skills in school. You can also build a great starting portfolio in school IF you are humble, open-minded, and ready to dig in and bust your ass.

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