What I Learned from Art School

art schoolAs the first generation of my family to attend college and not being very knowledgeable about it, I made my decision about what I should major in based on my limited 17-year-old perspective. A part of that perspective was the saying that “you should do what you enjoy”.

While I still believe that, I now have a broader understanding of the concept; I’ve found that the same things I enjoyed about doing illustration and design are involved in other fields and other careers than the ones I was originally focused on.

On several occasions I’ve had people ask me if I regret my decision to go to college for a Bachelors degree in art. (Sometimes this is followed by a joke or a comment about spending time and money on a useless degree.)

I do think that if I have the opportunity I would like to go back to school at some point for an advanced degree or certificate, mostly just because I enjoy learning, however that doesn’t diminish the value of my original experience. I would hardly call it a useless degree:

 3 Things I Learned in Art School:

1. How to Solve Problems

My focus in college was on illustration and design, and I like to tell people that it is essentially a degree in problem solving as most assignments involved coming up with several (sometimes as many as 25) unique ways to present a product or represent an idea, within a limited set of parameters.

Learning to work past all my own cliché ideas, and find new ways to solve the problems taught me to constantly consider different perspectives, work within limitations, and seek out innovative approaches to things.

 2. How to Manage Deadlines

Deadlines were just as important if not more important than the project itself. The idea that was constantly emphasized, ‘live and die by the deadline’, was based on  client issued deadlines for commercial projects. In the client’s world there was no such thing as a late project; there were only employed designers, or unemployed designers. Thus a brilliant image, a day after the deadline, is surpassed by clip art.

Learning to juggling several projects at any given time with different deadlines for ideas, research, sketches, and the finished project, in addition to my liberal arts coursework, taught me to plan multiple projects, track progress in different stages, and allocate my resources accordingly.

3. How to Collaborate

Working in an environment surrounded by other creative minds I was exposed to a lot of different styles of artistic talent. Like any other person, I enjoy some artistic styles more than others, but at various points in my school career I was expected to execute projects with classmates regardless of my personal preferences regarding their technique.

Learning to identify common ground with other people who had different styles than mine, sometimes styles that were outside my usual preference, taught me to appreciate the differences that each person brings to the table, and how to utilize those strengths in a collaborative setting.

According to this 2013 article from The Washington Post only 27% of college grads have a job related to their major. With that in mind, I think that it is important what people learned from college, not just what they went for. Additionally, when I interview new hires, I am also curious to know what they have learned since college.

What did you go to college for; do you work in a field related to your degree? What did you learn in college that has helped you in your career? What are things that you learned that are unrelated to what you went to school for?




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