Do we need Art School to feel legitimate?

Do we need Art School to feel legitimate?

This past winter I had my head in a space of despair: what should I do with my life?

The howl of our times.

I had been on my path to art for four years and a half. I was still dabbling left and right, trying and testing different watercolors, papers, brushes. I was still wondering what I wanted to create. I could see my improvement and the piles of artwork that I was cranking out but still felt directionless.

At one point I found an old acquaintance with whom I had a consultation call. She used to be an online entrepreneur but now she was in academia. She was doing her PhD and she had basically erased her online presence. She was now under the “protected” roof of a University. She was exploring abstract concepts and spending her days experimenting and creating. She had no more worries about selling her work, being perceived as “an artist”, she didn’t need social media, or even a website. Earlier she’d given an interview on one of those podcasts for creatives and she basically outlined how disenchanted she had become with the whole online entrepreneurship.

She decided to go back to Art School.

At the same time a friend told me she had enrolled in a BA in English Literature. She’s my age and when she told me I melted into a pile of green goo of envy. So what did I do? I applied to art school.

I built my portfolio, I went to their open house, I had encouraging words from someone in the faculty. I applied, uploaded my work and I didn’t get accepted.

I remember I was at the beach in Mexico with my parents and my husband. Getting the letter was devastating. I was in paradise, yet I had been annihilated by a rejection letter.

I thought, “I can’t continue to trick myself into thinking I’m an artist. I have no structure, I don’t know what I’m doing. In Art School I was supposed to learn how to build a body of work, I was going to make the right connections. I was going to learn everything to be a legitimate artist. I was going to get access to grants and residencies and all the rest. Now what?”

I was in the midst of my crisis when my dad told me: I think applying to art school was a crutch. You wanted the illusion of “going somewhere” but at the end you would be exactly where you are now because you don’t want to do the work you need to do.” “You didn’t really want to go to Art School”


He verbalized a truth that I have been avoiding.

I keep believing that going to Art School (or getting an MFA in whatever discipline) would give me legitimacy. Doors would open.

But in the end, I was going to pay a lot of money, invest several years of my life pursuing something that:

  1. Would cause me stress. I am not a person who feels at ease in a school environment
  2. No amount of studying would substitute the tried and proven method of becoming and artist, which is making A LOT of art until you find your voice.

When lost, we want to get somewhere

Us “hummingbirds” tend to think that outside structure will help us get to where we want. I’ve always given too much weight to formal education because it was important in my family. I tend to feel respect for “titles” because they carry a lot of weight in my culture.

I did a lot of thinking about why I had applied to the program and I concluded it was good old fear. I couldn’t decide on a course of action and I just kept piling ideas, possible projects, wants, needs and a whole lot of pressure to my IDEA of being an artist.

I was choking my art practice with a bunch of preconceived notions.

Then I ran into this question:

What makes you get up in the morning?

I get up in the morning because of possibility.
The possibility that at 7:30 in the morning nothing exist and by the end of the day I will have drawings, paintings, sketches, writings that came from my hand and my head.

Possibility of art

Some days, animals will call me and I will paint them, other times, I feel the pull to experiment with color and other times I feel like composing a story and making it into a little zine.

It’s this open possibility that fulfills me.
Art School or not, if I focus on how each morning I can’t wait to get into my studio and let the different art materials pull me, I know I’m on the right path.

You can always build your own curriculum. Which is what I did, I started taking classes willy-nilly but soon enough I stopped to ask myself, will this class teach me how to paint “something” or will this class teach me how to improve my creative process? Here is a good starting point.

If you go into Art School with fear that without it you won’t get to where you want, I would try to ask myself a lot of questions. The famous five why’s would be a good start. Ask why five times and see what comes up.

If that’s been your plan all along and you’re sure, then go happily, but if you’re trying to get out of your hamster wheel and into an external source of purpose I might challenge it.

After so much reflection, note taking and pondering, I created a guide for creative independence. It’s a 30 page guide that makes you reflect deeply about the type of art you truly want to make. It has been a long exercise but after so many years, I finally started to feel confident that the work I’m making is serving me instead of trying to externally please.

So, what makes you get out of bed every morning?

Should I go to art school? Some thoughts about whether or not to apply and commit.

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2 responses to “Do we need Art School to feel legitimate?”

  1. This post really spoke to me. I am a lawyer however I have always loved drawing. I didn’t go to art school because well, that’s not a “career” in my culture so I did what I was suppose to do. I hadn’t done anything creative in years but on January 1 I started a self-imposed 100 day project and it was the best thing ever to start creating again. I started following YouTube tutorials and even invested in Skillshare but now I’m 6 months in and wondering what’s my direction. I’m investing all this money in art supplies because I love creating but is it worth it? I’ve been researching universities to go do a masters in law when I don’t even want to be a lawyer anymore. Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes we need to know that it’s okay to pursue possibility. I think your blog just gave me all the clarity I needed.

    • Candace, thank you for reading my post! I’m so glad it spoke to you. I encourage you to keep exploring your art, to enjoy art supplies, to fill your days with making things. The possibility is almost endless!