Sunday, November 25, 2012

Art School Loan Insanity- Thousands in Debt and not Painting. Or Basquiat and Cezanne Were Self Taught and Their Paintings go for Millions.

An update!

Even though I am not what you call a 'famous artist', getting yourself into student loan debt to be a painter in my opinion, is utter madness. I have decades worth of experience in art and know there are better options.

Notice I said painter, not illustrator, art director, digital artist or art director.

You ONLY need a degree to teach in a PUBLIC UNIVERSITY or PUBLIC school. I taught at the Rhode Island School of Design as an adjunct professor without a degree. RISD is private. I could not have taught at Rhode Island college (where ironically the pay was less) because it is a public school.

You do need technical skills to be an animator or a digital artist. You DON'T need to sock yourself  $80,000 or more in student loans to go to RISD 61K or Ringling (52k per annum total fees).

Compare this to Rhode Island College where the instate tuition is 5,420K and out of state is 14,500K They also have digital and film capapabilies.
When I participated at ConceptArt.Org I was very impressed with Maxine Shacker and the work her students are doing at a FRACTION of the price of American schools.
The school is in Toronto.This is an unpaid review on

If you want to be a 'Fine Artist' and I mean a working artist like a painter or sculptor take heed from this very capable young woman's dilemma, she has a prestigious MFA and $80,000 worth of student loans to swallow. There are many more like this on the web.
Here is another example of a 100,000K debt.

I did very, very well as an illustrator with no degree- no-one asked to see my degree, or cared where  went to school- just my portfolio. Google Jem.

You need an MFA to teach, except at private universities. But have you looked at art professor's salaries?
This is just one site, but they average 35K to 85K. That may seem a lot to a struggling artist, but subtract the student loans from that. The 85K is the highest I could find (Ringling). Also, from  my days at RISD I know how much time teaching cuts into painting time. When I tried for a full professorship I was warned I would never have time for my own work. Not to worry- 345 artists tried out for that ONE advertised position. I was not even a finalist-whew! Professors, for example,in engineering, law, economics and medicine can make up to and over 300,000K depending on the prestige of their university.

Adjunct positions pay worse, especially at public schools and artists with flouncy degrees from Yale are competing for those positions as well.

By the way getting a lot of bang for your buck, you can get a decent education at Rhode Island Center for the Arts. In state tuition is really cheap and I have seen some good stuff come out of there. Some of the same instructor there also teach at RISD. is also much more reasonable if you are into figurative and more traditional art. There are other good schools as well, but CAREFULLY weigh your options if you want to be a painter. Working during the day at Starbucks may pay for you to live but it won't make much of a dent in those student loans nor give you much time or money for painting. So get the fairy dust out of your eyes and DO THE MATH-really!

Make the school administration work for you. Ask for data about your employment prospects, do they have a plan. If you are a painter google their alumni to are what the graduate painters are doing. Do not be snowed by a school's reputation and be afraid to ask probing questions. I found out that after the first year, the painting department at RISD does very little figurative work- so if this is what your interest is you won't be happy there PAFA would be a better fit.  and is a cheaper, very  excellent school. Also realize that for the most part illustration (other than digital) is a dead duck as a field. You are better off taking the Famous Artist's Course and saving yourself a lot of moolah. Mark English did many years ago and he was one of the finest illustrators on the planet. Grab one of these Famous Artist's collectible books if you can-they are worth every cent- that is how I taught myself illustration.
The classical ateliers are also another good deal- with really skilled and knowledgeable teachers. The downside is some of the graduates work is getting repetitive. However the training is rigorous, the classes are usually small and you get a lot of bang for your buck. You must realize that the training is in mimetic art- copying what you see from nature, mostly still-lifes and figures. Here I discuss the positives and negatives.;postID=775151999227111475
The last and cheapest option- yourself! There are some great books out there to get you started. This is where I would start- with drawing- no painting for a year at least unless you nail drawing.

There are many places that have figure drawing opportunities, or get a group of your own. The Rhode Island School of Design has no figure drawing or painting in their Fine Arts program after the first year so students hire their own model and have their own classes.

Take workshops with artists you admire. You can learn a lot in a week if you pay attention. Clean the studio of an artist you admire for advice and lessons. See if you can get an an apprenticeship.

These are just some suggestions. When I went to art school (albeit briefly), I was lucky- my parents could afford it, but that was decades ago and even well-to-do parents are finding it extremely difficult to pay these tuitions today without loans.

I started out my art career fancy free and without debt- but at the  tender age of 19, my father died and I had to learn to support myself- and without a degree.

You CAN be an artist, but you have to be very clever. Really consider what kind of career you want in the arts before applying to schools- this post is mainly concerned with those in painting- which I think I know a fair amount about.

There ARE those stories about the MFA's from Yale and Columbia that a dragged out of school before their MFA diplomas are dry to prestigious New York galleries- but the majority of artist have to slog away in obscurity before they realize an income from their art. This has nothing whatever to do with their talent or the quality of their work. The art market is capricious, blind  and often operates without sensitivity.

One of the things you will miss from taking the personal route is not being educated in other important areas, so you must educate yourself . Read, read, read. There is nothing worse than seeming illiterate when trying to present yourself and your art. You will come in contact with people with high levels of education- this does not mean they are smarter, just better educated. Learn how to write and speak intelligently and properly. Though Cezanne was primarily self-taught as an artist ( he did have some art schooling),  he was very well educated in the classics. I was lucky- I went to a very fine private school where we had to carry five majors every year.

So if it is important for you to wear that RISD sweatshirt, while you are making lattes late at night or having time to actually work on stuff you love, consider other less costly and smarter ways to get you to your goal.

If you think I am blowing smoke circles read this article from Time Magazine.


As I have said Cezanne was self taught- and mainly so am I. Basquiat was too and his paintings are going for zillions.

Google "in debt from risd" to read some horror stories.RISd is now $53,000 per year.

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