Do I Need to Go to Art University?

Hey everyone! This post is about my personal opinions on art universities and whether or not it is worth pursuing a degree. Please do remember that this is my opinion, and you may have a completely opposite view! If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Does an Art Degree have any value?

Many people will tell you how they attended CalArts, aced their class, or have a Bachelors degree in this that and everything. An art degree can be pretty impressive!

However, in my opinion, a degree in art is not needed at all to become a professional artist. If you specifically want to work with a company that demands you to have particular qualifications then yes, it would make sense to get those qualifications – otherwise being self-taught can be a much more rewarding (and much MUCH cheaper) alternative.

Going to University for art will not automatically mean you will magically gain all the art skills you could ever dream of. Nor will it ensure you a market to sell your art to. You may be taught the fundamentals of art, you might attend some events and gain some great contacts, but it is up to you to create those relationships. Art is a craft, it cannot be memorized on flash cards, it’s something that takes long hours and years of steady practice. In the end, university does not hold your hand through the whole course, it will dump you in the deep end and expect you to surface and keep yourself afloat for those three to five years.

When thinking of applying to university, think about what kind of art you want to sell. Since you’re here on my blog, I’m assuming you’d like to sell furry or fantasy artwork, maybe anime style and comics. Do you think a potential client will care if you have a BA (Hons) in whatever subject? Not really. They want to see that you can draw (and that you have previous examples and a strong portfolio), that you have a good turnaround time and that you are professional to work with.

“Why are you so bitter towards univerities, Neon? :(“

Look at me. I’m so proud.

Okay, let me tell you a little story. I attended university from 2004-2007 in North Wales, studying Animation. It was a three year course and I was thrown in the deep end. For those years, I learned barely a single thing and struggled with many illnesses. Of course, the latter was not the university’s fault, but I digress.

Yes, I know the basics of animation. Yes, I can animate something. Do I like animation? Not anymore, well at least not doing it myself. Pursuing my passion through such a black and white way such as university really stubbed out my passion for animating. I faced the reality of keyframes, inbetweens and carpal tunnel. I went to many animation studios including talking to Dreamworks and Pixar at Bradford and Annecy Animation festivals. Surely they had some amazing information for a young 19-year-old animation student? Nah, they advised against going into animation altogether. They said the industry was tiny, concentrated to mainly accomodate CalArts students (or at least that was the case in 2005) and that most animation these days was being outsourced to Korea. And they’re not wrong.

Another problem I had was supporting myself through University. I started to take commissions through DeviantArt and FurAffinity, gaining a client list of around 100 individuals. In whatever time I wasn’t doing University work or working my part-time job, I was doing commission work. My tutors disapproved of me making money off of my art, even though that was my end goal.

Through my experience, and that of others I have spoken to, I strongly believe that going to an art university can be dangerous to an artist’s creativity and passion for art. Not to mention the colossal fees associated with it. In the UK, we have a loan which we then spend the rest of our lives paying off (though we only have to if we earn over £17,775 a year). In the USA, the loan must be paid back immediately – as far as I understand, correct me if I am wrong. Therefore we have a bunch of people in their early twenties unable to follow their passion and instead finding whatever means necessary to get out of crippling debt.

Some Cheaper Alternatives to University

Although I personally advise against going to university, there are other methods of art education available. For instance community colleges offer specialized courses on many aspects of art from life drawing to watercolours. These courses are often up to 10 times cheaper than university courses and will give you the practical experience needed to improve your skills.

There are also numerous online art colleges covering a variety of subjects, again much, much cheaper than going to University, and these are often distance-learning courses you can fit around your day job or even commission work.

So in my opinion (and only my opinion, if you disagree that is fine!): You don’t need to go to art university to become a professional artist. Though this may largely depend on your chosen career. It’s up to you to research what kind of qualifications your sector requires and to pursue them. To become a general fandom artist, furry artist, make comics or whatever, you do not need university. It will be a much more valuable use of your time to teach yourself everything you need to know.

Of course, how you educate yourself on art is completely up to you and don’t take what I say as fact. Some people have amazing experiences at university and through their course end up being employed in high end jobs. I’d estimate that’s most likely the 1% of the course though. Others made their way through university, only to find that companies wanted more from them than a simple certificate.

Do you agree with this post? Maybe you disagree? Perhaps you had an entirely different experience from me and would like to share?

Please comment below or email me to discuss this post or share your story if you would like!

Thanks so much for reading!