Creative Success Starts with an Art Degree

by Cathy Sivak
Creative Success Starts with an Art Degree

The philosopher may rightly note that art is all around us. But for those students serious about a future in the art world, a formal education in art is in order.

The field of art is truly expansive, so the student's potential field of specialty will be important to consider when choosing an institute of higher learning. Studio arts involve materials such as paintings, sculpture, photography or other art forms; design arts include interior design, architecture, graphic design and product design; and some students and careers focus on knowledge of art, such as art historians and art critics.

An interest in art can start with a few high school classes, workshops at the local art gallery or park district or, more recently, the internet. For an education in art, specialty schools offer two-year degree or certificate programs as well as traditional four-year college and university Bachelor's of Arts, Bachelor's of Fine Arts and BA and Masters of Fine Arts or Masters of Arts programs. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits 200-plus institutions with programs in art and design and is also an excellent resource for students interested in art as a career.

A student artist armed with a degree and a wide educational base is more likely to succeed in a chosen career than a self-taught or specialty art-school educated student, contends Penelope Jones, University of Southern California-Los Angeles School of Fine Arts Executive Director of Student Affairs.

"We're looking for students who want to be broadly educated, as opposed to a one-dimensional focus in a certain area. We're not about creating technicians," Jones says. "We believe that any artist, whether they are a fine artist or a designer, should be broadly educated."

At USC-LA fine arts concentrations include ceramics, digital design, drawing, film/video, graphic design, media arts, painting, photography and sculpture. The USC-LA fine arts department confers Bachelor's of Art or Bachelor's of Fine Arts degrees, as well as a Masters in fine arts. BFA students maximize studio classes toward their degrees, while BA students take half studio art, half more academic classes.

Art course requirements and availability vary, but four-year programs include a broad liberal arts program in addition to art-specific classes, while two-year programs like the Art Institute tend to focus heavily on studio art. Students with two-year program completion can often transfer to a 4-year institution to complete a traditional art degree. However, if a student does not complete the program at an Art Institute school or other similar studio art program, credits are unlikely to transfer to a mainstream university.

"Students ought to think hard before skipping the chance to get an education at a four-year liberal arts institution," says John Siskar, Buffalo State, State Univesrity of New York art education department chairman.

"Many programs offer art, but if the serious art students want art, they ought to look for a program where they can hear from a variety of perspectives from numerous professors," advises Siskar. A school with only one or two professors available in a student's choice of concentrated study is limiting, he notes. "Taking eight classes with the same instructor is not a healthy way to understand the scope of the art. If there are ten professors, that's a number that offers the breadth of viewpoints you need."

Expectations for art schools should include creative atmospheres: visiting artist programs, trips to major museums and galleries, student art organizations, student gallery or other areas important to the student.

Art students may even find opportunities for travel and study abroad. USC-LA offers study abroad programs in countries including Italy, South Africa, Chile and Australia. "It adds to the students' overall pool of knowledge, which they will be constantly pulling from the rest of their lives, regardless of their career," Jones agrees.

The foreign study program at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. places students on a different continent for a quarter: Asia, South America, Europe or Africa. Students explore native art forms, visit local museums, meet and work with local artisans, and can see native designs and landscapes on location, explains Rowena Schussheim-Anderson, co-chair of the Art & Art History Department.

"A good addition to the traditional liberal arts education is to go visit other countries," she says. "Instead of only studying about it in studio art or art history, it's great for young artists to go and do it."

About two-thirds of Augustana art majors apply to the college specifically for art, while others become interested after they take an art class as part of the degree program, Schussheim-Anderson says. The college offers BA degrees in arts, studio art, art history and art education.

Armed with an education in art, the opportunities for success abound. "Students have to take the initiative, be creative about how they are going to use their degree," Schussheim-Anderson says. "It's not the easiest field, but I tell students if they want to do it enough, they'll find a way."


For more about art education opportunities, check out the following links:

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