How to survive art school

All stereotypes of pretentious, misunderstood artsy-types aside, art students have a considerably different college experience than the average student.  Instead of textbooks, you spend all of your money on shiny new art supplies that you might never even use. Instead of essays and labs, you spend hours stressing over artist statements and that three hour critique coming up next week. Instead of spending agonizing hours studying, you pull all-nighters to finish that enormous painting of a vase of fake flowers. In a nutshell, art school is a very different experience than a liberal arts college or university, and thus surviving requires a very different set of skills. Here are 4 tips to help you survive art school, with paint-stained fingers but an amazing array of work that you can truly be proud of:

1. Befriend people outside of your major.

You’ll be naturally inclined to hang out with others who share your concentration or major, and that’s totally fine – you have something really big in common! However, it pays off to have friends in other majors, because they’ll often become useful contacts after you graduate. They’re also great for critiquing your work, because they will most likely have a very different perspective than you. Which brings me to…

2. Have your friends critique your homework.

After staring at an illustration for hours, it can be hard to mentally step back and evaluate your work as a whole. Asking your friends’ opinions can be very useful for getting your work to be the best it can be before you bring it in to be reviewed by your professor and your entire class. Similarly…

3. Always participate in critiques.

Make it a point to comment on at least a few pieces during a critique. Learning how to talk about art is one of the most important skills you learn in college, and feedback is extremely important no matter what your major. However, be careful to always provide constructive criticism. Whether you’re complimenting or criticizing a work, always provide a reason. Don’t simply say, “I really like it.” Instead, say that you like the composition, or you think that it could benefit from stronger contrast. There’s nothing worse than that person who only says, “I think it needs some work.” What needs work? And why?

4. Go outside.

Step away from the homework, and go for a walk. Get some coffee with a friend. Getting a breath of fresh air is very important, especially after spending hours in a darkroom developing photos, or staring at a still life or computer screen working hard. Not only is it healthy, but it can give you a much needed boost of inspiration.

You understand nothing about my art

There’s an often repeated phrase among art students: anyone who says art school is easy didn’t go to art school. The key to success, just like in any other major, is balance. Try new things – you may discover that you have a talent for sculpture that you never would have known about. Don’t buy more supplies than you need; as much as you want that set of 50 paints, if you know you’ll probably only need ten of them, then save your money. Similarly, don’t be afraid to splurge on something expensive, especially if it’s going to last a long time. And just like any other school, don’t leave your homework to the night before – no matter how good you are at drawing, it’s always obvious who rushed to finish right before class!

About the author:  Kayla Whelan is an undergrad studying graphic design and creative writing at Montserrat College of Art. She hopes to someday acquire a profitable career photoshopping pictures of cats. Check out her portfolio here.


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