The Art School Survival Guide

An education in art can be a wonderful thing. But if we’re being real, it also fosters a weird environment, full of pretentious kids who think they’re the next Dali. It doesn’t matter if you’re studying film, writing, painting, or design, the arts attract a motley crew of people, all of whom believe they’re the real tastemaker. That being said, it can also not be a complete waste of money if you take the time to grow new creative friendships and accept that you have a lot to learn before success finds you. So if you’re about to start your first semester or heading into your next, we’ve got you covered with some helpful pointers to make your art school experience a tiny bit more bearable.


1. Referring to your work as “experimental”

When people call their work “experimental,” they believe they’ve communicated the idea that their work is different and weird, but ultimately progressive and brave.

But when you say that, what your fellow students really hear is, “I’m trying to justify why my work seems so shitty.”

A mind-blowing amount of students love to throw this word around. “Experimental.” Believe me, it’s not necessary ― if you’re in school, everything you do is experimental because you have no idea what you’re doing. “Experimental” isn’t some kind of enchantment word that magically transforms work that makes no sense into a deep, refreshing masterpiece.


2. Referring to any styles as “your style”

Professors just looove the opportunity to roast a student who feels like they know what their style is, especially in first-year. They’ll hit you with artists and filmmakers you’ve never even heard of, from years ago, who have done “your style” and have done it better. In front of the whole damn class too. Save yourself the embarrassment and realize your “style” takes years to cultivate.

You’re at school to develop the voice you do not already have. If you already knew what that was, or had built up a style that is strong enough to be considered uniquely you, why the hell would you be paying for art school. You should be out there selling out.


3. Dealing with massively gregarious personalities

Eccentricity is far from lost on art students. Prepare for an army of mini-Kanyes and wanna-be-David-Lynchs. Without fail, at least one person in your class is going to have a colossal ego. Without fail, at least one person in your class is going to be dressed like some kind of anime character/runway model hybrid. Without fail, at least one person in your class is going to be doing some borderline strange things. (Like, B.o.B making an “Earth-Is-Flat” Neil deGrasse Tyson diss track kind of strange).

It’s important to hold your own. Don’t let their loud asses block out the voices you really need to hear. Focus on your own your own projects and when you’re in a position where you have to work with the more ‘out there’ students ― don’t judge, rather seek to understand. Try to learn what is at the core of this diva you need to deal. It will make your art that much better.

This is more effective than matching incendiary levels with them over every little quarrel. You have a long road ahead, so, pace out your rage. Save it for the people who are undoubtedly going to try and screw you over when you get on your Drake shit.


4. Don’t compliment work that you don’t like

Be a good peer, be honest with the people in your class even if they can’t take criticism. You’re all in your developmental stages and while you may feel compelled to shower your friends with praise because it feels good, it may hurt them in the long run.

Don’t throw out compliments you don’t mean. If there’s something you didn’t understand in a piece, let them know. If you think there’s something that could be improved on, let them know.

Be ready to have that kind of feedback reciprocated towards you too.


5. Collaboration is key

Work with peers who share a similar ambition, share your skills with each other, and if you dig someone’s work, have their back.

Building a strong circle of creative people can only benefit you, especially in school, when you’re low on resources and need friends you can rely on to help you execute on your creative vision. School is the perfect time to build up relationships with artists you know, trust, and actually enjoy being around. You may not see it immediately but your current peers could very well end up being the people you work with on a larger scale in the future. It happens all the time.


6. Don’t be afraid to share your work

Try to create projects that can serve you beyond just the classroom. Have a strong output of work, whether it’s your final projects or a class exercise. If it’s something that people can enjoy or engage with outside of your course, you might as well post it up and attempt to build an audience while studying your craft.

Art school is essentially providing you with a body of work supervised by people with years of experience.


7. If you’re a dude and you’re trying to be a “bro”, don’t

I use the term “bro” because I’ve personally only experienced this happening with straight males, but I suppose this could apply to a wider group of people who are made uncomfortable by anything outside of heteronormativity.

You’d be surprised (I was) to find that even in an arts program there are still some people who will feel a little uneasy about certain subject matter. Same-sex nude models, blunt conversations about sexuality and gender ― that kind of thing.

On occasion, after these topics or exercises come up, at least one student will go into bro-mode, feeling the need to let you know that they get laid. With women. On the regular. This is unnecessary, and I guarantee you, nobody cares. Even your parents know, everyone is a little gay in art school. Calm down.


8. Be uncomfortable

Art school can serve as a safety net with the wondrous flexibility of a rainbow-coated slinky. You have the room to pursue as many ideas that you want, even if they may be a little risky. Art school is a place that values the fearlessness.

So, always try new things with your work. Never be stagnant, even if your idea seems a little crazy. You’re in the one place that (for the most part) adores crazy. Take the opportunity of art school to explore outside of your comfort zone when it comes to your projects.

You may end up falling in love with a new medium or discovering a skill you never thought you had. Keep it fresh and loose, fam.