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I am an art-school veteran. I survived creative boot camp and graduated from the College for Creative Studies with a BFA. I paid for this endeavor on my own dime — I'm still paying for it. I dated two women while there: a photographer and a ceramicist. Many of my friends are artists, and I respect their work — those who go out and make a living creating art deserve it.
That said, prepare for my art school critique.
There are a variety of departments to consider at art schools, but keep in mind that mostly everyone sticks to their own department; there's not much intermingling. My advice: Break through all that shit and get out and talk to your fellow artist. Artists in different mediums have a whole different perspective on the creative process. You will learn something.
Breaking down the departments
The fine artists are loopy. They proclaim everything as art and talk more bullshit than anyone else ... while frolicking through the daisies ... thinking they're "free." At best they're glorified beatniks, at worst they're smelly hippies with nothing to say. These guys don't need drugs; they're fucked-up enough as is. Most of their artwork revolves around penii and vaginae. Yay for vagina trophies!
The industrial designers act like jocks and pretty much are in that "I drive a sweet tricked-out Honda Civic and my whole department is a sausage-fest and all I think about is cars, hair-gel and ass" kind of way. These guys have real egos — and the teachers encourage it. You'll usually find them in the gym or at a sports bar trying to hook up with brainless psych students.
The crafts department is a mishmash of various skills and corresponding materials. These kids handle everything from wood to steel, glass to ceramic. They work with their hands a lot and tend to be rather intelligent when it comes to their craft (most end up working in more than one material at some point). Strangely enough, the material chosen by the person tends to reflect their personality. Glass blowers tend to be potheads. Ceramicists are as hot as the clay they fire. Wood and metal fabricators think they know it all — but metal guys are tougher and boss you around accordingly.
The photographers are always looking for a good time ... and they want to document it too. Everything has to be an adventure and then must be composed into a series of photos. Girls in the program will tell you they hate the MyFace emo pics, but secretly they love them. Just check their computer; you'll find approximately 10,000 arms-length angle shots. And keep in mind that they definitely take lots of naked pictures too. Do not miss out on this.
The animators are the nerds. They think up the craziest and kookiest ideas and try to find ways of animating them. They sit on their computers all day animating some strange half-assed attempt at some Tim Burton remake. These guys are weird — really weird.
The illustrators fancy themselves rock stars. Somewhere between graphic designers and fine artists, they think they're grounded in a business mentality but really they're just as ridiculous as fine artists. One might think of them as repressed versions of Bob Ross but with more suspender action.
The graphic designers are almost as egotistical as the industrial designers except what they lack in egotism they make up in pretentiousness. If it's not Helvetica, the holy grail of typography, it's shit. And it damn well better not be Papyrus! They're grounded in business and marketing. Advertising is their life. Sell! Sell! Sell!
The interior designers are either women or gay men. They're also pretty pretentious and they don't talk to anyone else. Deep down, interior designers just want to make the drapes match the carpet.
On the topic of clichés, here's one you've heard a million times: Those who can't do, teach. This has never been truer than for teachers at art schools. There is a very rare exception to this rule where you'll find teachers who actually know what they're talking about and have the experience to prove it. But, more often than not, you'll get failed artists who came back to the same school they graduated from to teach another class of rejects. If the reason they came back is not for a job, you can damn well bet that they came back to teach for some quality "mentoring" time. Gotta love that student-teacher bond! And by "bond," you know just what I mean.
Most of the models you're going to see are people that you don't want to see naked: I'm talking about incredibly obese women and hairy old men. Most of these "models" are a little off their rocker, which is why they're standing up naked in front of 20 strangers in the first place. Do you like raisins and baked goods? Nice, get ready to draw countless wrinkles and rolls.
The chicks at art school are hot. It's true. I can tell you some of the most beautiful women I've ever seen I saw at art school, however (and I must qualify this) they are crazy. These girls love to tease. They walk around in very little, or with nothing underneath so that you may behold all their curvy delights. Please beware of the wrath of the crazy art chick! She'll do a performance piece screwing another guy in Times Square with John Travolta humming the I Love Lucy theme song on the Jumbotron ... and call it art. I saw a performance piece done by a fine arts chick where she rolled around in a large quantity of dough while slowly removing her clothes. I'll let you take a wild guess about the demographic of the audience in attendance at such an event and whether or not said audience members were recording the event on their cell phones.
Truth about dudes
Guys in art school really think about two things: Sex and more sex. Sure, they occasionally think about the project that's due in two hours, but really they'd rather go for a romp in the supply closet. Ladies, be prepared with some extra tissues. No, not for that. See, some boys might shed a tear at how beautiful making love is. OK, so we tend to be a little more emotional. Everything at art school is a little more emo. Who cares who wears the pants! Sometimes we just like to wear your skirts. Get over it
If you want a sense of what art school is like, take a crack at the movie Art School Confidential. John Malkovich, Anjelica Huston and the rest of the cast are pretty good, but more than that it's a great example of the real clichés you'll find at art school. To be honest, I wish I had seen it before I enrolled.
I had no preconceived notions about what art school was going to be like. I just thought it was like any other school — different from high school, but similar to other higher educational institutions. I didn't go to art school with a bunch of friends; I started from scratch. Hell, I didn't even see the campus before my first day.
Everyone is there trying to "find themselves." Very few actually know what they want to get out of art school. Some have a vague idea of it, but haven't made the commitment to dedicate everything they have to their art.
Just about everyone who goes to art school is some kind of outcast. That's just the way it is, for better or worse, artists tend to operate in the margins. Taking that into consideration, you might not be surprised to learn that mental stability is lacking in great quantities on campus; people break down all the time. Maybe it's the stress of the projects and the stress of the high expectations that artists put on themselves. Maybe it's staring at the statement displaying the engorged tuition rates they've incurred. On the other hand, some could care less about the projects — they're just floating on their parent's wallet. These kids run around looking for a good time at any cost. They burn out quick.
If you're considering art school, make sure you don't buy into the program's pedestal. Some students climb so high up on it that it makes it hard for them to see reality. Instead, be a nerd about whatever tickles your taint. If it's painting, great! If it's building phallic structures out of toothpicks and lamb skin, great! Just be into whatever it is that you do. If you're enthused, chances are it'll rub off on others. And be social; it'll pay off in the end. Again with another fucking cliché: It's never what you know, but who you know that gets you a job. Art school is a great place to network and meet like-minded friends.
Not for you
Even if you don't attend art school, find one close to you and check out some of the art going on; talk to some people, make a new friend in the photo department, peek into the utility closet. The school is open to the public; it's a resource that shouldn't be ignored.
Josh Buckenberger attended art school all right; he had the handlebar mustache to prove it. His work can be found at arturo.us.