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Art School Lied to Me

Apr. 2019
By Drew Beamer


(Reading time - 4:00)


As a senior in high school, circa 2004, I needed to decide what to do with my life (which is scary as shit when you’re seventeen years old btw). So, after all of a half hour of thought, I decided art school would be my route. It just felt right. Below are a few reasons that were floating around my brain in those days (ranked in order):


  1. I like to draw
  2. No math
  3. Cool people
  4. New experiences
  5. No dress code


For me though, there is one benefit in particular that I didn’t realize until I began working. Today, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s one that no one really talks about either. It’s never mentioned in classes and it’s never talked about with your advisor. Perhaps it’s so baked-in to the programs that it gets overlooked. In any case, it’s important and no one talks about it. Simply stated, it’s the ability to talk through an idea.


Being able to talk about an idea with another person or in a small group is the single most important thing that art school taught me. It’s crazy to think that that took 4 years, but it’s true.


You see, in most education paths, students show up, learn the material, and then prove their understanding of the material through a test. There are right and wrong answers and they get a score at the end. Blah blah blah. But the best part about art school is that the “test” often occurs in the form of a live critique. If you’re not familiar with the concept of critiques, they’re basically a show and tell of your work. In front of the professor and your peers, the ability to explain and often defend the work is the test. Yes, there are general principles of design and art that are considered right and wrong (balance, proportion, contrast, harmony, etc.) but, even if the execution upon first glance is “wrong”, the ability to defend decisions that were made can often turn the tables on the conversation and, therefore, the final grade. If the wrong thing was done intentionally for the right reason, it can be considered a good move. Tricky huh?


Prime example: Cubism. Even though Picasso began painting with less and less classically representative forms around 1907, out of fear of its rejection, he waited almost a decade before showing the work. But as more artists like Braque, Duchamp, and Gris joined the cubist movement, it was clear that the “wrong” things done for the right idea resulted in a revolutionary new movement in art.


In the right schools with the right professors, the concept and intentionality become the most important part of the answer. So what was the idea here? Does the execution truly serve that idea? Does that idea have a message? Does it offer value to its viewer? These are all questions that art students have to answer in their own heads before they present the work in a critique. Otherwise, they’re toast.


Presenting work to critics builds the ability to articulate and persuade.


Contrary to wide perceptions, art education isn’t always free expression and beautiful ideas. It’s long nights, expensive materials, starting over, missing the mark, producing terrible work, bombing a critique, and wrestling with self-doubt. To be frank, it’s a metric shit-ton of work just to get one good piece out into the world. This is why a good number of art school students don’t find themselves in a career directly related to their education. It’s tough and it takes a Goldilocks mix of traits and skills to make it work. But, if by some miracle you’re fortunate enough to work in an industry that supports and champions art, communication, and tactfulness, you’ll find a use for those learned skills every day. True success will come to those who can explain ideas, support them with the communication goals, and then execute the ideas at a high level.


So why the hell would you want to go to art school?

Because it teaches you how to be a better communicator. It teaches you to check your ego at the door; that intellectual work is often just as exhausting as physical work; that those who seem like your worst critics today will benefit your work the most tomorrow; that nothing is precious, and that no matter how good the work is, it can’t live in the wild unless it’s sold in the conference room.


Drew is a Senior Art Director at FoxFuel Creative. He loves movie quotes, jellybeans, and the fact that most very funny people are also very smart people.

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