Do you need a Degree in Art to Be an Artist?
It is September and students are moving back onto University campuses for a very different school year. I can't believe it was more than 10 years since I left my hometown to study Studio Art at the University of Guelph. Getting my degree in Studio Art had a huge effect on my artistic mindset and practice and I'm so happy I did it - but I'm asked all the time, "Do you need a degree to be an Artist?"
The short answer is No. I work with amazing artists who have diverse I work with I work with artists with diverse backgrounds. Some attended university or college, some have had apprenticeship style training and some are self taught. There is no one path to becoming a professional artist.
What is a degree in Studio Art?
“Studio Art combines the best of two worlds, providing a fundamental understanding of art history, theory and criticism with the opportunity to explore a range of media in the studio. You'll learn through lectures and discussions. Diverse audio-visual materials, from digital images to videos and films, will be regular components of most courses.” - University of Guelph Website
As a graduate, I have a good understanding of the art world, art history and was exposed to different media, styles and techniques. I was lucky to learn from established contemporary Canadian artists and I was able to choose from a variety of different disciplines in 2D and 3D media. I made lifelong friends and had experiences I could never have dreamed of growing up in small town Ontario.
Through my classes, I learned to think critically, facilitate my own learning and develop my own artistic practice. The tight deadlines, criticism and exposure to contemporary art and ideas was hugely beneficial and greatly influenced my artistic style and vision. They truly made me the artist I am today.
But degrees are expensive and are not a guarantee to a successful career in the arts. Careers such as art curation, graphic design, commercial photography, conservation, teaching, museum studies and gallery based work all require more specialized training. These skills can be obtained through college programs or post baccalaureate programs, some with internships. I graduated with a love of art and a strong knowledge of the art world, but without a direct path to a specific career.
Upon Graduation, to re-pay student loans I accepted a Job at a Bank and it was a long route back to Art. A lot of people are surprised when I explain that my watercolour technique was mostly self taught and developed almost a decade after receiving my degree in Studio Art. I fell in love with watercolour in my late 20’s and over the past 4 years developed my own style, techniques and learned how to turn that into a career in art and art instruction. I’ve had to learn a lot about business, marketing and the local art scene to be where I am today.
Regardless, I still recommend a degree in the arts as a starting point for young people. But if you have a love of art and passion for it. You don’t necessarily have to have a degree to be an Artist.