7 things I learned in art-school that I wish I knew going in.
Today I graduated from Pratt Institute with my BFA in Digital Arts. Over the past few days I’ve collected my thoughts one the most helpful tips I’ve learned for other incoming art students and others dipping their toe into the art world before they take the plunge. These are them.
1. Don’t waste your time and money
No wait wait wait don’t drop out! What I mean is- either you, or someone who cares about you is paying for you to go to an expensive art school because they believe you have what it takes. Don’t do them (and yourself!) a disservice by wasting the best time you’ll have in life to work hard and improve. Believe it or not art-school is a safety net, it gives you the chance to try new things, push yourself further, and become better all without the peril of losing your job if you try something new that doesn’t work. When others are hitting the clubs, you’ll need to be hitting the grindstone and honing your art skills if you really want to come out ahead at the end of college. You’re developing a skill that you’ll continue developing throughout your life, it’s not always going to be fun, but if you work hard then it will become its own reward.
2. Being self-critical is your biggest strength AND your biggest weakness
One of the biggest mistakes an early
art-student can make, or ANY artist for that matter- is not see the flaws in
their own work. If you don’t see your own mistakes, it’s impossible to fix them
and learn from them. It’s easy to become so attached and protective of your
work. If you work hard on something you want it to be as good as you pictured
in your head; but if you’re anything like me when I began it would look like
muddy garbage, and you’ll feel frustrated. As long as you can recognize the
flaws in your own work you know you can improve, you can look and study other
artists (Tumblr is great for this!) and see what their doing, their
compositions, line weights, color, lighting, animation, and see what’s working,
and then look back at your own work and see what’s not.
The first step to becoming a great artist? Realize you’re most likely a terrible artist and work up from there. Don’t let your own suck dissuade you, if you let it self-criticism will scare you and stifle you into thinking you’ll never making anything worth-while, but that’s not true! Statistically if you keep making work, recognize your own flaws and keep improving you’re inevitably going to make something good! Don’t let yourself be defined by the projects you’ve made in the past, but by your tenacity and work ethic to keep making work in the future.
3. Consistency and hard-work beat waiting for inspiration every time
When I first got into art-school I was not “Talented”, my portfolio was terrible, and my drawing/painting skills were virtually non-existent. Go back and check through my old tumblr posts, really, look at them, they’re awful, but I didn’t delete them because I wanted to remind myself what hard-work could accomplish. If there’s one thing that helped me in art-school above all else it’s work ethic. I’ve seen incredibly talented artists go nowhere and burnout on art because they were always waiting around for inspiration to strike, and I’ve seen students with no natural ability train themselves from the ground up and produce amazing work. Inspiration is fleeting, but if you can train yourself to work every day you’ll improve immensely over your four years of art-school, and will carry that forward into the work force and continue to improve until the end. At the end of the day remember you’re making artWORK, it’s not always fun, if it was then everyone would do it!
4. If you’re going to give one project 120% you have to give 80% somewhere else (A.K.A it’s not about the grades)
There was a semester when I was taking 18 credits, was an RA, developing my thesis, and producing two other animated shorts at the same time, it was that semester when I really learned what my priorities are. Similarly, understanding your own priorities and why you’re at art-school is paramount to your own education. Set up long-term goals and dreams for yourself, where do you see yourself in five years? Do you want to be working in a studio? Have your own gallery showing? Riding the rails from town to town never staying too long for anyone to learn your name? Your long term goals are going to help you put your short term goals in perspective, if you realize that what you want most out of life is working at an animation studio in LA as an animation director, then you’ll realize you don’t NEED to get an A in your Chemistry of Ancient Egypt class, and that you can focus that time and energy into work that will be more productive for your long term goals.
5. Surround yourself with people who inspire you to keep working and do better
It’s difficult to keep up morale by yourself, and college isn’t meant to be a solitary experience, that’s why you’re in classes with other people who want to do the things you do! Your classmates aren’t competition, they’re your best sources of connections, inspiration, and valuable lessons that may have taken you years to have figured out on your own. I’ve learned as much from my friends and classmates at art-schools as I have from any of the professionally paid teachers. You’ll meet people who have similar passions, inspirations and aspirations as yourself, and make friends for life. Of course not all friends have to be artistic inspiration, some people are just amazing to be around.
6. Monster and other energy drinks will give you a worse hang over than any reasonable amount of alcohol.
Sure you should be working hard, but coffee and water will treat you better than any energy drink you may consume. Energy drinks leave you feeling like death the next day. My suggestion? Three cups of water and a couple of chocolate covered espresso beans will get you where you need to go!
7. You do you
Be open, honest, and understanding with yourself and others. Know you’re working, growing, and improving, and if you keep going, nothing is out of reach.