In praise of art school.
My Bachelor of Fine Arts from OCAD University has a lot to do with where I am now.
There are the less than desirable reasons. The $90,000 price tag and the surgery-worthy burnout in my mid-twenties that hit two weeks before graduation.
Then there are the obvious reasons. The design skills, craftsmanship skills, and writing skills that come with higher education that’s 75% studio-based and 100% up for interpretation.
Finally, there are the reasons that are not as easily defined. These are the things you picked up in art school that only become visible after moving through the world for a period of time; the things that make you creative.
We live in a society that both praises and demonizes creativity.
On the one hand, creativity is essential to innovation, entertainment, and creating connections that strengthen our shared humanity.
On the other hand, creativity is uncontrollable, messy, and difficult to measure.
In the 1950s, the term “design thinking” emerged and became an approach to organizing and systematizing creativity to serve capitalism. This practice has since evolved and I still get asked to do work from time to time that is, “Creative but not too creative.”
I could just as easily bake you a cake while keeping the oven on low.
So here are some of the less-than-obvious reasons I am finding my art school education invaluable:
Art school teaches you to make something from nothing. Things that don’t yet exist aren’t scary unknowns but exciting possibilities.
Art school teaches you to practice patience. You make art before the money is there or the praise or the success. This is delayed gratification at its finest.
Art school teaches you that knowing is secondary to being able learn. Artists are the most skilled problem solvers and don’t need to have done something before to know that they can do it.
Art school teaches you to make your own choices. There’s no road map to creating good art and so you don’t wait around for someone else to tell you what to do.
Art school teaches you to fail and appreciate that failure. Creating bad art always precedes the creating good art and so you keep iterating—and failing—because every failure means you’re one step closer to success.
Whether you are living in a golden age of economic and political stability or a time when the market and social climate is volatile, the most failsafe antidote to what ails you is creativity.
Or in the words of Neil Gaiman, who never attended art school, to “Make good art.”
Because, of course, there’s no promise that you’ll be taught this in art school. After I graduated from my program, the professors who had gotten jobs there because they were pioneers in their fields started to leave.
The university needed them to have a Master degree to keep teaching and all they had were decades of experience and still-thriving professional practices as artists and designers.
So however you are able to practice creativity and make your art—in the broadest sense of the word—please do it.
Surround yourself with other people who are doing the same.
In her essay, No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear, Toni Morrison shares a conversation she had with a friend—a fellow artist—who proclaimed, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”
That is your job.
So, how can you welcome creativity back into your life? How can you fill yourself up so that what spills over is your art?