Introduction to Art Schools: What Type of Art School Do You Want to Attend?

by Frederick H. Carlson

As an art student, know your educational options.

Four-Year Colleges and Universities

If you desire an art education that encourages interaction with a variety of people and subjects in addition to art, and a range of degrees from the Bachelor's level to the Doctorate (Ph.D.) level, the university program is right for you. Coursework in the liberal arts outside of one's major field are emphasized, typically in areas such as English, History, Humanities, and Science. The four-year program gives you the most freedom to focus later in your educational experience. You may get bored with art and switch majors! On the other hand, I had a successful illustration student finish with a BFA in Art after 3 years of engineering school, so adaptability and many options are the benefits in this environment.

Four-Year Art-focused Schools

These art schools offer intensive, studio-centered art instruction and theory with segments of liberal arts courses, granting degrees at the Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctorate level. All degrees offered are art-related and career specific, and the required coursework outside of the studio arts is more art-centered and current trend driven then university offerings stressing time-tested universal truths. These schools feature a career-oriented art focus with additional non-art coursework to broaden your perspectives. It is almost impossible to change your major to something outside of the arts if this gets too overwhelming. You'll have to transfer out of such an institution if your needs are not being met.

Community Colleges

Community colleges most often offer two-year degrees in the form of associate's degrees or certification. They offer a shorter program then colleges, universities, and 4-year art schools, often with an employability focus in specific trades, often in the commercial, computer, and graphic arts. These credits and degrees can either serve the student for life depending on their drive and desire or serve as transfer credits to a four-year school. These schools are designed to meet the needs of those just beginning their post-high school education, those who want to supplement a prior degree, and those who have already entered the work force and are looking for a part-time art education around a full-time job. A major trend among all institutions of higher education is the part-time or adult education programs; but community colleges most often fill this need.

Vocational/Technical Colleges

A vocational/technical education is planned to teach you exactly what you need to know to get a job in a particular field, including many programs in the applied arts, printing industries, and computer training. These colleges offer associate's degrees, certificates, or diplomas. Coursework stresses practicality and hands-on experience at the expense of general educational goals, and supportive networks are organized around getting these graduates into employment situations upon completion of this course work. These institutions are the most job-targeted approach to an education; you'll need to go to the library for your study of the philosophy of the Dadaists. Art talent, personal ability and drive, and self-teaching skills can lead people successfully through these particular educational experiences and into satisfying art career pathways.

Art Workshops, Trade Conventions & Special Programs

You can prosper from brief, intensive training in a desired art subject or skill set by attending artists' workshops often publicized in trade publications or by mail that are offered in your preferred discipline. Art schools, colleges, and other local institutions such as artist trade associations (who often use universities and colleges as hosts) feature special programs bringing adults together to educate and congregate in art workshop settings that renew and update horizons in particular art trade segments. Workshops often focus training into a day or a series of days instead of taking the semester-length approach. Art students are often welcome at reduced cost. You may need to travel if there's nothing like this offered in your area, but this sort of art training can be well worth your while. You can also sign up for special courses on a part-time and/or evening basis without enrolling in a degree program at many of the institutions mentioned above.

  1. What Is Art?
  2. Professional Overview in the Arts
  3. Working as an Artist  
  4. The Challenges for the Artist
  5. What is a Portfolio?
  6. The Long View is Necessary
  7. Art Education
  8. Directions and Choices
  9. What Type of Art School Do You Want to Attend?
  10. When is the Art Major Important?
  11. Costs and Financial Aid >>
  12. Choosing an Art School
  13. Conclusion

About the Author

Frederick H. Carlson is one of the most well-known artist/illustrators in the mid-Atlantic region. No venue is too large or too small for his incisively drawn and lucidly painted pieces. He has executed everything from room-sized murals to LP covers. He drew over 150 portraits for National Review between 1990-1999.

Carlson is a 1977 Carnegie-Mellon University alumnus, and has been a freelancer for over 30 years. He has exhibited his art at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, the New York Society of Illustrators Cegep-St. Foy (Quebec), Dubendorf (Switzerland), the Manchester Craftsmens Guild, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and at Daystar/One World Gallery.

Fred was the National President of the Graphic Artists Guild from 1991-1993, the first non-NYC based artist to be so elected. He served on the Guild's Executive Committee for 8 years. He has written extensively and has been published in national publications such as The Artist's Magazine, Communication Arts, GAG News, Artists Market, and his work was featured in ART DIRECTION. He was one of the speakers addressing the Illustration Conference (ICON3) in Philadelphia in June 2003, and he served as a juror the same month at the 44th annual Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, PA.

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