What Do They Teach You In Art School VS What Will You Learn In Real Life

Photo by Rob Woodcox

If you’re an artist in any capacity, you have probably considered attending art school. Although art school can be a beneficial learning experience and a place solely dedicated to teaching you your craft — there is the continuing debate of whether or not the hefty price of education is truly worth it. Does an art university really teach you everything you need to know about your future career? Or would real-life experience and immersion be just as sufficient? To break it down, let’s discuss what you learn in art school versus what you learn from practical, real-life application.  

What You Learn in Art School

Theory

Art school like any formal education will discuss and cover the history and theory of your intended career path. For example, if you choose to study photography you will most likely spend a substantial amount of time in courses that involve analyzing, critiquing and understanding the development of the medium. You will be given assignments that will offer insight into the work of photographers from different eras covering a range of styles and technical choices. Overall, you will learn everything there is to know about photography from its conception to its current role and purpose within the art world.

Photo by Rob Woodcox

Technique

A selling point on attending art school will be the classes dedicated to teaching you technique. With photography, you will have hands-on experience learning the principles of lighting, understanding camera settings on both film and digital formats as well as either developing in a dark room or learning how to digitally post produce your final images. These courses will be focused on strengthening your existing skills and knowledge, allowing for creative freedom to explore and discover which methods and techniques best suit your style.

Application and Practice

Every art university has a final project or thesis component that requires its students to produce a piece showcasing what they have learned and developed through their education. Such an assignment would involve studio shooting time, creatively directing your piece as well as sourcing components such as props, models, set design and more. Once theory and technique have been covered, the integration of applied practice and curation of your work is the final step to completing your degree and a start to building your professional portfolio.

What You Learn in Real Life

Now that we have covered the basics of what a university education can provide, let’s focus on what you learn in real life situations as an artist.

Branding / Self Marketing

Education rarely discusses how to brand and self-market yourself and your work. A component that is vital in any creative profession, you quickly learn that having a specific and thought out brand is essential to build your photography career. This may include activities such as building a professional website, setting up and growing relevant social media accounts, creating marketing initiatives and networking with industry professionals. In truth, photography is rarely about creating images. Most photographers that are successful would agree that it’s all about marketing yourself and landing the right clients. You will spend 80% of your time engaging in marketing and business initiatives and 20% actually shooting projects. Your branding skills and knowledge is crucial in building your professional network and landing your ideal jobs.

Working with Clients

Finding and landing a photography job is less about your skill behind the lens and more about your ability to engage and effectively communicate with clients. This includes understanding how to craft a pitch, emailing in a manner that is professional and personable and putting the needs of the client above all else. Not every client you have will be a seamless professional exchange. You may have to negotiate tough topics such as your photography rate, the vision you have for the project as well as what the usage will be for your images. In the end, your client is looking for someone who understands their gap or problem and can fix it. When working with clients, you will need to understand the importance of open communication, application of your creativity and understanding how to deliver an impeccable final product.

Photo by Rob Woodcox

Managing all Aspects of a Business

Although branding and client relations are crucial aspects of being a successful artist, you cannot forget that you are essentially running a business. Dedication to your craft, art, and creativity may fuel your work, but balancing finances, paying taxes and maintaining your database keeps it alive. You learn quickly that organization is a necessary component of being a photographer. From cataloging your work to keeping track of expenses and planning for the unexpected can help you gauge and understand the successfulness of your business. In truth, you’re not just a photographer – you’re a marketing director, financial advisor, creative consultant, copywriter and the list goes on. Realizing from the start that you are the wearer of many hats, will allow your art to survive and thrive in the real world.

As you can see, attending art school allows you to develop the understanding and framework of your craft. From history to technique to application – you will without a doubt leave university feeling confident and knowledgeable. On the other end of the spectrum, bypassing education and jumping into the real world will require you to self-teach and develop your understanding through consistent and constant practice. You will not only learn how to create art, but how to brand yourself and successfully maintain your business. It’s safe to say that art school isn’t for everyone and the same can be said for real-world immersion. The best choice is to weigh your options and personal preferences when considering which path to choose. Either way, an artist dedicated to their work will undoubtedly find and create their own definition of success.

What are your opinions on art school versus starting off your career in the real world? Give us some feedback and experiences in the comments below.  

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