Should you go to Art College?











Today, I am back with a topic that is a little bit different and one that is quite personal to me.  I get a lot of people contacting me to ask for advice about Art college. Should they go to Art college, was it worth it, will it help them to get professional work in creative industries and businesses such as art teaching, illustration, design, animation, photography and so on.

Should you go to art college V’s being self taught is an age old discussion that is needlessly personal and also divisive. For me, going to college and studying art and design wasn’t just about being taught/trained… it was about learning how to learn, learning how to think, how to grow and how to be independent. I don’t really buy into the romanticized notion that learning more will “spoil” some genius self-taught artist!  Sure, I could have learnt all the technical skills through other method’s and I am sure I would have if I had not being given the opportunity to go to art college. However, being in a creative environment every day for four years studying Art, Craft and Design meant that I had an opportunity to learn a lot more about research, planning and pushing concept’s through as well as opening myself up to new ways of creative thinking because I had peers and tutors around me all the time helping and guiding me. Of course, if your ambition is a formal position in the ‘art business’, then credential’s are required.  For instance, I now work as an art teacher in a secondary school as well as running adult evening painting classes. I could not have attained this teaching position without the correct professional qualification’s.  I have friends who work as illustrators, architects, designers, in the fashion industry and employers naturally do ask for their credentials and qualification’s when applying for new positions or opportunities.  In my opinion, I think that now more than ever, there is just so much competition out there so having the essential qualification’s and necessary credential’s how that you are serious about a position withing the creative industries. It does not necessarily mean you are more skilled or talented that an employee without these qualification’s, however but it does help when looking for professional work. In my opinion………..!


Personally, I thought art school was more than worth it overall. It gave me exposure to various new mediums and approaches to art making. I was surrounded by like minded people who had shared interest’s and passions, and most importantly it gave me the time and resources to really develop my studio practice and learning habit’s. (Not to mention the connections through networking/internships, constant feedback on your work from tutors, etc).  However, formal teaching certainly isn’t for everyone.  At the end of the day, going to art college is an incredibly personal journey – it still all depends upon you and the work you put in.  It also depends on how passionate about Art, Craft or Design you really are.  Maybe it is just a hobby and not a career choice for you. Do you follow your head and settle for a ‘non creative job’ that will pay the bills OR do you do what I did, follow your heart and continue pursuing your love of Art by going to Art college?  Some people may undertake different career paths early in their lives and then decide to veer back on the creative path years later. Again, this is a personal journey and one which you must decide for yourself.


A lot of the time I find these days I find that there are so many people who are quick label themselves as artist’s, makers or designer’s but who did not create or design anything. This truly baffles me! Take for example, some celebrities, a lot of them are labeling themselves credible ‘fashion designers’ when a team of creatives behind the scenes in a studio somewhere have created their clothing line/product’s for them. Their only involvement may be a rough doodle, concept or lending their name or brand. Of course, these celebrities are making the most of their status’s/situation’s and collaborating with creatives also gives the ‘maker’ more exposure but I must admit it does really irritate me when people decide that they can label themselves as an artist or designer when genuine artist’s/designer’s have spent years perfecting their specialized area of expertise.  In my opinion, if you did not create something with your own two hands using your own talents, concepts and skills you should not label yourself as a credible artist, maker or designer!


I did go to art college so I am probably a little biased about this. I think that people should respect artist’s, designers and creatives career’s more and take their professions seriously. For example, I would never dream of calling myself a ‘fashion designer’. Yes, I love fashion and yes I appreciate good design. I respect fashion designers and the vast array of skills and talents that they have developed over a number of years throughout their career.  They take their industry seriously and so do I. I have ZERO experience designing fashion garment’s and I am aware that I do not have the skill set to do so.  I do see that being a creative person I do have potential to learn however, but I would never call or label myself a fashion designer because I just liked the idea or ‘notion’ of being one or I thought it sounded cool!! No more than we would not label ourselves nurses, doctor’s, teacher’s unless we acquired those skills and had formal training in those industries.  Whenever I’m talking to artists about their biographies or cv’s the question of art education, or lack thereof, often comes up. Artist’s who have completed extensive academic training want to know how best to leverage that training to build their credibility. Artist’s who don’t have formal training, want to know if it will hurt their prospects for gallery representation and sales.  Both those that have been formally trained, and those who haven’t, are curious to know how much art education matters. I suspect, those who went through extensive schooling want to know if it was worth it. Self-taught artists wonder if they should matriculate or face the consequences.  Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to the question, “Is an art education worth the investment?”  In my opinion the answer is YES but choosing whether to go to art college is a personal decision.





A little bit about my Art background and Art Education…….



As you know I work as an Art, Craft and Design teacher in a secondary school Monday to Friday. I also run evening art classes for adult’s who wish to connect with their creative side, take up a new hobby or develop their painting skill’s.

Art and Design have always been a huge part of my life. Growing up I had always enjoyed painting, drawing, making and being creative in any way I could. I would sit at the kitchen table for hours designing, painting and making.  I am always at happiest and most authentic self when creating.  My parent’s have kept a lot of my drawings and creations from when I was a child and it is so interesting to look back through them from time to time.  They can be very revealing. I always enjoy looking through my sketchbooks from art college and re visiting those sketches and paintings.

Art was my favourite subject throughout secondary school and the art room was always a place where I felt the most comfortable and that I could really express myself.  After secondary school I completed a one year BA Hons Diploma in Art and Design in Limavady. This one year course was very intense with long hours and a massive work load concentrating on developing my art portfolio. I had also applied for a psychology course and deferred it for a year in order to suss out whether I should follow my heart and choose to do an art related degree instead. After my year developing my skills, learning new techniques and experimenting with new mediums in Limavady, I knew 100% that I wanted to continue pursing my passion for art and so I made the decision to go to Art College. Thankfully I had my parent’s full support. They knew how happy Art and being creative made me, how passionate I was about it and they encouraged me to follow my heart.

From there, I studied a BA Hons in fine Art at University of Ulster in Belfast for three years. I specialized in fine art painting in my final year.  In our first year we had to try a mix of everything. We were all assigned a studio space where we could work. We attended lectures where artists, designers and creatives would inspire us.  We attended a LOT of art exhibitions in the evening time. In first year, we did modules and projects in photography, textiles, design, jewellery, fashion, ceramics, printmaking and so on.  We attended workshops in each specific module. I very quicky found out that I was RUBBISH at ceramics and did not enjoy it at all!! I also didn’t have an eye for photography! BUT, I really enjoyed experiencing new things, learning new skills and techniques but after year two I knew that fine art was my thing.  I decided to specialize in fine art painting for my final year and was assigned a studio space among my fellow fine artist’s in the second floor of the art college.  I loved art college,  I loved the people I met who were so like-minded, open, interesting and creative.  Of course, I also enjoyed student life and made the most of it.  Those were the days!!

After completing my degree I had NO IDEA what I wanted to ‘be’.  I have always been the sort of person who prefers to go with the flow but naturally my parents were concerned about how I would make a living.  My cousin was an art teacher and she encouraged me to do a H-Dip in art teaching. I went on to complete a Hons H.Dip in Art Education at the Crawford college of Art and Design in Co. Cork. It was a one year course. I have spoken about this decision to become an art teacher in the past.  I did not necessarily go to art college with the idea that I would end up a teacher.  I was never really one for planning, I had no idea what I wanted to be or do career wise at such a young age. I often think that it is so hard to know what you really want to be or do at secondary school. All I knew was that Art was what made me happy, it felt ‘right’ and most importantly I enjoyed it. For me, that is important and I was so lucky that I had very supportive parents who encourage me to follow my heart rather than go and do a course that I was only doing for the sake of having ‘good career options’.  Since completing my degree and attaining my art teaching qualifications my own art has not taken a back seat. I have had various exhibitions of my work throughout Ireland, both solo and as part of group exhibits.  I love how teaching still gives me time to concentrate on developing my own work.  I have been creating behind the scenes quietly and have a couple of exciting project’s up my sleeve which I hope to reveal this Spring. Right now, I am busy wedding planning, running art classes and teaching but I continue to sketch and develop my ideas in my sketch book daily.




Let me approach it this way – the following list can be advantages to a formal Art education:





Direct Access to Experts & Professionals:

In a formal setting, you will have the ability to learn from, question, and interact with professional artists. Many of whom have spent years becoming experts in their chosen discipline. Not only can you interact with the experts, you can see how they conduct themselves, the way they use their tools and the way they discuss art. This can also become the starting point for your professional artist network.





A degree in the arts can help you on many levels, especially if you wish to teach, or take a position in an arts organization.






Aspiring artists who choose to take the do-it-yourself approach to launching their artistic careers often struggle to find the time to create art because they may be waiting tables to pay the rent. As an art student, however, you’ll be able to devote the bulk of your energies to making art.





Developing the Concept and Intellect:

In a formal art education you will be exposed to critical essays, art history, contemporary movements, research, various project types, and group discussions—all in an effort to make you a more intelligent artist. One of the hardest aspects of the art profession is determining the subject (or focus) of your art, its intending meaning, and its place in the art world. This skill will take years to develop, and a formal environment will aid in nurturing the intellect and assist in focusing the rationale.





Access to equipment:

Art schools typically have state-of-the art equipment that you’d be hard-pressed to get your hands on in any other way. Even if your medium doesn’t require a lot of equipment, art school is the perfect place to experiment with techniques that require more than paint and a paintbrush.






Studio space:

Along with equipment, most art schools allow students lots of access to well designed studio space to help aid your process.





Expert instruction:

Art school professors are ready and willing to put their years of experience behind guiding your work. Just a little help from even one mentor can save you from years of struggling to figure out who you are as an artist, where you want to go with your work, and how to get there






For me art college was more than worth it and an experience I know that molded me into the person I am today.  Ultimately you have to decide what your idea of being a “successful” artist is.  I believe that no matter how you start on your journey, it is important to learn the essentials of creating.  Everything tends to be more of a struggle if you don’t have a foundation. But let’s be clear – the most important traits to have are heart and determination. Because, if you don’t have those – you ain’t got nothin!






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