The value of Arts Degrees.

Do you wonder about the value of having a degree in the arts as an artist? Do others tell you that art degrees are not necessary just make art? Wondering what to do? Let’s explore this together here in these brief words, and fleeting moment.

If you watched the recent 2014 Oscars you may be wondering if getting an education is even necessary. Jokes were being made about going to school at this top-level of entertainment industry. There were stars that went to Yale and others that didn’t complete Community College. No wonder potential young artists question if a degree is necessary. Certainly there are those that reach stardom without degrees. That’s more common in acting and music then in other fields of the arts though. However, don’t think those artist didn’t put in their time studying and learning. They did. They just may not have done it at a college that awards degrees. They did it through taking private classes, and years of hard work, late nights, and long hours. We commonly see the stars without degrees in the music industry. Everyone of those Vocalists, Instrumentalist, and Composers have a high amount of time invested in learning and achieving their goals. Going to college does not eliminate the practice time, and the trial and error time needed to become successful. College includes putting in the hard work, late nights, and long hours, but you also get a degree at the end that verifies you did all this. That degree will serve you in your career. Not may, but will. No matter if you change professions or do something other than art as a career in the future, having that degree supports you. It tells the world you went for something you care about, you invested your time and energy, and you achieved your goal of gaining a degree. That says to employers that you have the ability to stick with your goal and see them through. Even if you change your goals for another task in the future.

Over the years I’ve had many conversations with people who want to argue that college is not necessary. While I agree, that degrees do not make the artist, I do know that colleges offer artists a wealth of guidance, instruction, and insight. Regardless of the costs of the college you choose it is less than what it would cost you to seek out the expert opinions, training, and support of all the arts faculty and support staff you will meet through the college in achieving your degree goals. Colleges place you in a world where you have colleagues that share in your development as they develop themselves. Many will become life long friends and your own personal art critics. When I’m confronted with those bitter arguments about the value of a degree I relish knowing that I don’t need to be bitter and argue, as I have the degrees.

I’ve lost count of the amount of artists that have approached me as a dean wanting to teach their craft to others only turned away because they lacked the credentials. While I appreciate the skills of these well honed tradespeople I can’t change the bureaucracy that requires degrees. Nor do I necessarily want that power. Here is why.

I worked for many years at a Private Arts University. At this University we did hire artist that did not have degrees to teach their trades in our closely monitored system. Don’t worry, it was all legal and we did have credentialed/degree faculty overseeing it all. However, I often found that these artists while skilled at what they did were unable to teach what they know. I found they had ways of doing things that were specific to them. That’s fine for them, but it didn’t apply to other artists approaches. I also found they had what I call “holes in their education.” They knew a lot about some things but missed the bigger picture steps to learning. They were unable to create a program of learning that was step by step elements that are needed for the learner. These same great artists would become frustrated with the learner. “Why can’t they just get it?” They would ask. “If I can do this so can they.” They just didn’t understand that education is a process. “They just are not working hard enough.” These were some of their complaints as they looked at the student as being at fault for not learning as opposed to looking at their ability as a teacher.

Teaching is a craft and art. Quality arts teachers need to be skilled at the craft of teaching as well as being an artist. Those that teach art well are both artists and skilled crafts persons of teaching. Teaching is highly complicated. One doesn’t just show what they know and someone learns. No, it is more than that. Teachers are skilled at how the brain learns, understanding the sociology of the people learning and the group dynamics involved in any learning environment. They are skilled at communication of complex information into step by step chunks that facilitate learning, and they are mentor/coach/cheer leader of the individual’s ability to achieve their goals.

In addition to quality and skilled instructional faculty, colleges offer you skilled counselors, tutoring, library services, transfer services, career placement, and so many other quality services that you may need to keep up the perseverance to complete your education. You won’t get this type of help going in on your own. Although going it on your own may introduce you to contacts within your field that help propel your career. Please remember making these contacts are possible while in college as well.

Another aspect to consider is the self-trained artist. While many self-trained artists may be good at what they do they rarely have a range of skills for adapting to multiple challenges. Don’t fool yourself though. No matter how many art classes you take or how many degrees you achieve, to some extent you are still self-trained. You will have your own unique way of making art that no one teaches you. They may urge you, and help enhance that individual talent. However, you will need to be the one putting the time in the studio or private space practicing and honing your skills. You will be the one that promotes you. You will be the one giving yourself the pep talk when presenting your work to the public. There is plenty of self-teaching going on even with degrees.

Back to our question is a degree necessary as an artists. The answer to this is dependent on the individual’s goals. Overall for the majority though, I say yes. I recommend potential students this piece of thought to consider. They will need to put in the hours to perfect their craft. So why not pick up a degree while doing so. That degree will not only give you a resource to feel good about your ability to stick with a goal and complete it but it may get you a job or at least your foot in the door to get a job/assignment/contract/commission/gig. So overall my advise is to “Go for the Degree.” It can’t hurt you.

Next blog I’ll share with you some more elements and experiences about arts education.

Until then, Go out and experience some art!

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