See Yourself Attending a School for Visual Arts

by Cathy Sivak
See Yourself Attending a School for Visual Arts

Visual art implies a tactile creativity - the medium is the choice of the artist. But the array of choices available can lead to sensory overload.

Visual arts coursework is available at a variety of sources: technical/trade schools, community colleges, state and private colleges and universities, and other specialized private educational institutions. Many four-year programs offer a major or concentration in visual arts under the Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor's of Arts degree programs. Private and public technical or trade schools also award a range of certificates, associates degrees and bachelor's degrees upon completion of visual-arts intensive coursework.

Visual arts students with aspirations of a specific future career path will find greater ease at narrowing down the choice of educational venues. College and university programs often offer visual art programs under art or communications department banners as well as a broad liberal arts experience, while the technical process is more heavily explored at trade and specialty schools.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), Reston, Va., is a great resource for students; the site features in-depth information about schools as well as career options. NASAD is responsible for the accreditation of all art and design curricula (recognized by the U.S. Department of Education).

The requirements for admission vary by institution, but may include high school transcripts or general equivalency degree, standardized test scores, and a portfolio review (particularly if scholarships are at stake).

Poor grades in high school? University admissions policies for GPAs and test scores are sometimes relaxed for art program students, particularly when a portfolio review is part of the process. Schools typically look for a promise of talent rather than technical proficiency, due to vagaries in high school visual arts programs.

Visual arts students strive to develop their abilities and also create opportunities for employment. "The future looks bright for qualified visual artists," says Leslie Hammond, Director of Career Development at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Hammond notes SVA's survey of its class of 2002 found 90% of its BFA (Bachelors of Fine Arts) and MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) respondents reporting employment.

Coursework for visual arts school will vary by discipline, but will typically stress fundamentals as part of the broader art educations. Faculty members could be made up of professors, professionals in the field, or a mixture of both.

In addition to creativity, time-intensive is another commonality for visual arts courses of study. Class hours are one commitment, plus time to complete assigned projects, says Pat Cheak, head of the visuals arts department at the University of Illinois-Springfield. "The more time you spend, the better the grade is going to be."

As creativity tends to ebb and flow, students often need to add extra project time to their schedules when some sessions aren't productive. "You can't turn creativity on and off like a faucet," Cheak says, adding that learning to be creative on deadline is part of the educational process. The University of Illinois-Springfield visual arts department offers concentrations in painting, drawing, graphic design, ceramics and art history; students attain a BA. Primarily catering to upper level students, the Springfield campus of 4,000 recently began to admit freshmen.

Undecided as to what artistic track to choose? The Online Art Academy could prove to be a boon for undecided students, those in need of supplemental materials for existing coursework, or for people simply interested in art. This internet exchange allows students to view movie-style art courses. "These movies teach you the fundamentals of art - and it's an easy and fast way to learn the fundamentals," says Charles Bernard.

A Medford, N.Y.-based artist, Bernard specializes in illustrations and serves as CEO of the academy he founded three years ago. His work is featured on the internet academy's web site, as he also serves as instructor in several of the offered classes. The schools video instructors specialize in offering studio-type classes on line, so students get the benefit of actually watching an artist/instructor rather than the text/photo approach to art at other online academies, Bernard says.

Classes are available on general art, design, drawing, fine arts, graphic design, illustration, painting, visual communication and web design. Student questions are answered by the video course art instructors via e-mail. A one month all-access subscription runs $25; the school also offers a CD-Rom of its video courses. Currently there are no certifications or degrees available.

The study of visual arts offers options as varied and numerous as colors in the spectrum. Examples of visual arts careers possible under majors offered at SVA and many other visual arts schools:

  • Advertising: Art Director, Copywriter, Layout Artist, Production Artist
  • Film & Television & Gaming: Art Director, Broadcast Designer, Film Editor, Animator
  • Graphic Design: Graphic Designer, Corporate Art Director, Promotion Designer, Product Design, Exhibition Designer, CD Cover Designer, Multimedia And Web Design, Book Jacket Design
  • Illustration: Editorial Illustrator, Storyboard Illustrator, Cartooning, Animation, Fashion Illustration , Technical Illustrators, Medical Illustrators.
  • Interior Design: Department Store Display Designer, Exhibition and Museum Display Designer
  • Photography: Photographer in fields of Advertising, Fashion, News, Product, Editorial, Architectural

Each school has a different approach, but a portfolio at the end of the educational process is essential in order to break into a career in visual arts. "There is a lot of opportunity for visual thinkers," Cheak concludes.

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