People have had different reactions when they hear that my husband and I “let” our children attend art school; while they usually respond with an “aren’t you brave” type of comment, some mean it like they wish they’d had the courage to let their children follow their artistic passions, but others mean it like they think we’ve done something crazy.
Art school students have some stereotypes to overcome in our society, and they often meet resistance within their own families as well. The current struggling economy doesn’t help either; high unemployment and underemployment rates can make it even more difficult than usual for worried parents to support an art education.
Two of my five children, I’ll call them One and Four, have taken the art school route now, and I have to confess I’ve had my worries as well—after all, we all want our children to find good jobs, particularly if they will have to pay off college loans in the future.
My number One snuck his art school application in at the last minute, so it caught us off-guard. Although he was an AP art student in high school, he had been applying to various colleges for majors in either history or visual arts, specifically film or video production. After attending a Boston University art portfolio review with a friend of his, my son was so impressed with the program that he called B.U. the next day and asked them to change his application from the College of Liberal Arts to the College of Fine Arts and bing, bang, boom—he was accepted, and I was the mother of a fine arts student. Life is funny like that.
Emboldened by her brother’s enrollment, my number Four gave us fair warning (meaning ALL through high school) that art was her passion and she would only consider applying to schools of art and design. Now that she’s there, her pet peeve is people thinking that she’s an art school student because she wasn’t smart enough to do anything else. She was, in fact, an AP student in the top 5% of her high school class. “I take more classes than any other college student I know and work twice as long. Art school is extremely rigorous, and I take academic classes as well,” she says. Then with a roll of her eyes she adds, “People think we play with crayons.”
Make no mistake about it, art school students are smart. Students in top-tier art schools have average GPAs equal to those of students in any top college. The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, which my number Four attends, boasts an average GPA of 3.7 with a good chunk of students who were valedictorians of their high school classes. They have a full liberal arts curriculum to study in addition to four to six hour long studio art classes to attend. This often leaves them exhausted by the end of a long and rigorous day, but they wouldn’t have it any other way; art is, after all, their passion.
If art is also your child’s passion, they should know that being an artist is all about five things—a great portfolio, networking, networking, networking and a great portfolio. (Yes, I know that’s really only two things, but I’m making a point.) Keeping that in mind, here are some insights to help you give your art student some much-needed support:
Your student portfolio will get you into art school, and your professional portfolio will get you work. Once you graduate from college, no one will ever ask to see your transcript, only your portfolio, so:
- Take your high school student to a National Portfolio Day. These are like college fairs made up entirely of art schools. Have your student bring in a variety of work, both finished and unfinished, and you can get it reviewed by college representatives with tips for making it better before you apply to their schools. Sometimes you will get conflicting opinions on the same work, but that’s o.k.—it will help give your budding artist a better sense of which schools are the best fit. And wear comfortable shoes—you’ll be standing in line a lot!
- Make appointments for informal portfolio reviews when you visit art schools with your student. Same idea as above, only with the one school at a time.
- Let the experts be the judges. Your child might have talent you don’t recognize. I remember watching a portfolio slideshow of the accepted students at my son’s college orientation. There were vastly different levels of artistic talent on display, but each artist was selected because the teachers saw something in them which spoke to their potential.
- Don’t be afraid to let the world know you are the parent of an art student. You’ll be surprised at how many people have use for an artist at home or at work. Designing murals, soccer medals, company logos, and CD covers for friends, family and co-workers are all great ways to build up a professional portfolio and to begin networking.
- Build a community. When I asked my son to share some advice, he said that artists need to be prepared to constantly scrounge up work on their own. You should get to know your professors well, attend college and gallery events, and join groups of other artists to begin putting together a mutually beneficial community. Being a successful artist, he said, is not for introverts. Although artists can work as salaried employees for corporate entities, he explained, and many will work on their own. Even those with full-time employment need to be prepared to face lay-offs in their careers, however. When business takes a downward turn, my son warns, “artists are usually the first to go.” But if they have an active community to turn to, they will always bounce back.
- Self-promote your work on the internet. Before the internet, artists needed to score gallery shows to get exposure, but the exposure available to you through websites and social media outlets is now exponentially greater. There are many websites and social media outlets in use by the art world, but these will change over time as will their rules. The most important point to remember is to find out who owns the rights to your work before you digitally upload it anywhere—the artist or the website. Stick to sites where you keep the rights to your own artwork.
- In addition to websites that allow you to share your artwork, sites like LinkedIn and Meetups.com are also useful for professional networking. LinkedIn allows you to connect with people in the business world and Meetups helps you find groups to network with and events to attend in your local area. My son, for instance, attended many video game development events to meet people in that industry who might be looking for artists.
More DOs and DON’Ts for raising an art school student that you will BOTH find helpful:
DO encourage your high school student to get the highest GPA possible. It will help open doors into the best art schools.
DON’T keep telling them that they’re smart enough to have gotten into college anywhere (meaning anywhere else but art school).
DO encourage your student to research the job market for various art fields before choosing a major as some are more employable than others. There is a difference, for instance, between fine art majors, who are often preparing to head to graduate school, and commercial art majors, who are focused more on the job market. The Bureau Of Labor Statistics is a good place to start looking at employment statistics.
DON’T keep sending your art student job postings unrelated to their major, it annoys them: “I’m a painting major mom, but thanks anyway for the heads-up on the shoe designer job that requires five years’ experience.”
DO allow your student to accept free internships—they are the norm in the art world, but make sure your artist is getting something in return if it’s not going to be money. The professional should either be teaching your student something, or at least have an excellent reputation in the art world with the promise of networking opportunities. To have both is best.
DON’T be afraid to put limits on free internships. Your student should let their employer know that they will work for free for only so long, or else they will be taken advantage of.
DO encourage your student to hone their writing skills. Art students must be good communicators, and they will be writing many artist statements in college and beyond.
DON’T ever give up on your art student! After two years of working free internships and non art-related part-time customer service jobs, my number One has successfully combined his talents into a great full-time position with a 3-D printing company. Although my number Four is still in college, she is well on her way with great work-study experience and resume-building art jobs arranged through friends and family.
DO check out staffing firms that are devoted to the art world. It’s a great way to make contacts, get paid for your work, and find out where you fit in.
Use the comment section below to give a bit of encouragement for art students by sharing your own personal story!