Dawn Cooke: Art School
So what does it mean to go to art school? Most art school students enter college right out of high school. A lot of them have parents who are paying for their tuition. Those who do not have parental support are relaying on loans, grants and scholarships (mainly loans). Those who don’t go right out of high school usually had some life circumstances that prevented them from going to college such as poor guidance, no money or no ambition, just to name a few.
In my case, I had all of those reasons for not going to college after high school. In fact I was married at 17 and dropped out of high school. I promptly went and got my adult high school diploma. And that sets the stage for what I am about to tell you…
I went to art school, I graduated with high honors and I walked across a stage in my cap and gown for the first time in my life. It felt really good to do that in that moment. Despite these thoughts, for once in my life I felt that I made some accomplishment. I did it on my own without the help from my parents. I raised my two children without the help of their father all the while.
I was very lucky to have my fiancé, who is the most supportive person I have ever known. And I did get to know some instructors who were very helpful to me. However, because I learned critical thinking skills in college I can’t help but think about how fantastic it all seemed, like some big Shakespearean stage performance.
I actually made it through this system and I feel the urgency to share my findings with all of you, tattoo artists and aspiring artists alike. Since I just graduated I am not yet sure what I will get out of it. I know I nearly killed myself doing it. At first, I just wanted to learn and be inspired.
I received enough scholarship money to get a free semester. After that semester I was hungry for more, so I got loans. Then I realized I was going into debt and I needed to have something to show for it. So I started to peruse the paper because I figured I should at least get the degree if I were already in debt for it. Lucky for me I had been tattooing almost 10 years when I started school. I already had a means to make a living doing work in an art related area. I started out with a trade skill as an artist and tattooing supported my family and me as it still does. In fact, I enjoy tattooing still. I just wanted to become a better artist. So I went to art school.
I did become a better artist however what art school doesn’t do is prepare artists for the reality of the market. In my experience there were few classes dealing with this subject and since we live in a monetary system you would think they would provide this kind of information for their students. The Fine Arts likes to pretend that the art world is this big secret mystical arena. The truth is you must find a market for your work and this is a problem for many artists starting out in an ill economy. Art is a luxury and a commodity for those object makers.
For those bullshitters (and by saying bullshitting I also recognize this as a skill) I don’t know what art is for them except for a philosophy. In that case, academia is the right place for you. It is the only shelter you will have in your career. But if you are lucky some idiots with more money than taste will buy into your junk that you call art. And if they do, awesome for you!!! If they don’t, keep going to grad school and teach, and good luck getting a job teaching too, but keep trying anyway!
I know some really genuine teachers and some that just collect a paycheck. For the object makers, be prepared to have a large place to store your work until the right person comes along and starts buying your skillfully crafted junk.
Me, I believe in magic and I don’t care to think about reality too much anyway! So I will store my junk ’til the end of time just knowing that someone WILL want it someday and no one can tell me otherwise! Or maybe I will burn it all and dance around the fire, chanting to my own made up gods. Yes, art school is delusional too, just like religion and society in general!
As far as tattooing goes, artists come out of school with debt and no possible hope of paying back the loans in a depressed economy where there are fewer jobby-jobs and way more college graduates to compete with than in past decades. So many artists both skilled and not skilled think they can just jump into tattooing. As if, obviously a monkey can do it. I feel really sorry for these people, because they are so mislead.
First, just because you have some drawing skill doesn’t mean you will automatically be great at tattooing.
Secondly, these people have no one who IS skilled at tattooing to teach them.
So they become kitchen jockeys. However, some of these people are naturals, but few. Very few in comparison to those who are hacking people up. And some of those artists mentioned WILL make it and go on to be good tattoo artists, though few. The majority will never understand the tattoo culture or even care to as long as they can make a buck. For this I blame the schools for not helping students understand the market and the economy.
Art school kids aren’t the only people who think that tattooing is a good way to make a buck. Pretty much everyone who watches reality television thinks they can tattoo. I’m just pointing out the obvious, I guess, but I digress.
Back to my original point about art school… Here is where school is good: it promotes critical thinking, which is the foundation of positive progress in my opinion. Art school forced me to really question what I was doing and why I was doing it and pretty much everything. It also allowed me the time to spend focusing on building other skills. Most importantly, I met some people that I appreciate very much.
The interesting, and bittersweet thing about all that is that you really don’t need college to do any of it. The college just facilitates those kinds of happenings. Also, the facility at the college I attended was great, if you could take advantage of it. It is a trip to look back and realize that colleges are like any other business or government institution. Colleges that are private are in business. Colleges that are state ran schools are tied into the government. So it’s not that they are good or bad. It’s that art school doesn’t make any sense. Art doesn’t have to make sense. But art school is a business and it ought to make sense! It might as well be a business school except they don’t teach you business at art school when actually they should!
My best advice for art students is to sharpen some skills in a few focused areas, simultaneously finding a market or purpose for your work and study. If you have no skills, can’t write, draw, paint, sculpt, make shit and have no useful ideas… GO to business school, not art school. You would be wasting your time and money at art school. And for god sakes, don’t just try to tattoo because you think it is cool and you have no other way of making money! There are millions of ways to make money! Do yourself and the world a favor and invent a new way of making a buck! Use your creative thinking skills to make it happen.
If you must go to art school, the facilities and instructors are where you will see value in your experience. Find out what the alumni are doing and ask them about their experiences. Most people are going to want to steer you in the right direction. But really think about what you expect to get out of the experience. Write down your expectations. Part of fulfilling those expectations has to do with your commitment, but the other part has to do with how realistic your expectations are. You can’t have real expectations if you have no idea what you are in for.
So who needs art school? Good question. The answer: I don’t know? Just ’cause I went to art school don’t expect me to have any answers! Truth be told, I haven’t met a single person that has any real answers! That makes life exciting don’t you think? All this quest of knowledge and understanding and science is the closest thing we get to an answer to anything. Yet methods are proved and disproved all the time! What a topsy-turvy world! What do I do now that I don’t know anything? At least before I had beliefs and that is all I needed no matter now irrational! Who needs art school? Magic 8-Ball says, “ASK ME AGAIN LATER.”
For now, I am back at the shop full-time. I am setting up a workstation for myself at the studio and I will be traveling some. I have some great ideas and tons of projects to keep me busy and happy!(Dawn Cooke is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine can be found at Depot Town Tattoo, 33 East Cross St. Ypsilanti, MI 48197 www.dawncooke.net and www.dawncookeart.com)
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