The Wisdom of Art School

Several months ago I began an article about the wisdom of going to art school.  I tucked it away and never published it.  This morning my sister posted a link to an article on Huffington Post with a very similar rationale in which she was quoted.  I think it’s a good time to share my two cents as well…

As a twenty-first century feminist, I have concluded that the most salient advice I can give my children when it’s time for them to apply to college is to go to art school. 

Last week I attended a lunch with Aayan Hirsi Ali entitled “Feminisim in the Twenty-First Century” sponsored by the Asia Society in Hong Kong.  Ms. Ali’s primary point was that the modern, western view of feminism has lost its way and should return to its origin.  Feminism used to focus on equal opportunities, but has recently evolved to focus on equal outcomes.  Since women will always be the bearers of children and hence always the ones to struggle with work/life balance, she posits that instead of focusing on breaking glass ceilings, women should return our focus to the protection of women – from trafficking, violence, FGM and other horrors — and ensuring women are equal before the law. 

Then I attended a screening of Missrepresentation, the award-winning Sundance movie about how the media exploits women.  The compelling film suggests that women need to focus on breaking that glass ceiling, getting on the corporate boards of media conglomerates to gain control and power over what we watch and how women are portrayed.  Similarly, Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In, provides a solid argument for women staying in the workforce in large part for personal gain, to be able to regain work/life balance once we reach the upper echilons of our professions. 

So, break the glass ceiling, fight for the rights of the world’s under-served women, lean in, lean out, off ramp all while raising a family of my own?  What’s a woman to do?   Go to art school.  

Consider the benefits of art school. Art school prepares artists and art lovers with skills to do things they love.   Starting from a place of inspiration and purpose, a career can be built from the inside out instead of the other way around.   Practically speaking, an art degree is a lot more family friendly than a business degree, enabling the graduate to design and build a life around tangible skills, rather than just riding the coattails of a prestigious institution.  

Secondly, a hallmark of art school is the dreaded “crit.”  Vulnerable art students face the analytical wrath of their fellow classmates and professors as they present and defend their conceptual art to pass their classes.  A mediocre artist with a highly evolved conceptual ability and a quick wit will sometimes do better than a wishy-washy technically talented artist.   Consider the resilience and thick skin that comes from surviving the dreaded “crit”, desperately needed skills in the day of armchair quarterbacking and anonymous commenting.  

Finally, with a relentless barrage information streaming continuously, we are no longer informed by a finite source of arguably unbiased information (like the newspaper or evening news), but instead have an endless supply of input at our fingertips.  We gorge on our favorite sources, gagging on the soundbites we repeat without critical thought.  Every website in our portfolio reinforces our beliefs without dissenting voice.   It’s the age of INFOBESITY.   To keep our heads above water and our thoughts critical, we need to be curators of information, rather than blind consumers.  The extent to which we are able to put together a well culled, thoughtful, deliberate collection of topical inputs determines our competitiveness in the workplace, desirability at dinner parties, and success as architects of our own futures.  Where better to learn to curate a collection than art school?

My sister chose to go to art school.  At the time we thought what most people think when they hear a high school senior is off to art school.  What is she going to do with that?   The fact that it is arguably the best art school in the country, the Rhode Island School of Design helped, but didn’t completely assuage the concerns of how she’d put food on the table.  Twenty years later, she is the Associate Director of Admissions for RISD, exhibits annually at the alumni art sale, creatively inspires my niece with her own art work and easily puts food on the table.  She leaves work at 5, doesn’t work weekends, has flexible hours in the summer and an exciting, upwardly mobile career path, and now she’s quoted in the Huffington Post.  Starting from a place of inspiration, her professional life has fallen into place well.  I’d say that’s a success story, and a great endorsement for the power of an art degree. Go Lu!




2 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Art School

  1. One of my favorites. Great writing.


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