Thinking of Going to Art School? (Tap-click title)

I wrote this to someone wanting advice for a young prospective art student. I am not involved in the portfolio process at ECUAD. I was a portfolio adjudicator in another university design program for quite a few years and now just teach in continuing studies. All this advice is totally non-official, just personal observation:

It is getting increasingly more competitive to get into any university. Many local studio-art programs (the “Art Schools”) have been disappearing. Art-based high schools, private lessons, foreign students, all supply impressive  applicants. Portfolios often show diligence in copy-work and observation, love of detail and craftsmanship. These are all good things, but I would suggest there should be more representation in some of the following areas in a portfolio – colour; capacity for loose free expression;  3d work (eg abstract sculpture or clay modeling, perhaps human figure or similar); variety of subject matter (abstract, landscape, face/figure, still-life; evidence of creativity (creative solutions to a problem, making something out of nothing, ideally making something no one has ever seen); other art forms, such as video/editing, music, dance or other performance, creative writing. Don’t be intimidated by official portfolio requirements, but DO take it seriously. Many of these requirements can be addressed through continuing studies courses which will produce items for a portfolio. You can also get a certificate in various art forms through continuing studies (please don’t see this as a commercial for CS). This is what I would recommend for my own family members.  Also, google:  ‘Emily Carr Portfolio” to find important information and examples. This blog has info on portfolios for applying to post-grad architecture schools. It might offer you some other ideas about portfolios, even though it’s for design.

Important point – Emily Carr is now a “university” of art. This means it has academically trained instructors and requirements similar to any university. This also means that a student is required to take and do well in various fairly rigorous academic studies, such as history and theory. I have feedback on this from several 1st and 2nd year students who were somewhat surprised to find that they spend significant parts of their week doing academic university work, reading in the library and writing essays.

Let’s not disregard the commercial schools. They are “businesses” which is not entirely a bad thing. They can cost in the $tens of thousands range for a one year program, but they can lead to good networking and potentially a job, particularly in the animation industry, for a focused individual. I know one person who studied in San Francisco for a year and has been working for many years in animation, largely due to the contacts he made in that year. Last week I met with a manager-friend in a 160 person animation and computer effects operation doing post production work on sci-fi shows who said his first choice for a new hire would be a commercial college one-year grad. For him, degrees don’t count (by the way -he has degrees) – It’s all about the “demo reel”.

Networking – Treat this seriously – Who you know and meet is so important to a career – Consider Van Gogh and Picasso, both of course premiere artists. Van Gogh – no network – seldom sold a piece in his lifetime and died in obscurity. Picasso – big network – lived well and prospered!

Final points – For a young person who is about to set out on a very long and potentially expensive journey. Give serious and realistic thought to  your future career goals – don’t just follow an illusion: To become a practicing studio artist, consider taking many targeted Continuing Studies courses (taught by practicing artists (and for galleries it’s all about the work). If the aim is to become an academic or arts administrator, then a university BFA plus an MFA may be needed (all taught by academics).  To clarify a young person’s aptitudes and goals I always urge them to take the Career Planning one day special at UBC Continuing studies – It is first rate. I have recommended this for my own nephews and other young people. I did something similar myself long ago. Anyone who would not pay $380 to get the very best intelligence on a future career choice is liable to be sleep-walking into making a costly mistake.

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