Art Education: Julia Cole
Topic: Art Education
Prompt: Working within a $10,000 budget, how would you recommend for a young/emerging artist to spend their time and money as an alternative to a traditional (expensive and competitive) graduate education?
Attempt: It’s really not just about the money, and it’s not even about the way that arts graduates are being trained like topiary bushes into the trending shape of the market’s needs and desires. For me, it’s the dwindling likelihood that – despite the best intentions and practices of faculty – a top-heavy, bottom-line art school will offer an authentic education to a (young) person of passion and imagination. Artists have always invented alternative solutions, and the best of these are guaranteed to stir up a swarm of new problems. Art schools will become as vestigial as a cultural appendix – unless they find ways to become more useful again. In the meantime, it’s rare that artists attain their full potential simply by their own counsel and agency, but a community clearly has the capacity to nurture, prod, mirror, question, inform, model and provoke. The freedom and ease of a ‘commoner’s degree’ recommends itself to those who wish to invest in a self-motivated, open-ended exploration leading outwards from an expanding self and into the wider world. Some simple steps to begin:
- Use most of the money to supplement a 3-days-a-week job for as long as you can make it last. Find a job that either feeds you with ideas, opportunities and connections or provides you with an opportunity to ‘make work at work’. Consider an apprenticeship or becoming a resident artist. Solve for happiness, resources and convenience.
- Live lean. Find roomies/studio mates who will sit up and talk till 3 AM, and who have strong work habits associated with pursuing their own paths. Live where you can walk/ride a bike/grow food.
- Read voraciously, ask for recommendations, share books and talk about them with your friends. Watch films, go to shows, be curious about others’ work.
- Seek mentors in the local community, and invite them to meet frequently. Ask difficult questions, and don’t be afraid to request advice and help. Be a mentor to others in return.
- Identify skill sets that seem important and either acquire these through a day job, or find teachers who will barter for time or skills you already have.
- Plan to attend one or two national or regional conferences, or residencies. Engage actively to make friends who will challenge and support you, and who will let you sleep on their couch when traveling. Invite them to sleep on yours, and connect them with your community when they come to town.
- Commit to present work, publish writing, submit to exhibitions or apply for grants – set deadlines that require focus and stretching. Share opportunities.
- Dig in locally to grow a strong network and invite collaboration. Show up and pitch in to build reciprocity and exchange.
- Set aside dedicated work time that is non-negotiable, and that provides a space for both rigor and play.
- Ask a group of artists and makers you admire to meet regularly to discuss work. Formalize the relationship sufficiently to build a long-term accountable relationship of trust, honesty and generosity. Commit to meet especially when you have nothing to show or are failing.
Author: Julia Cole, Rocket Grants Program Coordinator and co-founder of Rad School, an alternative school based in Kansas City, MO
Futures is a new series that presents speculations about emerging models, responses to ongoing crises and a catalogue of possible futures. Responding to the etymology of “essay” as an “attempt,” this micro essay format invites diverse voices to address pressing issues in the arts.
I hate to sound cynical, but I feel like this is idealism dressed as pragmatism. Many people would be hard-pressed to get two or three of these principles/goals operating in their lives – let alone all 10. I think it’s the right spirit – but seems a very tall order. Maybe not say “simple steps” – maybe say “here are some examples of a few ideals to work toward”?
Yes, you are right Chase it is idealism – I *am* modeling an alternative vision here after all. But, it is based in pragmatic experience too. I have personally lived all of these, and know others who are crafting lives along these lines. Some might say that living with debt is not pragmatic or simple, requiring many difficult concessions to accommodate the burden. It’s even a challenge to take a couple of years out of life to dedicate to a more traditional grad program, and the idea of an exploratory education itself may be becoming idealistic for many, because the commitment and time it takes is hard to carve out of daily life. These ideas for building a committed learning practice that is embedded in community may take time to achieve, but they really are quite simple. The alternative education group that I work with (Rad School) is free because we find avoiding money to ultimately be easier than dealing with it. We also have a motto: Rad School is for anyone, but it may not be for everyone. Hopefully this series will pitch out some different kinds of models that will fit different styles of life and priorities. Thanks for your feedback!
The only one that isn’t obtainable for everyone is the first one. Even then you can make the rest work with a nine to five. I know plenty of people who do it. I’m surprised how many of these I do myself and I’m going to make it a point to do all ten. It’s all a matter of motivation. How badly do you want it? Do you believe in yourself? Don’t toss in the towel so easily. An artist is, by definition, not “many people” and it is a folly to think otherwise. Wake up because being an artist is a “tall order” and not for the faint of heart; however, the rewards are immeasurable. The camaraderie between artists is as thick as thieves and the sense of accomplishment is unparalleled.
And it’s what you may/will need to do after schooling too. School is a foundation and introduction to techniques that offers breadth, most of the work comes after. As an artist, the degree may be a symbol more than anything. I do think having a work related degree can be very helpful for an artist. Expertise in another field can also open and reveal ways of seeing the world, as well as support you in that 3 day a week job while you make art.