4 Tips for Succeeding in Art School

Published Oct. 22nd 2012

If you’re lucky enough to get accepted into an art school, you’re got a challenging few years in front of you. Art school is designed to improve your techniques and creative thinking by stripping you of everything you thought you knew about art and filling your head with new ways of looking at the world.

To make the most of your art school experience, it’s important to take advantage of all the opportunities it presents you. There’s more to art school than just keeping your head down and handing in assignments on time. Here are four ways to make the most of your experience.

1. Get rid of the ego

You might have been top of your art class in high school, or you may have been taking art classes and exhibiting for years. But when you walk in to that classroom you’ve got to leave that attitude behind.

You’ve come to art school to learn. Don’t expect every assignment to earn top marks—when you make mistakes, step out of your comfort zone and try new things, that’s when you’re really learning as an artist.

2. Sample different disciplines

You probably have some idea of the area you’d like to focus on for your major, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying new disciplines.

Art school is all about experimentation. . . try some new techniques and sign up for classes outside your area of expertise. Your experiences in one discipline may blend into your work into another. Plus, it’s never enough to just have a deep understanding of one subject or medium; it also helps to have a broad range of art experiences.

3. Find a mentor

The people who teach at your school have been around the “art block” a few times and can help you meet interesting and influential people in your field, many of whom could help you get started in a career.

Teachers are gatekeepers to the wider art world. One of your primary objectives while in art school is to find a mentor in your field, and the best place to begin is with teachers or tutors whose work and personality resonate with you.

A mentor can help you by putting you in touch with prospective clients and employers, critiquing your portfolio, introducing you to other influential people, and helping you make informed decisions about your career choices.

4. Rock your portfolio

When it comes to getting paid for your artwork, your portfolio is your most important asset. It shows your skill as an artist and your ability to interpret a client’s brief.

It’s vital you replace your schoolwork in your portfolio with actual client work as quickly as possible if you want a career in the art world. This shows clients that you have what to takes to work with real jobs where real companies and money is involved.

One of the best ways of gaining client work is to take on art internships in your field—whether that’s working at a design agency, running around after a fashion designer or drawing artifacts for a museum cataloguer. Internships give you insight into the day-to-day running of your industry, and can often lead directly to paid employments.

Even before graduation, you may want to set up your own website, print business cards, and begin approaching potential clients about work. You could also volunteer at charities and businesses you’re passionate about.

Seek out these experiences at every opportunity, and you’ll soon find yourself with a rocking portfolio that will wow any prospective client.

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