To Art School or Not to Art School

I recently ran across an article by Noah Bradley, which makes the bold statement, “Don’t go to Art School!”  This seems to be a constant argument among young up and coming and established artists.  Citing issues like art school being more expensive than an Ivy league education and the lack of jobs available period after college. Let alone ones that could possibly pay back in a way that is worth that kind of financial investment. You aren’t getting a law degree or becoming a Doctor.


So what do you folks think? Is Art School worth it for those who did attend?  For those who didn’t, are you glad of that? If you had to do it over what would you choose today?

Below is an excerpt from the article and a link to the original post.

Let us know your thoughts.


Don’t go to art school

The traditional approach is failing us. It’s time for a change.

I’ve had it.

I will no longer encourage aspiring artists to attend art school. I just won’t do it. Unless you’re given a full ride scholarship (or have parents with money to burn), attending art school is a waste of your money.

I have a diploma from the best public art school in the nation. Prior to that I attended the best private art school in the nation. I’m not some flaky, disgruntled art graduate, either. I have a quite successful career, thankyouverymuch.

But I am saddened and ashamed at art schools and their blatant exploitation of students. Graduates are woefully ill-prepared for the realities of being professional artists and racked with obscene amounts of debt. By their own estimation, the cost of a four year education at RISD is $245,816. As way of comparison, the cost of a diploma from Harvard Law School is a mere $236,100.

This is embarrassing. It’s downright shameful. That any art school should deceive its students into believing that this is a smart decision is cruel and unusual.

Artists are neither doctors nor lawyers. We do not, on average, make huge six-figure salaries. We can make livable salaries, certainly. Even comfortable salaries. But we ain’t usually making a quarter mil a year. Hate to break it to you. An online debt repayment calculator recommended a salary exceeding $400,000 in order to pay off a RISD education within 10 years.

Don’t do it.

Don’t start your career with debilitating debt.

Please. I beg you. Think long and hard whether you’re willing to pay student loan companies $3000 every single month for the next 10 years.

noah bradley image 2

You’ve got other options.

You don’t have to go to college to be an artist. Not once have I needed my diploma to get a job. Nobody cares. The education is all that matters. The work that you produce should be your sole concern.

There are excellent atelier schools all over the world that offer superior education for a mere fraction of the price. Here are a few:

Click here for the remainder of the article.



  1. Liz

    Ever since reading the article I’ve been basically searching all over the web looking to see where people are talking about it. :) There’s been some great conversation!

    I really don’t agree with Noah Bradley re: the value of art school overall, although I definitely do agree that $200,000 is far too high a price to pay. I myself have about $30,000 in debt, which is a lot, but for a number of reasons I really think it was worth it.. Art school provides a lot more than he discusses in his list of resources.

    Anyway, I wrote a long post about it on my blog:

    And I saw this post by Noelle Stevenson:

    I really want to see this conversation continue, I think prospective students would benefit from a wealth of opinions, rather than just one view. Everyone is different.

  2. mahendra singh

    Paying so much for an art degree is a rip off and RISD knows it.

    There are many cheaper schools who offer excellent curricula … may I suggest looking into community colleges? They tend to be more practically oriented and more job focussed anyway. And cheaper!

    The days when a good portfolio got you a good studio job are long gone. I started in the business w/o a degree and did fine. But the growing power of HR types and editorial interference have done away with all that.

    Get a degree and above all, go to a school that teaches you how to:
    1. set type
    2. design in a practical sense
    3. teaches genuine draftsmanship

  3. Kelley

    I am just about to graduate from art school. I’ve loved every minute of it, and my work has improved tremendously since I first started. I really feel that it has prepared me well for a career in art.

    HOWEVER, I have been blessed enough to not have any debt. As great as my art school has been, I would not advise anyone to go into a lot of debt for it. The art market is just too competitive and too low paying. I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to try and get your art career started while also paying off $100k in loans.

  4. Roberto Blake

    My recommendation is that you go to atleast a community college, whether you plan to get the associates degree is up to you.

    There are several reasons for this, its a great way to network with other creative people and can lead to exposure. If nothing else as an artist you will gain new experiences and insights you wouldn’t have otherwise.

    It’s considerably cheaper and you can even get some tax deductions from it, and there are ways to make it affordable.

    You will be able to say in a conversation or interview that you at least went to college. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes to say you went, but kept changing majors and didn’t get a degree, or that you went and after a few months found it didn’t fit the way you learned… etc….

    It changes the entire tone of a conversation. I went to college full and part time for about 5 years. I racked up enough credits to get 2 degrees, but I never bothered to take this class or that one.

    In the field of graphic design though it doesn’t really matter (much) but only because I have experience, references and real work, a lot of which I gained through contacts I made in college.

  5. Mark Braun

    Weeeelllll, a slippery slope here, bud. I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and learned a lot more than one would learn on the street or in a hack-out-art-for-gaming life. Schooling is essential in SOMEthing; talent without discipline is just ego. There is nothing more maddening than a young artist full of self-inflated talent but without the maturity to handle it.

    I believe that artistic talent must be tested with technical knowledge and proven ability. No house stands without a strong foundation; man up and find a cheaper school with a better faculty. Someone here said community college, and I agree: I’ve met professionals making a stipend teaching at Triton College among others who are savvy, top working pros. From there, go forward and cherry-pick what you NEED. The degree can follow. Reach beyond your comfort level a bit and try something unknown, but first, learn how to make your vision happen. Then, expand it.

    I’m pushin’ 60, and recently, finally, finished my BA with Eastern Illinois University with a 4.0. A far cry from SAIC’s laid-back environment of circa 1973, but without that introduction and the guidance from instructors and top talent (Gahan Wilson, Russ Heath and more) who helped out students, , hell, you ain’t nothin’.

    As a graphic designer, as someone else here said, experience walks. I may not have been top shelf for one thing or another in life, but I racked up awards as an A.D. and did enough bad comic pages to pay for a house, a few cars and money in the bank.

    Look for that mentor who can help point the way, but for your own sake, don’t slack off of worse, stand in front of anyone (like me) whose academic journey has been tough.

  6. Barbara Johansen Newman

    Granted, I graduated from art school when it was a heck of a lot cheaper to do so, but there is one thing I learned: becoming an artist is not something one learns. Either you have the drive in your soul, or your don’t. And either you can figure out how to “see” your own work to make it better–and marketable–or you can’t. Art school might teach you to use the materials and practice the methods, but the inner resolve is something you have to get on your own.

    I spent one wasted year in an art program at an expensive private college, and ended up graduating from SUNY Buffalo. Except for one great transitional year at a NY community college filled with working artists driving up from NYC who gave me total freedom to just create, nothing I learned in college prepared me for what I am doing now: working full time as an author/illustrator of children’s books. In fact, it took me several years to unlearn the insecurity that art school often beat into you, and regain my confidence. Every single thing I have accomplished as an artist since being given a BFA has been in spite of my school experience, not because of it.

    In the end, putting yourself in more than a quarter of a million bucks debt for an art degree is utter madness–no matter which school it is. If you really need some guidance take an extension course here and there, where the teachers are real working artists, then apply it to your own career. And make no mistake, you will or won’t make it as an artist because of what YOU do from within yourself, not where you went to school.

  7. Josh Mills

    I recently finished a BA in Visual Art. I did so at 36 years old, with four daughters, full time job, etc. I am a big proponent of education, whether from the library, school or self-taught, but college is necessary today more than ever. It really is. You have so much to learn and you can learn it from instructors that care about their job. In the work force people are not trying to help you, most of the time, but rather helping themselves or just getting by. In school you’ll learn about the importance of communication, whether it is just learning to deal with a poor teacher or a good one.
    I am not condoning a degree that costs 200k, though. I went back to school and made sure to pay as much as I could out of pocket, leaving 15k in loans. I’m talking from experience of both being a professional artist without a degree and an artist with a degree. Granted I just graduated, but already the work is piling up. People are calling me from all over the place to do work. I don’t know if it is just good timing or if it is the respect that comes with having a degree, but I am doing better than I was before.
    I have always maintained two jobs, one in IT and the other as a freelance artist. I did the full time art job and it wasn’t for me. I do know that if I did decide to get back into this full time I would do a lot better with what I’ve learned in school. Plus there is the added benefit of knowing if I so choose I can go back for an MFA and teach. You will always have more options with a degree than not having one, so why not do it. Just make sure you work hard and keep the loans under 30k.

    Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about college. allanjoshmills at gmail dot com.


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