So You Declared Your Major in Art?

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This is easier said than done my friend. Every year there are swarms of bright eyed (or tight eyed -wink wink) students entering art programs around the country.  By the end of the first year, many of them have either changed majors, “taken a break”, or dropped out. Of course I am one of those people. My journey through school has been a difficult one. Surprising to me,because I have always been such a good student. Now to be fair to myself, the art curriculum in most colleges and universities focus on the creative process instead of learning in the traditional way. But it is not merely the classes that drive youngsters away in herds. College for an art major, no matter what artistic emphasis you choose, is fraught with dangers. FRAUGHT I SAY!!! And in case you are thinking of attending school to be an artist and you want to know what it is like…I will describe in ugly detail, the perils you will most likely face.

1 Work Overload

If you were able to slide through high school art on your raw talent and the fact that you were in a room full of people who probably did not care about art enough to challenge you, it will be a huge wake up call to you when you have to -GASP-try hard at school. Really hard. No one is going to give you anything. Not your classmates, and certainly not your professors. As a matter of fact, you will probably get opposition, either directly or indirectly from all sides. That is because one of the most important aspects of being an artist is believing enough in what you create and the process, that you can defend your work and your ideas against anyone, even people who are your superior. Your professors will likely have everyone present their work to the class. You will have to hang or display your work. Then your professor will listen to your nervous explanation of what you have made. After that, your professor will offer his/her criticism and invite the rest of you class to join in the fun! You will have to deal with people making judgement of your work without full understanding your concept. They may be misguided, sleepy, cranky, or just out to make themselves look better by comparison  (which doesn’t work) because they feel that their own work is lacking. In this situation, you have one of two options, stay and fight or hang your head, avert your eyes, and wait for it to be over. You will be surprised that typically, when you defend your work with your professor/class, the mood of the room will change from one of criticism, to one of positivity. Other people will begin to notice the positive aspects of your work as well. Even if they don’t, defending your work helps to protect your self esteem while being judged by your peers. Now in no way am I saying to ignore your professor’s criticism. Often they are coming from a place of genuinely wanting the best for you. Buuuut sometimes they are not. Which brings me to my next point.

2 Discouraging Professors 

I won’t spend a lot of time on this one because I generally don’t like to encourage any sort of ummmm…hatred..yeah that’s a good word…hatred amongst students and teachers. Because often, the relationship between art majors and their professors is very crucial. Many of them know what you will face when trying to find work, what the current trends are in the art world, and can look objectively at your work and tell you what you should change. However, there tend to be some professors who have lost touch with reality. Most schools have one. This professor excelled in their field at an early age. Received a full scholarship to attend such and such University, excelled there as well and has since been awarded a lovely Tenure package. All of this can go to a person’s head. Every now and then you will get a professor who actually believes that they are better than you. You may not want to hear this but in this situation, it is best to keep your feelings to yourself and try your best to get along with the professor. I’m not saying you have to jump through hoops, but at least try to pretend that you think they are as important as they do..when they are around. The main thing for you to remember here is that you are PAYING MONEY for school and you want the best possible chance to get everything you can. And that leads into…

3 Finances 

No one can prepare you for how expensive college will be. Now declare a major in the arts, that that price shoots up even higher. There are materials such as paint, charcoal, software, sketchbooks, canvases, tape, huge sketch pads, gesso, cameras, knives, glue, boxes, wood !  Plus any assortment of specialty pens, pencils and markers that you will require to create. Not to mention the amount of money you will spend on coffee trying to stay awake through your long nights of working. There seems to be a never ending list of new things that you will need. Sometimes your school will have an arts supply store on campus, but they will usually be over priced. If your lucky, the town or city you live in will have a good arts supply store. Check to see when they are having sales, and if they give discounts to students. The savings actually have a very significant impact on your budget. You can use that money for more important things like food and partying (if you ever have the time).   ((But you won’t)) You have to spend every free moment of time working or thinking about your projects for class. That is, if you ever get into the class.

4 Not Getting the Classes You Need 

I think that out of all the things art students are not prepared for, this one gets talked about the least. When you enroll you may come to find that there are general ed classes and prerequisite classes that you must complete before really starting on classes that count towards your major. These are not terrible in and of themselves, but be careful that you do not fall into the trap of taking the wrong classes, just because your school wants more money. Sometimes it is just better to go to a school that is focused specifically on art. Private schools may seem to cost more, but you may actually end up paying less in the end. This is because some major universities are only concerned with money and will force students to take classes that are REALLY not necessary. Take this example, you enroll in school as an illustration major, only to find that you need math, science, spanish one and two, english one and two, and one social science. Then once you finished your required general ed classes, you begin working on some basic prerequisite art classes. You take a couple and then try to apply for one serious course in your area of concentration only to be told that you do not have ALL the necessary prerequisite classes to take this one course that you actually need. To make matters worse, this particular class is only offered in the fall! SO you now have two choices, wait out a whole year, or take some more classes that are not related to your major. This is why so many art majors end up graduating with a degree in psychology. Sad I know, but true. If you enter a school, and then learn that you will not actually get to the classes that pertain to your major until around two years… STOP. You are in for a bumpy ride my friends. The school just wants more money and will make it damn near impossible to graduate in your major on time. If at all.

I know this may sound like a cautionary tale, but it’s really not. I just want to inform people of what to expect, so that they will have a better chance of sticking with their decision to be an artist. I have struggled so much, but I finally came to the conclusion that my life would not be complete without art. Staying on the path to the career that you want can be the hardest thing to do. But if you are really passionate about art, you will stick with if. For some unexplainable reason you stick with it. When something means so much to you, your love for it will never die.

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