Hey everyone! Today, we’re diving into the differences between art school and traditional four-year universities. The paths are considerably different, and we want to explain the contrasts between the two from personal experiences. Taylor attended Washington State University to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts, while Lauren attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago to earn a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts. You can become a designer through either program, we’re just comparing the two!
Don’t be fooled, art schools do offer business and math classes, but they’ll be focused on your life as an artist and how to market your work. Several history, research, general art process (exploring various mediums), and liberal arts classes (such as writing, culture, and philosophy) may be required at art school. No, you won’t have to take biology, calculus, or accounting classes, but you will have to step outside of your comfort zone a bit to take art electives you may not be used to. Often times, art schools will encourage you to take classes in areas you wouldn’t normally gravitate towards like printmaking if you’re a sculptor.
In a traditional University you have two sets of required courses: those that you need in order to graduate and those needed for your major. The courses required by the university in order to graduate will change in level and hours between schools, but in general, you are required to take math, humanity, science (with a lab), English and a history course of some sort. You may be able to test out of some classes, but you’ll need to speak with your advisor for more information specific to your university. Ultimately, the required courses in traditional universities are geared towards getting a decent idea of all the different areas of study offered to help you find a major to focus. General electives help you to explore classes to count towards minors.
Art schools generally have longer class hours and meet less frequently. You won’t always be sitting through lectures, but rather, working. Studios at SAIC alone are either 3 or 6 hours long. Art schools dedicate large blocks of time to encourage more focused work. Art school is more self-driven, so what you put in, you get! It’s best to remember you won’t have a professor by your side when you’re in the “real world.” If you have questions, take initiative and ask them without hesitation!
In general, Universities have fairly short classes only lasting about 50min, but you meet fairly regularly. There are, of course, exceptions to this, e.g. science labs, art classes, and design classes. Many upper-level classes tend to be longer, though they still meet regularly. In University, the main focus of class is to give as much information as possible about a given subject. Rarely do you get to everything in class, therefore, you are heavily encouraged to take advantage of office hours, tutoring centers, and the library. Much of your work is done outside of the classroom through homework, self-study, and projects.
As I’m sure you can guess, you’ll be surrounded by other artists in art school. In architecture, the building you design is more than a structure – it’s a giant interactive sculpture. Everything is art. You go to class with painters, sculptors, fashion designers, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, and videographers.
Opportunities are everywhere to collaborate on projects: have your photographer friends help you out when you need to document your project model, learn a few tips from your graphic design friend to clean up your renderings and portfolio, and maybe even have a sculpture friend critique your model structure. You have the minds of other artists around you, allowing thoughts to endlessly flow in different ways. Network with the people you know, and collaborate!
In traditional University, you interact with a wide range of people from many different backgrounds, with diverse interests. It is unlikely that as a working professional you will only work directly with people who have similar interests and backgrounds as yourself, so universities are a great way to interact with people from many walks of life.
Universities are also great simply for the sheer breadth of course choices offered. Even if your degree is design focused, you can take classes in other subject that you just find interesting. You can get a minor in something that does not have any obvious connection to your major, but that you feel passionate about. One of the most beneficial aspects of going to a traditional university is the diversity of people and subject. Take advantage of the diversity and use it to build up your skill set!
The Student Lounge Conclusion
Finding the right environment for you is your key to success. If you want to incorporate many different things into your design education, look into some of the programs offered at more traditional universities like GWU, Virginia Tech, FSU, or even WSU (Go Cougs!). If you have a more art-focused brain and wish to learn more deeply about various fine arts, find your place at Pratt, RISD, SAIC, SCAD, or Cal Arts. Your design practice is shaped by what you learn, so find a program that fits your interests!