Higher education is falling head-first into a crisis right now, and art education is no exception. The price inflation of tuition has increased the most this past year than it had since 2008, and colleges going bankrupt due to the inability to cover their costs has become a frightening reality. For many professions, a college degree is bleakly referred to as something priced like a luxury, but considered as a necessity. However, art education sort of varies from this concept in that for many people, it’s not a necessity. Out of all working artists, only 10% are arts graduates. Considering the highly specialized nature of art school, and the intensity of pursuit that so many art students have towards their art career, this statistic proves to be shockingly small. Such high competition in the art world coupled with the seemingly ever-increasing costs of attending college has led many people to wonder whether it’s a worthwhile investment.
In an article for i-D magazine, Elizabeth Gregory ponders this exact question through the lens of one of the toughest industries to make it in: the fashion industry. But, in taking a closer look at how the biggest names in the industry got on their feet, you’ll find that their journeys vary from each and every degree. Listing a diverse spread of paths these fashion powerhouses took, Gregory concludes that a fashion degree does not guarantee success in the field. “Hard work,” she states, “As always, defines the success of the industry leaders I research, rather than their backgrounds, as does having an entrepreneurial spirit, passion, and a willingness to take opportunities that arise.” While a traditional arts training certainly allows young artists to develop important tools for their craft, it isn’t necessarily the one and only route to get into the art industry.
So what does this mean for young artists who just graduated with a fine arts degree? Contrary to what these statistics seem to imply, a creative degree is actually deeply valuable. Numerous companies, especially tech and innovation companies, are recruiting more and more creatives to diversify their workplace. In addition to bringing a competitive edge and their own talents to companies, creatives also provide refreshing and unique input on business matters. Further, business CEO’s are trying their own hand at art school to harness more creative thinking skills, which only highlights the important link between creative and business thinking.
Therefore, similarly to not requiring a fine arts degree to succeed in the creative world, having a degree in a specific craft does not mean that you wasted your money on a fine arts education and won’t be able to land a job. The CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, majored in industrial design at RISD. Instead of viewing a fine arts degree as a drawback on your job hunt, it can be emphasized, especially when it comes to critical thinking and innovation skills.
When it finally comes down to the actual worth of a fine arts degree, it largely depends on each individual person to decide. For those who wish to pursue an intensive arts education, a traditional art school would probably be worth the cost. But for those who have multiple interests, or don’t want to be cornered into a career they’re not entirely sure they want to pursue, state schools, community colleges, and liberal arts colleges have plenty to offer. What it comes down to is each artist’s own work ethic, dedication, and what they make of each situation and opportunity that comes their way.
Isabel Lamont is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College and serves as an admissions assistant with VAR.