In these times of economic uncertainly, the decision to go to study any subject at a higher education level is a big one, choosing to study Art, however, carries a much higher level of risk. In the past, Art was often perceived as a 'soft' subject; something to do if unsure of what to do with your life, but were very sure that you wanted to have a fun three years partying at university, balancing paintbrush in one hand and beer bottle in the other. Since the introduction of tuition fees this would now be a very expensive way to drink beer!
If you are thinking of studying art, take it from someone who has been and consider the following Art school advantages/ disadvantages:
* New friends, new start, beer and no parents
University is a rite of passage for many: the first time you will have been away from your family; a bridging gap between school and the demands of the 'real world'. Here, you can meet those who may become life-long friends. In a rare environment where everyone is up for socialising you will have three years to party, make mistakes, manage your own finances and household, all within the semi-cushioned environment of uni life. It's a valuable experience that is hard to duplicate elsewhere.
* Experimentation without pressure
Some Art courses boast an experimental year, where you get to try out a range of different media and techniques (for example, photography, etching, life drawing, painting) without the results of that year counting towards your overall degree. Even if not, Art courses generally encourage experimentation, which is great as it's all too easy to get stuck in a rut of what you are 'good at' - a period of carefree trial and error is an excellent way to sample new methods in an unpressurised environment.
* Support and encouragement
Creative ideas need to be nurtured, not suppressed, and an art course is a wonderful environment to feel free to go off on artistic tangents and have someone with knowledge and oversight gently guide along the most appropriate path. It can be hard as a practising artist to find good, unbiased advice on your work. Being amongst other budding artists encourages a healthy atmosphere of competition that is difficult to replicate outside of the classroom.
* Quality teaching and an introduction to the Art world
This heading could easily belong in either category as it is very much depends on your choice of Art School. Some have an excellent roll call of practising artists who regularly host exhibitions and are very active within the Art world. Others are full of once-upon-a-time artists who stopped working when they started teaching, and are out of touch with the contemporary scene. How much effort is made to introduce the students to the Art world? What percentage go on to become full time artists? How is publicity for the vital degree show handled - as this could be the springboard for future careers. This should weigh heavily while appraising Art school advantages/ disadvantages.
What are the advantages/ disadvantages of an Art School education?
With most universities charging the maximum amount for tuition (£9000 a year) an Art course is now a very expensive way to begin a career. Factor on top of this the living expenses and rent and you will unsurprised to know that the average student loan is now a staggering £53,400. With these sums at stake it is important to evaluate what you are getting for your money. Ask lots of questions. You are paying for a service, and not a cheap one, and are therefore entitled to know if you are getting good value for money. If you want to learn how to become a portrait painter, you might consider an apprenticeship with an established artist instead. It will almost certainly cost less, be more useful and trailered to your needs. You will feel less like a cog in a wheel where financial greed is the main motivation behind student intake, rather than a quest for talent or quality.
* Lack of teaching the business side of the art world.
Art students need to be taught the value of websites, portfolios and marketing, how to approach galleries, manage finances and write business plans - these are just the start. Being an artist post university is 50% creating work, 50% business. Make sure your course has got the balance right or else you would be better off buying some books on Art business from Amazon and staying at home.
Remember: think hard, consider what you want out of the Art school experience and don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. Good luck!