Over the years, people have always felt the need to ask students in art school the question, “What are you going to do after art school?” I always thought it was interesting that the same question is not always asked of students majoring in, for example, anthropology, psychology, or communication studies. That sure isn't fair!
Art students are, in effect, not all that different from other students. In reality, because programs in studio and the visual arts tend to be even more concentrated than most liberal arts programs, art students have even more access to the core of their program than most college majors, making them more like entry-level experts in their field. Very few majors can say that. Here at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, our Certificate fine arts students take 120 credits in studio and art history—which surpasses by quite a bit the number of credits taken by most liberal art majors.
In this article, I am hoping to address a few of the major issues that both artists and non-artists have about art majors and preparing for life after art school.
Have a Plan of "Attack"
There are two major strategies to preparing for life after art school: diversify or concentrate. Students seeking to diversify should add courses like education, therapy, the business of art, and related classes that will serve as stepping stones to a career and possibly graduate school. The concentrate-style students want to take as many courses in their field (painting or sculpture, for example) as possible to become the best they can at their craft. All art students, however, should take as many courses as possible that offer a practical approach to the world of art, like courses in marketing, Web design and development, financial practices for artists, etc.
Choose a Program that Will Take You There
Some art schools, like the Pennsylvania Academy, prepare working artists. Here at the Academy, we have done that for more than 200 years. Other schools take a more career-oriented approach and prepare visual artists to become teachers, therapists, museum and gallery staff, and other art-related careers. Interestingly, it is often the case that students graduating from a more career-oriented program end up working in the fine arts, and many students who complete a fine arts program work in fields that one would not often expect, like film, television, and other artistic careers that go well beyond the fine arts. David Lynch, for example, graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy as a fine arts major. Today, he is most known for his unique vision in the Hollywood and independent film industry. I know of several artists who have even gone on to law school. You never know where your path will take you. Your only rule should be to become the very best at what you do. In every case, graduate programs and employers look for—and want to hire and promote—the best.
Focus on Writing
My final suggestion is to work on your writing skills. In today's world, the ability to write an extraordinary essay, artist statement, or article is a key element in getting ahead. Don't let the technology of our day-to-day lives mislead you into believing that the written word is passé. It is, I think, one of the most important elements that employers, galleries, museums, and graduate schools look for in an artist. The balance you can bring to your craft, and the ability to explain your craft, will be key to your success as an artist, and as an educated person of the 21st century.