Is Art School Worth it?

Spider-Man: Senior year of high school   Spider-Man: Junior year of college
A little while ago I came across an article by Noah Bradley in which he says "Don't go to art school". I highly recommend reading his article because he really does have some very good points that are important to consider while trying to decide if you should attend art school. At the end of his article he also suggests a much cheaper ($10,000.00 instead of $245,000.00) alternative to a 4 year art school. An alternative that I think could actually really work for certain people. His article however, although it motivated me, is not the only reason I'm making this post. It's more that I've been seeing this topic crop up a lot lately and every time it shows its head I cringe a little and wonder if I made the right choice by going to art school. Yet at the same time I feel a need to defend art school. So here are my thoughts on the matter.

As someone who graduated just over a year ago I have to say that it's very easy to look at the amount of debt that I now have and let it sour my opinion of art school. We all know debt sucks. No one wants it and since you'll probably be getting a good amount of debt upon graduating it's easy to say "Art school (or any college really) equals debt so it's not worth it or necessary". I mean who wants to have upwards of $25,000 dollars of debt? I definitely didn't, I still don't, and I'm probably going to have a party when I finally pay it off. That being said I think art school was the right place for me to become the artist/illustrator/comic artist I wanted to be. This is obviously only coming from my experience and sure you can argue that I'm justifying my attendance because I have no way of going back on that decision but hear me out.

What I Got From Art School
(in addition to learning how to create a good illustration)
While at art school I made a LOT of valuable connections and made some great friends. Some of those valuable connections have become good friends as well. These are people that I wouldn't have met had I not gone to school. One could make the argument that I could just email and schmooze to get these connections but I don't know if it would be the same. I truly bonded with many of these people. We have a shared experience. My teachers/mentors are still available for me to email or call about potential jobs, critiques, uncertainties, or anything else that I may need in terms of professional advice. This is a relationship that although not impossible is not one that I feel would be easy to form without college. 

It broadened my horizons and shrank my ego
Along with getting connections I became a lot less close minded. Before college I really only liked comic book art and wanted to be a penciler. I never really cared about color or other types/styles of art and somehow I thought that I knew almost everything about it. Art school exposed me to a lot of styles, techniques, mediums, etc. that I never even knew existed. That coupled with daily critiques on my work both from my peers and my teachers shrank my ego and allowed me to see and appreciate art I never thought I would. It made me want to incorporate and try new things in my own work. Things that have helped me change, grow, and evolve as an artist.

Two pieces from senior year that I almost definitely would never have done without art school.
I learned to manage deadlines
Going to school taught me to handle and manage deadlines. Most of the time for not one but usually at least 3 projects at a time plus my other classwork. This is one of the most important skills you need as an illustrator and I know that when I get multiple projects I can handle it because I've already done it for 4 years. Sometimes without much sleep if any. 

I learned about the business side of art
This one is very important and often overlooked by a lot of schools so I'm glad that my teachers took some time to educate me and my classmates. They taught us about contracts, our rights as creators, the distinction between trademark and copyright, the difference between contract and work for hire projects, etc. This is information that is readily available online but if you don't know what you're looking for it it can be hard to find. It's also a topic that, if ignorant about, can really screw you. 

I could go on but you get the point. It worked for me and I learned more than how to create a good illustration. Are there successful artists that didn't go to school? Absolutely. Just as there are those that did who also have good careers. If you're seriously considering going to art school this is the question I'll ask you. Are you self motivated enough as a person to achieve all the skills and knowledge you need in order to have a successful career as an artist? Think about it. Think about it again and be honest with yourself. If the answer is yes then you can probably get by without going to school. Everything that you need to know is definitely somewhere on the internet or in a book and everything else comes down to practice since at the end of the day what matters most is your portfolio. I have friends that either dropped out or didn't attend school and are doing pretty well. But that's because they are very driven and if they want to learn something or do something they will not stop until they find the answer. Nothing gets in their way. They absorb all the information they can, don't make excuses, and they don't get chronically lazy. 

If the answer is no, then if you can afford it art school would probably help you. Keep in mind I'm not saying that art school is going to hold your hand (it isn't high school) you need to at least be driven enough to get your projects done, be creative, and try really hard to improve on your own. But it will provide you with life long teachers, friends, and resources that are there to guide you and lend a helping hand. Yes it's expensive but as long as you are careful to pick the right school for you it will be worth it and help you grow as an artist. I wouldn't trade my time in college for anything even if it meant that I would be debt free.

If you read this far here's the bottom line. Becoming a professional artist/illustrator takes a lot of hard work and dedication. There will be struggles regardless of if you have debt or not so, although it is an important one, don't allow money to be you're only deciding factor.

What's your opinion on this whole topic? Leave it in the comments.


  1. Wow! Great post! I'm actually a senior in high school and I'm going to art school next year for graphic design. :)

  2. Hey Elizabeth! Sorry for my incredibly late reply. Have you started art school yet and if so how do you like it so far? What have your experiences been? Thanks for commenting! :)

    1. Hi Jason! No worries- one year into it I actually changed my major to Industrial Design. I can honestly say it has been a year where I've been challenged beyond image. But I love it very much, and look forward to the next few years in my studies. :)

    2. Hey Elizabeth! Industrial design has always been interesting to me. All challenges make us grow as artists and as people. I'm glad you're enjoying it even through the ups and downs. Hope you stick with it! :)

  3. Great post. My daughter got into a great art school and I've been asking myself this question...

    1. Hey MJ, thanks! Hopefully it helped. What school is your daughter attending if you don't mind me asking?


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