7 Things That Aren’t Often Taught in Art School. . . But Should Be!

By Carrie Lewis in Misc > Art Opinion

A short while back I wrote an article for EmptyEasel about art school, and how to decide if it’s right for you.

I wrote that article because most young people—and many who are no longer quite so young—believe they must attend art school if they’re going to be a successful artist.

And yet, if you really want to make a living creating art, I believe there are some things that are not usually taught in art school, which should be:

1. Individualism

I know what you’re thinking. Art students are taught to be individuals, aren’t they?

Well. . . maybe. (It always depends on the school, and instructor.)

My coursework happened in the early eighties, when representational art was frowned upon. My favorite subject was horses, which I painted in a realist style. The response I received was that I should give up both horses and realism, and start painting in a more modern style.

If you’re in art school or are planning to attend art school, be aware of the fact that your choices may not be received with approval. That’s okay. Learn what you can, but don’t abandon your interests either in style, medium, or subject.

When your interest don’t fit into current trends, you may have to choose between following your gut instincts or following trendsetters. The choice is yours, but remember: no one else can create what you create the way you create it. . . and there’s nothing wrong with pursuing that.

2. Business and marketing

This is huge in my book. It’s probably the most important missing ingredient in formal art education for the student who wants to earn a living with their art. I’m talking about courses in running a business, balancing a studio budget, meeting payroll, and turning your art into a paycheck.

If you don’t care about making a living as an artist, then business and marketing classes aren’t necessary. But if you do want to make a living with your talent, look up some good business courses and take them. You won’t be sorry.

3. Sales and customer service

Speaking only from my own experience, I’ve found that most artists tend to be introverted rather than extroverted. We prefer the company of our work to the company of others.

And beyond that, many of us are also uncomfortable selling our work.

The good news? Learning the basics of customer service and sales helps overcome these natural obstacles. Sure, making sales and dealing with customers may never be easy for you, but with solid information on sales and customer service, you’ll at least be confident you know how to do it.

4. The value of time-honored traditions

Time-honored traditions become time-honored for a reason. They work!

I don’t care what medium you work with or how or what you paint. Knowing the traditions and history of your medium will benefit you and your work and give you a foundation on which to build your own body of art.

And maybe start new traditions.

5. Drawing in the classical style

Drawing is getting to be a lost art—and yes, the pun is intended. :)

Everybody wants to slap paint on a canvas and call it good. That’s fine in some cases, but it never hurts to know how to draw. What better way to learn how to draw than by practicing the classical techniques?

Learn to draw well and no subject will be outside your skill level as an artist.

6. Appreciation of traditional beauty

Natural beauty doesn’t need to be explained. Everyone can appreciate a beautiful sunset, the intricate design of a single snowflake, or the loveliness of the first flowers of spring.

Find the beauty in your chosen subjects and find ways to depict it and you’ll never lack for fans. (Or collectors.)

7. How to find your subject, medium, and style

There is much to be said for having basic, across-the-board knowledge in styles, mediums, and subjects, but not every medium or subject or style is going to appeal to you.

A well-rounded education is good, but in the end, I believe it’s more important to learn for yourself which things you most enjoy painting—and the way you prefer to paint them—than to be the best at any particular technical application.

If your school helps you do that, then I believe you’re getting a good education.

Now, I want to be clear that it’s been many years since the last coursework I did as a student. Some of the deficiencies I found in art school may no longer exist. If that’s the case, kudos to the art schools.

But either way, I truly believe that artists can’t afford to ignore those seven things. So if your art school doesn’t include them in the art department, look for them in other departments. Or at other schools.

Making the time and effort to learn these skills will always serve you well.


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