Skip to main content

Should I Drop out of Art School?

Clara Lieu
Art Prof & Partner

“I have a background in art, as growing up I benefited from practice, private instruction and a pretty decent art program in grade school and high school. Going into college, I am much further along technically than most of the other students here, and I know much of what is covered in the fundamental art courses. However, I am now at a point where I don’t feel the teachers are teaching me anything. It would be one thing if I simply felt I wasn’t learning anything because I already know it all and could therefore look forward to learning in the advanced classes, but I don’t feel the teachers are actually teaching.

In one class we have spent an entire quarter going over something I could have Googled in about five minutes. In another, a drawing class, my teacher gave us nothing but videos to watch. One teacher critiques our work, but only tells us what is wrong with it and refuses to tell us how we could fix it. Many of the teachers here seem to have a complete lack of understanding of the material they are supposed to know themselves.

These teachers are supposed to guide us through college and into a career afterwards, yet they don’t seem to know anything about the industries we will be going into. I am worried I am wasting my time and money going to this school. I don’t think I should be paying thousands of dollars for something I could look up on YouTube. However, I am worried that other art schools will be no different. If I transfer somewhere else, can I expect that teachers will actually have something to teach? That I won’t just be shown YouTube videos? Should I just drop out and educate myself through the Internet?”

Art Critique: Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

You are right to feel concerned about the education you are receiving, as it is the teachers who define an art school experience. When I think back about my experience as an undergraduate student, it wasn’t the facilities, resources or the campus that were important. What I cherished were the relationships that I formed with my teachers. Before I went to art school, I had never met a true, professional, working artist in person. You can find out all you want about being an artist through books, articles, and videos, but nothing will substitute having the opportunity to form a personal relationship with an artist who maintains a vibrant, contemporary practice. Getting to know my teachers as people, and working with them during class sessions made the idea of being a visual artist in today’s world real.

I learned vitally important information about art through my art history courses, but there was always a significant distance between myself and the artists we were studying. All of the artists I studied seemed so inaccessible. I couldn’t figure out how it was possible to go from being an art student to fabricating a massive piece of public art that stood 20-feet tall in bronze.

It was when my teachers shared their own artwork in class, that I began to understand how a transition from student to professional could be made. These moments were truly pivotal and provided concrete examples that made sense to me as a student. My senior year, one of my painting teachers gave a slide lecture at the end of the semester about his work, demonstrating the range of art that he had completed over the past few decades. His talk was intensely personal. He referenced the traumatic death of his mother, talked about the personalities of people he had painted portraits of, and discussed the complex emotions that inspired his work.

Ask the Art Prof: RISD Adjunct Professor Clara Lieu

One of my drawing teachers brought in his prints, which were immaculately executed engravings depicting narrative scenes. In addition to his professional work, he also showed us drawings and prints that he had completed as an undergraduate student. This gave me some much needed perspective in terms of how I myself was doing as an art student. I knew my teachers as people, so I was comfortable asking them questions about their work. This information would never have been revealed in an art history textbook.

These relationships that I built over time with my teachers, and the countless lessons and depth of ideas that I gained from them would simply never happen on the Internet. While the Internet offers many resources for visual artists, it’s not even remotely comparable to an education experienced in person. What I learned from my teachers is deeply a part of me. To this day, I hear their voices in my head as I work on my art. I still keep in touch with many of my former teachers, and make a point of getting together with them from time to time in person. I look to my former teachers for continual guidance and advice, and those relationships have enriched my artistic life beyond measure.

If you can find a way to transfer to an art school that more appropriately matches your needs, I believe that you, too, can have a similar experience. When researching schools, look up the faculty who are teaching there, and make sure that they are actively working in their field. Visit their professional websites, see what kind of artwork they’re making, and find out where they are exhibiting and publishing their work. In this way, you’ll able to develop a better sense of the school.

© 2021 ArtProf. All rights reserved. Site Disclaimer.