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 ( )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.

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