Chapter 2 – What Every artist should know BEFORE Art School

The First Step – Proper Education

Most young people know that the first step to becoming successful is to become educated. But then they make the mistake of going to college. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to college, but young people need to realize the difference between education and college. I wrote this book to educate you about the industry before you dive in. Schools are a large part of this industry. They are a money making machine and you are their customer. Before you make a purchase you should know what the product is, if you need this product, and if it is worth the price. This research is your first priority. Don’t just jump in and sign yourself up for a 20 – 30 year college loan. This is a serious commitment that will have long lasting consequences on your future, yet young people all across the world are jumping in without realizing what they are getting themselves into. If you weigh the costs and then decide to go then you are making an educated and hopefully wise decision. But if you go in without seriously considering the consequences it will have on your future then you could be making your first leap into financial ruin.

The True Price of a College Education


Have you taken a serious look at what it costs to go to an art school? Don’t just look at tuition but if you have to leave your home then you need to consider housing costs. My housing costs far exceeded my tuition costs. My tuition was around $30,000 but my housing was a little less than $60,000! That’s what happens when you move to a popular city. And have you taken a look at what happens to a loan over time? A $90,000 loan may cost you $120,000 by the time you finally pay it off after 30 years. That’s why your loan company will always say yes when you ask to push paying your bills back another month.


But there is a price that far exceeds the money. Our youth. Young people have the energy and the determination to truly reinvent themselves and far exceed their own limits. That youthfulness will stay with you so long as you do not lose it to the worries and concerns of life that so easily choke out our creativity. If you become bogged down with worries and concerns, then it becomes nearly impossible to find the motivation to reach for your dreams or inspiration as an artist. Consider that you might graduate and not have a job. Then the loan payments will be due. And in 4 years time you could get into a relationship or maybe even start a family. With all of these responsibilities your dreams get pushed back further and further until eventually you completely lose sight of your original hopes and aspirations. I do not consider myself old, not because of my age, but because I still have the ability and the determination to completely reinvent myself in order to reach my goals. The day I start settling for less than I originally dreamed of, that’s the day I start becoming old. I learned this from the founder of my church. When he became 40 years young he told us that life does not really begin until you are 40. He is now over 60 and says that life does not truly begin until you are 60. He has started over 500 churches across 40 different nations and he still continues to push the limits on what can be accomplished in one life time. But my original point was that you need to have a good idea of what you are agreeing to or else you could unknowingly sell out your own future. You don’t want to become discouraged and give up reaching for your hopes and aspirations, all because you didn’t take a realistic look at the financial, emotional, and personal prices of school. All the money in the world can not buy you back the hope of your youth. Once you give up it is that much more difficult to take up another challenge again. People who fail to reach one goal often give up on other goals too due to their newfound fear of failure. When you get old you will see just how much potential young people have and just how fragile that treasure of youth really is.

The Foundation of a Positive Mentality

But no matter how much college costs, if it is a step towards your goals then it is a step worth taking. Would realizing your dream be worth 30 years of working full time to pay off debt? If the answer is yes then maybe you have what it takes to achieve your goals. The important thing here is to have a positive mentality in the face of great desparity. Even if you lose everything along the way, if in the end you gain it all then it is all worthwhile. But the problem is that the hardest part is just before the end and that’s when most people give up. They burn out and give up just before fulfilling all their hopes and dreams which would have made all their hard work worthwhile. They then turn around and tell everyone else that it isn’t worth it and they try to discourage all the young people so that we will become bitter and resentful like them. I’m not here to do that. I was taught to fulfill my hopes and dreams no matter what I have to endure. Don’t give in so easily. Never give up. Do it until the end. The founder of my church repeats these words to us again and again because that mentality is what will drive you to succeed in this life.

Accidents and Avoiding Unnecessary Loss

Nothing is free and at some point you will have to invest all your efforts to really achieve your goals. But along the way you want to avoid all unnecessary loss. I paid dearly for my art training with my effort, 4 years of my youth, and $90,000 of debt. I’m still paying for my education with 40 of my most productive hours each week. Even though I’m working so hard to pay off my debt I could still go into financial ruin. The talent and skills that I developed in school, and the lessons that I learned have made it all worthwhile to me. It helped me realize what I really need to reach my goals. But what if I could have received the same training without going into debt? What if I didn’t have to work full time for someone else instead of using my time to develop my creations even further? I would be that much closer to achieving my freedom as an independent artist. Do you need to borrow 30 years worth of money to receive the knowledge and skills needed to become a professional artist?

I believe that with the advent of the internet it is no longer necessary to pay so dearly for professional training. Today I believe that you could learn the same skills and develop yourself without spending even half as much money and in half the time that it took me. It is possible because of the online community and the development of online training. I will share more about this later on, but the important thing to note here is the difference between the necessary costs self development and unnecessary loss. Your development as an artist will cost you hours and hours of hard work, but it doesn’t have to cost you $10s of 1,000s of dollars. Knowing this I would compare paying for college to getting into a car accident. By being aware of this time period’s advantages you can completely avoid the pain and loss that most of your peers are headed for.

Does College Really Give you what you need to Enter the Industry?

How good is your work? Can you perform your craft under the demands of a production schedule. This is all an employer is concerned about when considering to hire you or not. He will look at your portfolio and your work history, and nothing else really concerns them. My teachers told us all the time, “You’re grades in this school do not matter. All that matters is your portfolio.” My school drove us harder and harder towards the end where we would have to produce proof that we could do professional level work. Our graduation hung on our finishing our professional portfolio of work. If you got a job and were in the industry you could graduate. If you had a solid portfolio after passing all your classes you could graduate. They would not let anyone who could not meet one of these two requirements pass. This is how they were able to boast to students coming into the school that they were able to place 90% of their graduating students in the industry. This was brutal for students who worked so hard to finish all their classes and classwork, but didn’t have the talent and/or the skill to enter the industry. I saw many students become angry, bitter, resentful, and give up long before they ever earned $1.00 as a working artist. My school’s ultimate purpose was not to educate people. The school’s goal just like any other institution is to make money. Their customers were students. Because it’s a “school” the students automatically believe that the school will educate them. So the school doesn’t focus on education, but rather on their one selling point — getting students jobs in the industry.

But almost all students lack one of the two determining factors in getting a job. Even if they have a great portfolio of professional level work, students have very little or no professional work history. The employer can’t call up the last person you worked for to see how good you are at working under the pressure of a deadline. Even if your work is good, how long did it take you to do that work? Can you produce results in the time alotted. That’s all that matters. Can you help the business to make money? This is the driving force behind all industry decisions.

The Situation may be looking very dismal at this point. So far we’ve discovered that school will put us financially in the negative for the next 20 to 30 years, and that it will only give us one of the two things we need to get a job afterwards. And that is only if we manage to develop the skill and discipline ourselves to produce professional level work during that small amount of time in school. That means you could easily find yourself in debt without a job. If you think this is bad, don’t worry, it get’s worse. But like all good stories, it has to get truly dark just before the end when we will finally see the light. So please, endure until the end.

Why Pay if you aren’t Absolutly Sure it’s what you want?

Many students go to school not knowing why they should go or what they want to do. Maybe they know they like a particular subject, and they also know there is a school nearby that teaches about it. Many students change their major midway through school. Some sign up just because they heard somewhere that you could make a lot of money. Some students know exactly what they want to do. They go to school with a focused mind and make a lot of progress very quickly. They might experiment with different areas within a field of study, but this last group of people I’m talking about usually narrows down their field of study until they can become a specialist. Today I am writing to this second group of people. Especially if they are the type who like to take the “self taught” approach. I myself belong to this group of specialists. We like to research, read books, read how-tos, tutorials, meet inspiring people, and we long to discover helpful information like a pool of water in the desert. We create our own projects and make our own paths. In school we listen to our teachers and put their words to action. If you have the vision and the learning skills to train yourself as an artist then you have great potential to be successful. Talking to such artists you’ll notice that they usually have an artist or two that they find truly inspiring. They might even know exactly which studio they want to work for when they graduate. Having specific goals and dreams drive us to push our boundaries on a daily basis. This is the power of finding direction.

If you do not fit that profile, but you know that you are interested in a particular subject, I would suggest that you visit the schools you are interested in and interview many teachers, students, and school groups until you find out what that particuliar school life and career life is really like. You don’t need to spend 10s of 1,000s of dollars to find out you don’t want to live the life of a commercial artist. You should not start spending money on tuition until you are absolutely sure that you can endure the difficulties of that particular career path.

Are you going to School for the Right Reasons?

What is your fundamental purpose for going to school? So many students these days are going to school for the wrong reasons. Many do not discover this until they are entangled in a mess of homework, failing grades, hopelessness, and perhaps even substance abuse. It happens so often in school that it makes you wonder why? Why are you going to college? Do you have to go? Don’t just go because your parents are pressuring you or because your high school buddies and going. A goal of keeping your parents off your back, or you friends happy is not sufficient enough to help you endure the discipline and determination required to complete all your courses. For many graduating high school students college ends up being nothing more than a waste of time and money.

So what is the right reason to go to school? The purpose of education is to raise your level as an actively learning individual. You should be polishing your character and making progress towards a fulfilling career by training your mind and developing your skills. Will art school help you to do that? Only if you set out to educate yourself will your teachers be able to help you. All the information in the world will not help you unless you are willing to put in the effort and learn by doing the work for yourself. It is possible to go to school, pass all your classes, and even graduate without ever having done any of the work that you will need to do to get a professional job. Students graduate all the time without the essential skills to enter the work force. As long as the school get’s paid and gives you your grades then they will consider their work to be done. In the end your education is still your responsibility. Know why you are going to school and set out to fulfill that purpose regardless of your grades, peer pressure, or what others might think of you. This is especially the case for art school where your grades do not really matter to your employers.

If ultimately your goal is to make a living as an artist then you should seriously consider whether going to school will be helpful or detrimental in helping you accomplish your goal. If you have developed your own skill, your own style, and the self confidence to present your artwork to the art community then you may have already accomplished all that school can do for you. Maybe you are not that self confident about the professional quality of your work but perhaps you are steadily making progress towards your goal by researching and teaching yourself your craft. If that is the case then I have a much more appealing and much less expensive option for you. I will discuss this option in greater detail in the last chapter, but first let’s consider the reality of your future as a commercial artist.

Previous Chapter
Chapter 1 -Your life as an Artist

Chapter 2 – What every artist should know BEFORE Art School

Next Chapter
Chapter 3 – The Industry

Chapter 4 – Freedom as an Independent Artist

Chapter 5 – What do I need to Make It On My Own?

Chapter 6 – Alternative Education

3 thoughts on “Chapter 2 – What Every artist should know BEFORE Art School

  1. Shaun-I didn’t know anything about all this…that’s awesome you have your own BOOKS! I’m so impressed. I’m going to Austin Comm. Coll. and trying to work towards a degree in art, and hope to get a masters in art therapy someday. I just started thinking about how so many people in our family are so talented and so I googled ya. Awesome stuff. I hope you’re doing great. I’d like to catch up with you sometime. I don’t know if you have my number but its 512-787-2384. Call me sometime or email me if you want. Take care. Love, your cousin Ashley

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