This is a question that a lot of budding artists ask themselves, “Do I need to go to art school?” and it’s a pretty big question. It’s a pretty damn expensive question too. One I had to ask myself at one point. Allow me to exposit at you for a moment, so you know where I’m coming from…
I didn’t go to art school. As amazingly stupid as this sounds, when I was younger I originally didn’t pursue art school because I didn’t think I was good enough. Yeah. How’s that for brain power? It’s like saying, “I can’t take math classes, I don’t know anything about math!” But to be fair, it’s difficult being raised in the Internet generation. There are a million artists out there, and in the click of a button, all their best work is up your butt in 10 seconds. It was disillusioning to see how far I had to go. So I decided art school wasn’t for me, plus I had no money so that was definitely a factor. Now at almost 26 years old, if I was offered the chance to do things over, I probably would have gone. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary.
I know several artist who are extremely talented and successful, but never went to art school. On the other hand, I knew some artists who are the same, and did go. AND, I know people who majored in art and it seemed to make no difference. So this has brought me to the conclusion that it depends less on the school, and more on you. If you’re looking to become a professional, you have to see your art slightly differently. Art in general can be a wonderful hobby, or vehicle for self expression, but the art industry is quite different. It’s very competitive, and fickle to boot.
Discipline: Art school vs. Self Taught
Anyone can be an artist, but being a professional takes discipline. And that’s something art school can teach you. Even just taking art classes can do this. Set assignments can force you to draw outside your comfort zone, expose you to mediums you’re not familiar with, and give you objective critique. Some people just need that extra push, more structure to their learning environment, or the help of a good teacher. If you’re someone who doesn’t take criticism well, I advise you to take this route… well, overall I would advise you to get over it, and fast.
Going the self taught route means you already have the discipline required. You can be critical of your own work, without rationalizing or justifying your mistakes. You can push yourself to expand your horizons so you don’t get stuck in a creative quagmire. That being said, resources are out there for you- all you need to do is reach out and take them. Artists are always posting tutorials on sites like Deviantart.com and Conceptart.org, books are available at the library (I personally recommend Dynamic Anatomy) and often times other artists are willing to connect with you can help if you ask. But discipline also means being able to take the heat. Don’t ask people’s opinion if you can’t handle a poor review.
Having a Degree: Art school vs. Self Taught
Seriously, screw our educational system. Especially as an artist to be given a piece of paper that professes, “I _____, am certifiably this awesome.” is a farce. But. It makes a difference. No matter how dumb the reality is, having a degree in art can make your life easier. The main difference it makes is if you’re looking to work for a company. Say, if you really, really wanted to work for a certain comic company, or video game developer. Some companies will not even look at your portfolio unless you have a degree. Period. However they have the benefit of giving you a lot of job security if you’re hired. Generally you’ll get consistent work, and maybe even benefits depending on your job.
Now, if I’ve sufficiently disappointed you, you do not need a degree to be successful. Galleries usually don’t care if you ever went to college, if you’re work is good, it’s good. Also, if you’re going into business for yourself, like self publishing a comic or doing your own animation, you’re your own boss! This has it’s advantages and it’s disadvantages. Self publishing is risky, and difficult. If you fail, there’s no parent company to reassign you or pick you up afterward. On the other hand, bigger companies often have rules and regulations about what you can and cannot draw, write, etc. You may not have as much creative control as you would like.
So that’s my two cents about art school. It’s not for everyone, but it can be helpful depending on what you’re plans for the future are. If you were to ask me, “Should I go to art school?” I would say if you can afford it- yes. But if you can’t afford it, or shit, just don’t want to afford it, then don’t despair! You’re not locked out of every job imaginable- just some.