Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Guy In Charge Has Too Much Power

For those of you who read my previous article, I was going over how it was evident that my school (The Art Institute of Vancouver or AI for short), being a private institution, had its big grubby hand in your pocket the whole way through. I talked mostly about the first quarter and all the fees involved.

I cover more of that here, but this article mostly pertains to the overall running by the program heads and how a bad egg at the top makes it rotten for everybody.

For the first three quarters, the experience was pretty decent. Most of the teachers were fantastic and really knew what they were talking about. About the time the fourth quarter rolled around stuff started to change, and not for the better.

For some reason I can’t fathom, the really great teachers that everyone liked started getting fewer and fewer classes to teach, and were being replaced by other new teachers, a couple of them decent but more than a few that had the credentials but were obviously just there for a pay check. One prime example was our Motion-Capture class. Our teacher was a guy with a ton of experience; he even worked on the mo-cap for Gollum in Lord of the Rings! I had high hopes for learning a ton from this guy.

Unfortunately his head just wasn’t in it. He showed up late most days, and we spent the quarter doing tutorials right out of the program help files. The part that really got to me was when I finished an assignment and ask him to come check it for me to see if there’s anything I could improve on before submitting it for marking, he gives it a cursory glance and tells me it’s great. THEN when I get the assignment back, I have a whopping 64%. And not to brag or anything, but my mark happened to be one of the higher ones for that particular project. And we didn’t get assignments back for weeks after submission. That teacher didn’t return after that quarter but many students failed and had to cough up almost another grand to retake the course anyway even though it was admittedly the fault of the teacher, but the administration wasn’t about to give up the opportunity for more cash.

Most problems were in that there was no real blanket standard for achievement. In the first level animation course we got a guy who pretty much graded A’s all around. And then the guy who did the second level failed almost everyone because they weren’t good enough. Now I understand that in any given class a few people are going to fail for various reasons, but 3 quarters of the class failed from this guy and had to take it again. Oh, and he was the only animation teacher of that level so the students had no choice but to have him again. And it’s not like he was just a tough marker, the guy was just a jerk. He humiliated and insulted his students on a weekly basis. Almost every student had a real problem with him.

Did they let this guy go? Of course not. I always wondered why a school would keep a guy around that was getting such bad reviews all around until I found out later that he was a close personal friend of the animation department’s academic director (I’m going to call him the AD from now on). Furthermore they were working together to overhaul the entire animation program, which it admittedly needed some work, but why was it not just done right the first time? After all the superiority of the Art Institutes Program was show you sucked us in to this education in the first place.

After butting heads with the administration on more than one occasion (I’m one of those people to go to bat for others if I perceive an injustice, not just my own issues) I graduated AI and got hired right out of my portfolio show with one of the highest paying jobs ever achieved by a student from that campus. Almost double the junior wage for someone in my field. Not to brag but to point out that I went against many of the things that the guys on top told us to do to maximize our chance to get a job. For example our AD told us to specialize in one thing. He literally came in to one of our classes one day and told us pretty much exactly what to do for a demo. I, being the stubborn ass that I am, instead made a Demo Reel showcasing a number of skills. I got a great job after grad. Just saying.

After grad I checked up with a few of the teachers I thought I learned the most from at AI and it turned out none of them were teaching there anymore save one. Most had just had it with the AD and left and another wanted to stay for the students but was just given fewer and few classes until he was fazed out altogether. Imagine my surprise when I also found out that all their replacements were more personal friends of the AD and the guys who were no longer working were ones who disagreed with him. The one amazing teacher who was still there was one of those teachers who pretty much holds a program together, by teaching multiple classes and really caring about the students and going above and beyond the usual instructor call of duty. He openly disagreed with the AD on several things and it was rumoured that he was going to leave, whether from him quitting or the AD dismissing him, but the general consensus from almost all the students was that if he left, so would they.

I had a lot of problems with the money grabbing, student victimizing, and inflexible nature of the administration at AI, and while I learned what I needed to know, by taking advantage of the genuinely good instructors and trying to go above and beyond the course material, my overall experience is not my fondest of memories.

I chose to attend AI because of the work that was shown from an amazing group of students under a different academic director. By the time I got there that AD had moved on and been replaced by the one we were stuck with, who hired his friends and changed the program around us, uncaring of the fact that he was ruining our education.

The worst part is that I chose to go to the Art Institute because it had such a great reputation in the States, and I figured it would be the same at a Canadian campus, but it seems that it was an entirely different entity and the administration played by their own rules to line their pockets, to the detriment of the students, and the schools overall reputation. It just goes to show that who’s in charge makes all the difference in the world, and schools should really be careful who they put in power positions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You need to be independently wealthy to become a starving artist

As a guy who attended a privately funded art school, I probably had a much different post secondary experience than most. I’ve been asked to contribute to this blog my own unique perspective and will try my level best to do so!

I went to the Art Institute of Vancouver ( http://www.wherecreativitygoestoschool.com )because the Art Institutes have a reputation for deriving their content and instructors directly from the industry. The veneer is of professionals that want to pass on their skills to keep their industries flourishing and on the cutting edge. Now I may be using the term veneer somewhat unfairly as that suggests, they are merely faking it and not delivering at all. I’m sure that there are many people associated with AI (Art Institute) that wish it to be just that and do their best to make it so.


I quickly found that it was mostly about the money, at least as far as the administration was concerned. As a non-government funded Institution, it’s a lot more expensive for a lot less time. (Almost 5 grand per quarter for 6 quarters, a quarter is 5 classes a week for three months.) Now I understand that specialty education is going to be a little more money and that they must be worth that extra money, after all, they were still getting full class sizes even though BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) had a similar program for less money. And that would have gone towards a degree!

The difference (allegedly) was in the quality of instructors and programs that were meticulously engineered to give you exactly what you needed to do well. In addition, one of their selling points to high school students was a huge portfolio show at the end and an amazing job placement program. All right, if what you say is true I suppose that justifies a few more bucks. I would have been content with that, had I not started to see more red flags.

First of all, for all the art related programs at AI you have to submit an art portfolio to get approved to attend, which is a good idea. I think that students should start at a certain standard so everyone’s time isn’t wasted. At AI (Art Institute) the purpose of the portfolio was twofold: to get you in, and to see if you are eligible to skip the first quarter, which is merely foundation art skills, which if you demonstrate you are a good enough artist it’s a moot point to take.

Here’s the problem.

First of all they let everyone in who applied anyway. There were people in my classes who couldn’t competently draw stick figures so it became fairly obvious that they were just letting in anyone in who could toss them enough pictures of the Queen. The second maddening factor was that apparently the ”If you are good enough you can skip first quarter” schpiel was on par with unicorns, the Loch Ness Monster and other myths because there was also a dude in my foundation classes who was the most amazing artist I’ve ever seen. When I asked him why he didn’t skip the foundation quarter he replied to me and I quote “Duno man, they said I had more that I need to learn”. I’m sorry, I’m not being fair to Nessie, there have actually been reports of people seeing her. Not so with this elusive ticket to the second quarter. Fine. The school has high standards of achievement and I suppose not matter how good you are you can always improve. A bit hypocritical considering they let in any schmoe with enough dollar signs to back them up but I suppose I can live with that, after all, it’s a business.

The hypocrisy really kicked me in the face about halfway through the quarter when he was approached by the academic director with an offer to put his art on their advertising. For free of course. But hey that’s a great opportunity! Good for him! Even for free, he could put that on his resume and the whole city will see it and...

Wait a minute...

His art is good enough to be posted on billboards with the school logo...but NOT good enough to skip the foundations quarter? I like to think I’m a fairly intelligent human being, the fact that I’m an art student notwithstanding, and I started seeing big red flags with “MONEY GRAB” written all over them.

Once this concept was presented to me I started to look more closely. I started to really think about our student fees which were a couple hundred per quarter. What exactly was that paying for? Was the exorbitant amount for the classes not enough? Apparently that is for parking (which there was not enough of anyway) and art supplies. One redeeming factor was that AI supplied all its students with a big bag of all the art supplies you would likely need for that first quarter. That was nice of them, but not really because the supplies were of inferior quality and you had to pay more to replace them when you ran out. And that kit was mandatory, if you had everything you needed already and went to ask them to waive the extra cost and just not give you a kit, they said no, so you’re stuck. I think it also appropriate to mention that the exact same sketchbook was 10 dollar less when you went to the local art store as opposed to the AI student store.

Altogether not huge things by themselves, but little fee’s all over the place add up and the red flags didn’t stop rearing their ugly little heads even after that.

More to come with my next article where I’ll cover who’s in charge of your education pretty much dictates what your experience at school will be like.