Art School: University Tips & Tricks
Updated: Apr 16
Ahhhh art school. Some people will say this is a dumb decision you’re making. I personally disagree. While I often get dirty looks and snide remarks for completing a degree in Fine Arts, I learned a lot. And I learned a lot about life and networking and how communities engage - not just about how to draw live models in 30 minutes or less.
If you’ve decided to start Art School, I congratulate you. You’re probably pursuing something you’re truly passionate about. You’ve got so much creative energy that you can’t wait to foster and mold throughout your next few years in school. You’re ready to start pursuing something for the love of it - not because it gives you a guaranteed career path and income. You’re an artist - and you’re being unapologetically you.
I did a four-year undergrad program in Fine Arts at a University that prides itself in engineering and nursing. Their art program was small but mighty - about 20 students per year. I chose this particular university because I wanted to get a minor in French language at the same time as my art degree.
Going into school, I had no one to ask what it was really like. All my friends and family were pursuing or had pursued different kinds of degrees. So I’m going to give you my tips and tricks to getting the most out of art school, because that’s what I would’ve wanted to know when I was starting up my program.
Save your syllabus for each class onto your computer
This is so important if you’re planning on doing grad school in the future. Sometimes you need to reference back to what you learned in a course in order to prove how qualified you are to enter a program. It’s also a good idea to keep your all-star Art History essays so that if you need any samples of work - you’ve already got it in one place. Although this is a little bit more work during your schooling - it’ll help you out in the long-run.
You don’t have to drink or smoke
While it may be common, and it may be the stereotype - stay true to yourself and don’t compromise. An addiction really isn’t worth it to look “cool” in front of a few people. Plus you can use that money to spend on beautiful Somerset paper (ahhh the luxury of $6 sheets of paper for print class).
Have a storage spot
If you don’t have a designated place to keep your art supplies in the studio spaces, try to rent a locker on campus. It’s annoying to trek your art supplies all over the place. Keeping it in one place is much easier.
You don’t need to purchase all the art supplies your profs tell you
Especially not for an introductory course that you’re not sure you’ll pursue. My painting class told me to buy a ton of paint colours but by knowing myself and how i paint, I knew i would never use most of them. Art is expensive: only buy what you know you’ll actually use, not something for just a one-time use. And if it is for just one assignment, try to find it secondhand at the thrift store or buy it from a student in your program. In my program a few of us would pitch in for things like wood stain that come in a larger quantity and can be used over and over.
Push yourself to work
Sometimes you’ll have to push yourself to create even when you’re not in the mood, and sometimes you have to wait until the mood strikes. Know yourself and how you create - act accordingly. Deadlines are a real thing and extensions aren’t always possible. Be ready to make art.
Your profs are rooting for you
If you’re struggling, let them know. And if you think a prof is being a hard-ass… they might just be pushing you because they see your potential. Work hard!
Snacks are important
My studio classes were 4 hours long. Bringing snacks saved me multiple times from low-energy hangry-ness.
Art History is mandatory
You’ll inevitably have some Art History courses. Print out the slides from the profs powerpoint ahead of time. It’s impossible to write down all the facts (artist, title, year, location, medium) while they’re lecturing about the history and innovations of a certain piece. You’ll have a leg up if that information is already in your notebook and you just need to note-take on what the prof is saying about the work.
-Slide-identification is one method of choice for midterms and final exams. This is when the prof shows you an artwork and you have to write the corresponding title, artist and year it was created. A great tool to study for this is Quizlet.
The exam essay topics are usually about the most controversial artworks or the profs favourites. Throughout the course highlight the artworks that the prof spends a little extra time on or seems to favour. Then, while you’re studying compare and contrast them so you’re ready for any combination of artworks to be the essay topic on the final.
I hope these tips help you out in your pursuit of a degree from Art School. I know you’ll bring your creativity and passion to your work and I encourage you to enjoy yourself. Art School is tough. It’s going to push you: push your creativity, push your buttons, push your ability to create under pressure. The deadlines are tough and juggling academics with the creative studio side of things is a real challenge. But it’s amazing and you’ll learn and grow so much during this time!
Enjoy yourself and best of luck in school!