Art School Confidential: Tips for your first year of art school.

Youth often come to me for advice when they are trying to make a decision about their future and secondary school programs available. A lot of those youth are trying to decide if they should go to Art University. In my book, Dear Cole, Never Say Never, I tell my readers about the moment when I knew I would do anything in my power to attend art school. As a student who suffered from learning disabilities and health issues, art was the one thing that always made me feel smart next to my friends who were making straight A’s.

I’ll Do What I Feel, Cara Jones 1998

Growing up in a small town of 4000 people there were not a lot of options for youth when it came to developing my skills. I signed up for every art class I could attend and took advantage of the knowledge the older artists were willing to share. It was a lot of hard work that paid off in the end.

The thing is, Art University is not for everyone. You really need to sit down and think about why you want a Bachelor of Fine Arts over a College Diploma.

For example, I had a friend who decided he’s dream was to attend art school after many years working in the sciences. He was a mature student who had just spent quite a few years working on the Mars project with NASA, so art school was a huge change for him.

He wanted to study film and work in the movie industry. Having spent some time with local film makers in his city and taking part in competitions as part of a film crew, he fell in love with the art form. When he told me about his desire to go to art school I questioned him, “But why University? Why not go to technical school where they focus entirely on the industry?”

This is a question you should ask yourself depending on the area you want to focus your talents. His response was simple, “I want the theory as well as the technical skills.” Perfect answer.

Art School is a place where you gain critical thinking, language, theory and history all tied to the practice of art. It helps build a foundation of conceptual thinking that grows your professional outlook and development.

When you decided that this is the right option for you and you are accepted into the program of your choice there are a few pieces of advice I have to help you manage your freshman year.

Let Me Out, Cara Jones, 1998
  • Watch the 2006 movie Art School Confidential. This movie will give you a glimpse into the foolishness that is soon to be your life. This is important because many people don’t realize how much pressure and competitiveness you might experience when pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts. It is important to have a sense of humour and to not take yourself or your environment to seriously.
  • Remember that you were accepted for a reason. The judging panel saw something great in your work and potential over other artists that were denied admission into the program. So when you are sitting in drawing class and you are comparing your work to others and feeling totally inadequate, let it go! Sometimes the classes can be like going to yoga for the first where people around you are bending in almost unhuman ways and you can barely touch your toes. Not to worry, over time you will be rocking those poses as well.
  • Learn to have thick skin. I often joke that I have a $70, 000 degree in taking constructive criticism. Your soul is literally on a platter 90% of the time as you put your creations up on the walls for everyone to analyse. When you are not used to this it can be absolutely brutal, but over time you start to decipher the relevant and constructive comments that actually help your work, over the pretentious nay-sayers that are just trying to sound smart.
  • a day in the life of my two breast
    A Day In The LIfe Of My Two Breasts, Cara Jones 2001
  • The worst critique is no critique. You may think that having people get angry or emotional over your work is tough, but the truth is if you get an emotional response you have done a good job. The absolute worst critique is when you reveal your work and there is silence. In any other setting this is good, but in art school you want a response. You will begin to find the balance with experience.
  • Make a decision that you will succeed. I know this sounds obvious but you wouldn’t believe the amount of people who gave into the notion that they weren’t going to make it in the industry by their second year. This tactic of telling students that they probably won’t make it is to prepare your mind for the unforgiving nature of the art world. I could point out the ones who were going to make it over the ones that would not, purely on their mentality, and I was right about every one of them. To this day they are still succeeding as professional artists.
automatic mark
Automatic People Paper, Cara Jones 2001
  • Think about gaining entrepreneurial experience. Art education often does not promote business skills and often you can hear people using the term, “sell out.” Taking a course or being a part of your local chamber of commerce can be one of the best decisions you ever make. If you are going to excel in the arts you need to know how to price yourself and your work. This does not make you a “sell out” it actually gives you an edge of those who did not learn these skills.
  • Try to find a mentor. Having a mentor is great for many reasons including having someone to bounce ideas off of as well as for having support during those final projects that can stress you out. We artists are our own worst critics and when crunch time comes the stress can become overwhelming. Your mentor has been through this and might have some ways to help you even mentally get through the creative process with ease.
cara in head
Illusions, Cara Jones 1999
  • Learn to collaborate. If you take different classes that are out of your comfort zone you might find new skills that you didn’t know you had. Art school is a palette of different mediums and creative minds and great things can happened when you extend to other departments and collaborate with artists who have different skills.
  • Keep costs low. University is expensive but Art University has the extra cost of supplies. When you are feeling super creative and have a great idea for a project that is going to cost a lot of money really sit down and think about if this is the right time or can it be put off till second semester? How can you create with low cost materials? It is challenge that can actually be more fun that sticking to traditional materials like paints and canvases. Of course, it all depends on the class you are taking but learn to think outside the box when it comes to materials. You are in art school so this should not be difficult.
  • Time flies. Remember that four years goes by really fast so enjoy every moment of your journey and don’t be too hard on yourself. There is often an underlying pressure that you need to have your whole life figured out by the time you leave school like how are you going to pay off all those student loans? The truth is, nobody really has it all figured out. This degree could lead you in directions you never thought possible so have an open mind and accept change. If you can learn to accept change you are already ahead of the game.


2 thoughts on “Art School Confidential: Tips for your first year of art school.

  1. I did art for my associates, not fine arts but liberal arts. I later went on to do business at the bachelor’s level. I didn’t learn half as much as about life in those 4 years as I did in those 2 years of the arts.

  2. A few years ago I was the Keynote presenter for the first year students at the Art University I attended. The next day I was starting my first day in my MBA and I told the students that if you had of told me, during my freshman year of my BFA, that I would ever get into business I would have probably laughed in your face..haha. Life sure has a way of surprising you:) I love it!

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