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Submitted on
April 17, 2011


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If you are a current or aspiring art student, this article may save your life.  Or...your last tuition payment.  Please :heart: this news article so the word gets out, and more art students can get their ass in gear.


The Difficulty

Of Getting An Art Major


A heated argument broke out in my house this afternoon.

I live in a rental situation, renting a large room (with my own bathroom and workspace, real nice setup) in a Filipino household.  Love my landlord, get along great with the other housemates, but to emphasize the 'Filipino' aspect of the living situation, there's a lot of family taking residence here.  And with family, with teenage offspring, with high standards and expectations from the older immigrant generation speaking upon the younger American-born kin, tension is inevitable.

The daughter of one of the housemates is looking for colleges to apply to, and is hellbent on going to an art school.  However, when her grades dropped, her SAT scores came back unsatisfactory, and she showed symptoms of not taking her education seriously, she pulled the relevancy card.  These stupid classes aren't relevant to me, because I am going to art school and that's that.

As the argument churned onward, my landlord (this girl's aunt, again, Filipino family and me in this house) stated very bluntly 'I don't want you going to art school, I want you going to a REAL school, with REAL classes, that get you a REAL job.'

As an art major, I could feel my heart sobbing in inky blackness to hear those words.  Art school isn't a real education.  Art school doesn't get you a real job.  The whole argument, I just felt this sensation of wanting to jump in and assure each of them they were wrong.  But it's a family argument.  I'm merely a tenant.  I have no jurisdiction getting involved in telling this family how to raise their daughter.  I just took my laptop and Slurpee into my bedroom, and let the shouting diminish before hearing the telltale door slam to queue the all clear.

I'm certain my landlord didn't intend to strike a chord with me, but she did.  It's a very harsh reality and crippling epiphany that's been plaguing me for the last eight years.  It's the abundance of misconceptions around the value of the Art Major, and the sincere difficulty in getting one.

Do not shirk your High School education.

The relevancy card.

A ploy by young students, thinking they understand how the world works, that any education beyond that which they already know will not be relevant to their field, and therefore, does not need to be taken 'seriously.'  Who needs to know history when we can call up any event at our fingertips, when Wikipedia is just a flash of the iPhone away?  Who needs calculus when computers are doing all these calculations for us?  What's the point in taking chemistry when a specific field has no correlation to it?

Throughout high school, we believe the stuff we're learning will not come into play later.  While that's a true fact, the training we're intended to pick up has nothing to do with the content of the course work, but our ability to absorb information.  We are training our minds (which like every muscle needs fitness to be healthy and strong) to pick up these lessons and more effectively commit them into practice.  It's what we do with all our muscles.  Why do football players run through tires, when tires don't even appear on the field during a game?  Why do swimmers lift weights when there isn't an ounce of iron in a pool, or army recruits do squats when we're yet to have weaponry controlled by our buttcheeks?

They're training their muscles to keep them fit.

When you go into art school, your brain needs to be fit as a ground infantry's ass is toned.  You have to keep your mind fully in the game, because unlike high school, art school requires you to pick up on tenets you have probably never practiced before.  In high school, ever taken a class in cinematography?  Photomanipulation?  How about simple design and composition?  Animation?  Unlike other universities, art schools are giving you information that has never echoed off the walls of a high school classroom.  And thanks to continuing cuts to the arts in the United States, that ain't gonna change.

Shirk your high school education, go into art with a dull brain unreceptive to learning new techniques and principles, and you are dead in the water.  I learned this far too late in life, and struggled tremendously in art school from it.  I had a hell of a tough time starting out, which only become an ongoing nightmare when the beginner classes ascended to intermediate level.  I didn't take my high school education seriously, and ended up undergoing a tremendous psychological shift in 2004 where I got serious with my work and started adopting some sort of a work ethic.

Many others did not.  They survived by pulling the relevancy card over and over again in high school, thinking they finally hit their true calling at an art school, and then terrible terrible reality crashed down upon them with supernova force.  Maybe the information itself was irrelevant, granted, but their untrained minds, just flabby unstimulated mush, hadn't learn.

The Drop-Out Rate in Art School is Monstrous.

Being unable to learn, these people are always the first to go.  If they couldn't grasp geometry, no way in hell will they get texturing.  Can't understand trigonometry, then you're screwed to be forever incapable of 3d modeling.  They went into Art School assuming art would be that forever escape away from math.

But it doesn't end there.  While half of applicants eventually drop out within the first year, it's one of those experiences where there is no home stretch.  There is no downhill run at the end, no assumption of 'if I can survive this class, everything from here on out will be a breeze.'  There is no such thing.  It only gets harder as it goes along.

I had to adopt a work schedule of 60 hours a week just to stay afloat at art school in my second year.  My dad would tell you of the dozens of late nights and sleepless weekends I spent, because the loud cantankerous family printer was next to his bedroom.  Oh, the late nights we would spend as I print off a concept design book for a class at 4 in the morning, each of us a coffee in hand, he's getting up for an early start to the day, I'm simply re-energizing to push Wednesday evening's project through to 1pm Thursday.  And that was just the second year.

Year 3, I simply did not exist.  I hardly remember anything from 2006.

By the time it was all said and done, and I finally drove home from my very last class on Friday afternoon, fueled only by a 6 hour binge nap I took on Wednesday, I collapsed onto my bed, my last conscious thought being 'I started art school in a class of 130.  I'm one of 3 who made it.'  I could only muster a couple euphoric chuckles before clicking off into a dreamless blink of unconsciousness, awaking seemingly in an instant on Sunday evening with a note taped to my bedroom door from my parents offering me congratulations.

It takes a lot out of you.  In my class, the drop out rate was 98%.  You have greater chances going to medical school or law school than you do getting that diploma.

The job market is there, but highly competitive.

Even then, the odds are still against you.  Finding a professional art-related job is extremely difficult.  However, I have to correct my landlord in saying that you can get a job in the field, and with art under your belt, it is pretty versatile.  Chemistry majors usually have to work chemistry.  Physics majors have to do aeronautics or engineering.  Art majors can find a spot in just about every company imaginable, whether it's visual effects for the next Avatar, or designing an online menu for a mom and pop Chinese restaurant.

But artists are in constant competition with one another.

Here on deviantArt, I'm very open and encouraging of other artists.  Especially my fellow color artists; I want to help them out as best I can, and give them their due praises and encouragement.  Outside of deviantArt, though, until we are actually hired on a team together, you are my enemy.  You are trying to keep me from making my living, and I am keeping you from your's.  Survival of the fittest, baby.  When you bring your A game, I too will bring mine, and we will duke it out with every neuron in our mind, every fiber in our fingertips.  With a dignified silence, without words or blows exchanged, we will fight.  Fight dirty.  Fight unfair.  Fight ferociously.  Because if we don't battle to stay on top every day, we will be surpassed by the others.

So it's important to keep your options open, and pursue an art major that opens up a lot of doors to improve your demand.  Graphic design is the obvious choice for best pick, because every publication and piece of media requires it.  It is the foundation of all things art, all things visual, and until humanity evolves beyond the necessity of eyeballs, graphic designers will be needed no matter how bad the economy, how trite the script, how awful the design doc.

Animation is the second obvious choice.  They don't come along easily, and finding a truly good animator is even more difficult.  Oh, sure, companies are trying more and more nowadays to bypass the necessity of good animation.  Just a cursory glance at 'Problem Solverz' shows cartoons trying oh so cutely to overcome its importance.  But the truth is, animators can get jobs way beyond their own field, and get hired to work for science and architecture.

Go back to the first point.  Do not shirk your high school education.  With that animation degree, you will need to know the content you're animating.  Want to make a simulated visual aid for a chemistry project to win a multi-million dollar grant?  Bet you wish you paid more attention in chemistry class.  How about a projected step by step construction process for that billion dollar high rise?  Sure would've helped to take math more seriously.

Artists always need a fall-back skill, too.  Math is mine.  I was always good at math naturally, but didn't do well in school because I kept pulling the relevancy card on my own parents.  Who needs stupid trigonometry?  What kind of idiot goes around measuring shadows at flagpoles?  Sheesh!

Fast forward five years, and I'm in a Flash class, working on a game where a cannon shoots a ball towards the cursor.

'How do I make it follow the mouse, then shoot when I click?'
'Follow the mouse?' my teacher looks over my shoulder.  'Oh, you need a Math, Tangent operator in the code.'
'Tangent?  Wait, as in-'
'Yeah, trigonometry.'
'Umm...' My face sinks to a scowl.  'Oookay, so, tangent.  That for, err...'
'You do know trigonometry, right?'
'Uhh...I, umm.'  I look down in shame.  'Damn.'
'Relevancy card, huh.'  The teacher smacks the back of my head.  'Shoulda kept it in the deck there, skippy.'

There are several other great majors that focus in art that open many doors in the professional world.  Website design.  Advertising design.  Even video game art and design.  Believe it, video game majors can easily get jobs outside of the game industry, as the industry itself is one of the most fast-paced quality demanding fields out there.  After developing the skills necessary to work on video games, they are easily qualified to apply their skills in countless fields.

For example, in El Segundo, Maba Media is a company created by former game design graduates who make simulated car crashes in 3d software for court cases.  Zoic Studios in Marina Del Rey, who does the CGI sequences for CSI: Miami and American advertisements for luxury cars, hires visual effects artists from Electronic Arts.

Almost all art related majors overlap in several ways, and are interchangeable between multiple industries.

In summary...

Art school is, in many ways, a lot more difficult than a regular university.  While the work there may not be as tedious as solving parabolas or measuring the atomic weights of molecules, the time and energy required can sum up to a much greater quantity than its academic counterparts.  Many things can go wrong with art, too.  Paint can run.  Markers smudge.  Renders can cancel, files corrupt, animation rigs break, textures reset, and sculptures drop.  The stress art students go through is insurmountable in comparison.

Regular students just have to worry their thesis is spelled correctly, their numbers are aligned, their handwriting is legible, they go into the class properly studied and knowing the course material enough to survive the midterm test.

Art students?  We have to make sure we don't leave our drawings in the sun.  We can't put too much water on paints, or too little.  Every speed bump in the campus garage is a traumatizing endeavor of crippling worry as we pray to God, Odin, Jupiter, Zeus, and Patrick Swayzee that our external hard drive doesn't chip with each thud against pavement.  On top of knowing the course material and doing all the homework, the commute to campus is as psychologically draining as awaiting the results of a pregnancy test.

It's easy to get in to art school, I'll give that.  Yet they don't make it easy to stay.  It's like a frying pan, any dope can place their palm flat against its hot surface.  However, it takes a special breed of calloused masochist to not pull away.  In my class, I'm amongst the 2% of psychotic socially inept drones who managed to get through.  And it was all because of a strong work ethic I only wish I had in high school.  It was because of a solid staff of teachers who had faith in me.  And above all else, it was because my dad cracked the whip, kept my ass in gear, and never once cashed in my relevancy card.  I was a perfect candidate for just another case of year-one dropouts going in, but drastically adapted into a completely new animal that actually clenched that diploma without the luxury of a home stretch.

And I wouldn't have done anything else differently.
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Arislynn Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Most people would feel so screwed after reading this, but I feel hyped. I wish I read this a couple years earlier, though, I would have been more motivated to improve my art. Now I feel like it's too late to improve as much as I would have liked. I know I would be better if I hadn't wasted my time playing video games and just being lazy. I'm a junior in high school now, and I feel like 2 or so years isn't enough time for me to improve.

Like a lot of people, I didn't have natural talent. I had to work hard on it. When I finally felt content, though, I stopped drawing to improve, but to impress. That's where it all went down and I started being ignorant and stuck up. Always comparing myself to those who don't have the ability I do, when I should have been learning from those who were better than me. I know better now, my only regret is that I learned this sooner.
hakepe Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
It's not too late. I studied other things and worked in another field for years untila I started to draw and paint again regulary and I have improved a lot since last year. If you start drawing today and draw regulary, you will improve and you will keep improving your whole life. An artist is never ready, but an eternal student of the craft.
Arislynn Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I know, it's just that I know I would be so much better had I not stopped for that time. But that's in the past, and all I can do is look forward. I'll definitely keep practicing.
hakepe Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Yes, I know how you feel. I sometimes feel the same way but I need to stay positive, so I desided not to think about what might have been. Instead I try to think what can be. So keep practicing and stay positive :)
Arislynn Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
So hard to stay positive with all these amazing people surrounding you xD thanks, I'll try. I'd say same to you, but it would seem like you're already great at what you do x)
Arislynn Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
So hard to stay positive with all these amazing people surrounding you xD thanks, I'll try. I'd say same to you, but it would seem like you're already great at what you do x)
hakepe Featured By Owner May 2, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks :) yeah it can be hard sometimes but then again beating yourself down will only drain energy from creating art.
TheSteelPolarBear Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2013
Thank you for telling me this before I go to college I still have time to grab that math and make it mah B**CH! XD
Nenie Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This article came in just in time lol :D
I've just recently graduated from a 4 year college in majoring in Art. And now that im out for the year before i go to grad school. I'm having a little bit of a hard time getting a job. granted, where i live usually doesnt have careers for artists other than just being local artists. So when i go to grad school i wanna go to an art school in a major city where they have more opportunities for artists.
I'm just feeling now that i may regret getting this degree. But it's what i want to do with my life because i'm not so good in anything else. Not because i pulled the "relevancy card" in high school but because i really am not that good at mathematics, or science or writing literature. Not so tech savy with computers and lack confidence to be a teacher or work with communications.

The job names for artists today are: Designers, Marketers, Web designers, Advertisement creators. That's mostly the art that is looked for now of artists. Sure there's still illustrations being made for many publications, and animation for cartoons, furniture, sculpture and pottery decor designing being made. Our art is still valuable. It's everywhere in our media. being an artist is not useless and we have to be more appreciated in the work force.
ScottMan2th Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
as an older returning student (if 45 counts as older) i can attest that aspects of my intended degree (graphic design) has not been easy. Since i haven’t done algebra or anything related to it in over 20+ years this has not been the high point of my academic experience thus far...other aspects have not been as difficult, although being broke and not having the programs used in class at home has proven to be very annoying when finishing assignments. have a cousin in New York who is a graphic designer (over 14 years) who is very successful and her brother who is a photographer in Birmingham Alabama (also very successful) so the jobs are there if you have the talent and are willing to go where the work is.
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