What's the Value of Art School?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Carol Becker, Dean of Columbia University's School of the Arts, answers the question what’s the value of art school?  She wrote the article "Art Schools Are All About Potential" on the NEA's blog.  She’ll discuss the cost, curricula, job market, and whether art school is worth the money.

Weigh in: Did you go to art school and would you do it again? Did you consider going and decide against it? Let us know about your experiences—leave a comment!


Carol Becker

Comments [37]


Though I didn't get an art degree, it seems odd for the guest to rationalize the numbers of artists in training with the commercial success of a select few, given such career limitations for the vast majority of grads.

Seems a bit like ditching school to play ball with hopes of making it to the NBA.

Feb. 21 2013 08:13 AM
thatgirl from manhattan

Noach - Amy Goodman built Democracy Now into the program it is (and it is but one program, diffused in various forms), and benefits directly from its syndication. As such it's not beholden to the kind of community structure that WNYC, as an APM/NPR affiliated station, with its own board, is. Even WBAI, who hosts the local broadcast of DN (one of hundreds of stations nationwide) pays a fee to carry it. It is self-funding (which includes any institutional funding, subject to DN's guardrails). You cannot compare the two.

Yes--WNYC does have to be transparent vis a vis Walker's compensation. You'll find it's on par with other NPR stations in major markets, and with the title and salary is the responsibility to raise the millions it takes to pay all affiliate costs for syndicated programming, as well as developing its own. WNYC offers the public opportunity to understand where funds are invested--avail yourself of one.

Feb. 19 2013 05:33 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

dboy - To address your earlier remark, the key term you used is "education business." When education (or medicine), an essential to living, becomes a business that needs generate a profit (as defined by BANKING the holy grail of all business), ever more/year on, the cost can only climb. With so much "competition" (again, defined by the for-profit world), that need only compounds.

It's not right, but that's where we are in our fine country. Until someone (or several someones) stand down, and say, "We must offer this no matter what, and we must find a way to extend it to hard-working, deserving people, regardless of need," then it will be forever thus. It's unsustainable, yes, but do you know anyone who's stepping out of the competitive stream? I don't. As always, thank Wall Street for defining profit AND convincing everyone they have to have it to avoid death--or irrelevance.

As you know, I'm not arguing with you. My disgust overflows daily.

Feb. 19 2013 02:49 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Parents/consumers wondering "if it's worth it:" a few things worth considering:

Students need to learn, long before art school or other post-secondary education how to be good consumers of said education. Connect to its cost and work your time there less as a "right of passage" and more as privilege, because it's nothing but. There've always been students ill-prepared or otherwise too immature to make good use of their time in school, but if your social network gets in the way of class, consider a gap year or other time to re-prioritize your life. Unlike high school, no one has to graduate you, nor will anyone push you forward through the factory. Parents who are still waking their college-age students up each day (or doing your child's laundry, sorting out their issues): there's your clue whether they're reading for the investment to be made. Schools are full of those taking up space and wasting their tuition money not doing the work or going to class prepared to participate (rather than just "take in" learning). Art school, in particular, demands participation, exchange of ideas and a level of constant productivity--it's not a passive pursuit.

There's no direct relationship between tuition and income potential for ANY post-secondary institution--even those that resemble trade schools. Why? See the paragraph above.

If you want an arts school education, consider an institution that provides a balance of academic study to provide "balance."

Did I go to art school at the undergrad level? Yes, and I found myself in an industry that attracts people with different creative skills, and though it's incredibly competitive (and prone like almost all others to emptying its cache during economically-challenging times), I manage to make a decent living, alongside a husband who pursued visual arts at the BFA and MFA levels. Moreover, the project/quasi-competitive work ethic I learned there has seen me using my education for public good (in both a paid and unpaid manner), and part of a network of like-minded people who use the talents within themselves to collectively solve issues, support others and create new opportunities for others to make a living. Those are life-long skills one probably won't acquire pursuing a career in banking.

And no--my parents did not want me to go to art school. But they didn't expect me to be carbon copies of themselves, either.

Feb. 19 2013 02:34 PM
Noach (Independent, anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

Since the topic of executives at "non-profits" being paid lucrative (to say the least) salaries has been raised, and since WNYC has begun another fund-raising drive, I must ask:

How many people here were aware that WNYC President and CEO Laura Walker is paid an annual salary that is just shy of $500,000? (at least as of 2009)

Can any institution justify this when they ask people who can only _dream_ of earning anywhere near that amount to donate?

But, whatever one thinks of Ms. Walker's salary, at least WNYC does not seem to hide or attempt to censor this information. A quick Google search reveals numerous mentions of this info at a number of different sites-- including and affiliated sites.

If only the same could be said for Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! Good luck finding-out what her salary is...

Feb. 19 2013 02:27 PM

...AND, if you think you can always fall-back on teaching with an MFA.


Those coveted adjunct positions are IMPOSSIBLE to get!! There is a SURPLUS of potential applicants.


Feb. 19 2013 02:25 PM

thatgirl from manhattan ~

DON'T GET ME STARTED on MY own teaching "family" member!!

24/7, MAJOR POPULAR benefits, NO security and NOwhere near $2M/year!!


$8 BILLION endowment!!!

Feb. 19 2013 02:21 PM

When education becomes so expensive that a perspective student is required to work an equation that illustrates his potential net worth relative to the cost tuition, there is something SERIOUSLY out of WACK!!

What happens to a culture where a child can only justify an education if it pays??

...a culture where fewer and fewer kids can afford an arts education???

...a Kulture® where everyone is an MBA™???

Feb. 19 2013 02:16 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

dboy - Agreed. Bollinger's been a lightening rod of controversy since he walked in. His job is to attract money there. Period. His and the salary of other university figureheads is outsized and worth questioning, without doubt.

It's VERY worth noting that even the very best professors are almost ALL adjunct these days--even those with a "full time" classload (full disclosure: I have one of those in the family). Tenure or any other kinds of "security" (including a living salary) are rarely afforded them in proportion to the huge pecuniary intake of the given institution. This is part and parcel of how the significance of their role has been devalued in comparison to the money-attracting rockstars like Bollinger (or, for the sake of argument, Glaser!), and the fact that their income does top out makes me think the schools feel they're easily replaced. Said family member thinks tenure is bullsh*t anyway (because it can clog up the system with so much entitlement at the Ivies), but there should be some kind of middle ground for those who've both dedicated their lives to teaching (while being working professionals in their fields, no less!). This doesn't even begin to address the many hours of unpaid work one does in the position, writing recommendations for students for additional education pursuits, providing an almost 24-7 access to students in need of counsel, etc. The amount of effort will never match the compensation.

Oy. Don't get me started.

Feb. 19 2013 02:13 PM

thatgirl from manhattan ~

I thought Columbia, NYU, SVA were in the education business, not the real estate business.

It strikes me as immoral to expand your "presence" on the backs of your adjunct faculty and student body.

btw: Columbia University has an endowment of approximately $8 billion!!

Feb. 19 2013 02:07 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

dboy - Not defending it, but the "cineplex" (there are two screening rooms, one larger, one smaller; they're used for all kinds of public presentations) is a formal presentation space that SVA never had prior--and given that they have both BFA and MFA film study, it's a necessity. If you recall the other (rather shabby) presentation space, it's not one to which I'd have invited the public.

Moreover, when the commercial cinema within it went bust, it languished a few years. SVA turned the space into one that pays for itself by renting it out for the TriBeCa Film Festival and other public events. In turn, it creates awareness of SVA's role in NYC arts, so it has its role in adding to the credibility of their educational offering, in an indirect way. The building itself is a rather effective means of promotion just for being labeled for the institution.

Given other SVA real estate "acquisitions" (leased or otherwise), it's important to note that these buildings are usually not contracted at market rates for educational institutions. It's pretty clear that all institutions of higher education have a "grow (in relevance or size) or die" edict at present. It's harder to do without notice here.

Feb. 19 2013 02:00 PM

Yes!! An arts education is valuable!!

SO valuable that NO ONE can AFFORD IT!!

Feb. 19 2013 01:57 PM
Noach (Independent, anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

Mr. Lopate lamented that funding to the arts being first on the "chopping block" when governments deem it necessary to make cuts.

I would like to ask him, what would you cut first instead?

Medicare? Medicaid? SNAP? Regulatory agencies that play a vital role in protecting the public such as the FDA, USDA or EPA ?

Basic "three-R" education?

(I did enjoy and benefit from art classes as a child-- both in and out of school.)

Feb. 19 2013 01:56 PM

thatgirl from manhattan ~

I'll tell you why:

Lee Bollinger's salary at Columbia University is nearly $TWO MILLION$!!

He also with on the board of the NY Fed - overseeing the banking policy regarding student loans - $1 TRILLION!! In excess of consumer debt!!

They ain't paying or providing benefits for any of their adjunct professors, that's for sure!!

Feb. 19 2013 01:54 PM
Tom P. from Queens

Students need to be taught to be independent thinkers, to many trends in art school exist,fro Post-Mod, Abstraction,'styles', etc. Life and creating work, experimentation does this; not the PhD programs that are being set up in Painting.

Feb. 19 2013 01:52 PM
Suzanna from Brooklyn

I went to Sarah Lawrence for my MFA in Writing, graduating in 2002. My class produced many great writers (one of whom being the author of The Descendants) but I feel that those who were published had to work less than I have these past 10 years. I most likely am wrong about this, but I have been working as an adjunct for 8 years while trying, to carve out time for myself to write, and when I get the time, am so consumed with my many students, that I have no imagination left. I have worked in 10 colleges in this time, working as many as 9 classes in four different colleges in one semester, to make a living that would equal about 45,000 annually. It has been very hard to keep myself feeling like my degree was a waste because I can barely make a living (my average has been $20,000 a year). I would not be granted an adjunct position without the MFA, but I could make a lot more money as an administrative assistant with just my BA and work on my short stories at home. But, the 2 years I spent at SLC were the best I ever had, and the exposure I received to other writers, both as my peers and mentors, is priceless.

Feb. 19 2013 01:52 PM

-- who -- if ANYBODY -- is lobbying to get fine art tax deductible, so that companies and individuals are freer to make the purchases?

Feb. 19 2013 01:51 PM

Went to a conservatory for college, to study performing arts, then went to a traditional "academic" grad school afterwards because I'd decided the performing arts lifestyle wasn't for me. I thought that if I wasn't going to do what I loved then I might as well make a good living.

When I did go to grad school, it was hard to study for the GRE because they were testing things I hadn't really had to use since high school. But, while the test was difficult I got into school with a generous scholarship. Once I got into school, it was very difficult to re-orient my thinking to fit in better with "normal" people. I still don't understand "business thinking" and, truth be told, I really don't love what I do in the way that artists love their work.

If I could go back to the arts, I definitely would. I make more money now, so my academically-oriented grad school education has paid off every year since graduating. And now, I can afford memberships to museums and season tickets to ballet and opera companies. I think art school teaches you how to express your passions and your emotions, and to think critically. I don't think people in business are very in touch with their emotions.

Feb. 19 2013 01:51 PM
rob from manhattan

I did have a theoretical art education at CalArts. I now work as a political consultant and my education taught me how to communicate complex ideas.For me, art school was a great training ground

Feb. 19 2013 01:50 PM

making art tax-deductible -- wouldn't that single legislative change breathe life and commerce into the art world that artists and universities require? (It sure has worked for energy and pharmaceuticals, which write off everything from legal fees to speculative leasing!)

Feb. 19 2013 01:49 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

dboy - Exactly!! Let's stop talking about trying to pin some kind of direct correlation between tuition cost and one's so-called future income potential and start talking about why it's so incredibly expensive--why the privilege of all higher education need be so expensive/impossible to afford!

Feb. 19 2013 01:47 PM
Tom P. from Queens

It is difficult to make a living in all the Visual Arts, 'commercial' or not. The commercial fields do and have always mentioned the difficulty of breaking in for years. A business class on how to negotiate, contracts and how to not get taken advantage of exists. The Fine Arts do not do this, and that is a shame as I see so many fine artists getting taking advantage of by galleries and people.

Feb. 19 2013 01:47 PM
Lynas from Upper Left Side

I graduated from The Kansas City Art Institute in 1964 with a major in Design and sculpture. I immediately got a good job in publishing and decided to freelance after just a few years. I have been happy freelancing since 1970 and taught once a week for 20 years just to keep in touch with young people.

Feb. 19 2013 01:47 PM

As the other caller and guest have mentioned, visual problem solving is underrated.

I have a BFA in film, and the combination of creative and technical skills gave me a foundation for my career in both the building and management ends of digital media.

Feb. 19 2013 01:46 PM
Joseph from Brooklyn

I went to Pratt Institute and have a BFA in Graphic Design. I got an excellent education, but one big gap in the curriculum is the practicum you've been discussing: resume development, writing project briefs, etc. I learned it by asking a lot of questions of my professors, and also on the job once I entered the workforce.

Feb. 19 2013 01:45 PM
Erin from Brooklyn

I attended art school about 10 years ago, so I have a little perspective to see how everyone is doing, and for the most part, it's great! Art school is amazing - It teaches you critical thinking, problem solving, and work ethic. It teaches you things you don't even realize the meaning of until years later.

Like people from any other college, not everyone I graduated with is an "artist" or even working in the field they studied. But most of us are paying our bills doing something we love - especially those of us who did more practical things like graphic design, animation, film, architecture, or industrial design.

I think the best thing about it is that you're working on getting real things done and communicating from day one - not just reading and writing papers. If anything this gives you an advantage in the working world, where many entry level people have no idea how to make things happen outside of an academic context.

Feb. 19 2013 01:45 PM

What does SVA need with a multi-screen Cineplex in PRIME Chelsea real estate???

How many kids have racked-up tens of thousands in student loans to pay for this??

Feb. 19 2013 01:45 PM
Brian from Brooklyn

Interesting phenomenon in recent years of free schools popping up around the city: The Public School, Bruce high quality f.u., , the Free University, etc. There seems to be some intrinsic value to art school, the arts, humanities, etc, that is trying to manifest itself despite the high cost of entry at the 'real' schools.

Feb. 19 2013 01:44 PM
Anna from manhattan

I'm an SVA graduate having attended at various times from the late 60's through the early 80's. It was the most cherished part of my life and am still affected by it in many positive ways. I studied with the best instructors and department heads (now famous) and let's not forget the late Silas Rhodes the forward looking late founder. The one thing I never learned was how to make money apart from being a forger!

Feb. 19 2013 01:43 PM
art525 from Park Slope

I had the misfortune of going to art school in the late 70s. Like so many others my age I had abstract expressionism forced down my throat. My teachers kept telling me I had to paint what was inside me but when I did they told me it was wrong. I was able to overcome my art education and after years making a living in advertising I have been making a good living as a painter for the last 18 years. In my encounter with art students today I see young people who have been taught not to make art but to talk about it. The work I see doesn't stand on it's own but needs a manifesto to explain it. And it seems that the main impetus is novelty and yet I see very little original but rather ideas recycled over and over and presented like it's something new. I now have a studio in Gowanus and for all the hype I don't see anything compelling around me. But they sure do present a good argument.

Feb. 19 2013 01:43 PM

Why is it so DAMN EXPENSIVE?!?!?!

Feb. 19 2013 01:42 PM

Education is what you make of it. No matter what you major in.

I went to a price private art school, and looking back I may regret the money I know I made the most of it.

As for the job opportunities I've been happily and gainfully employed in since my Junior year of college, working in restoration arts, and managing a profesional artists' studio.

Feb. 19 2013 01:39 PM
b from BK

I have an art degree. If i had it all to do over again I would NOT get an art degree.

I recommend anyone wanting a career in Art to first get a professional degree that will actually result in a Job. The exception is photography. You can always go back and get art training .....

Feb. 19 2013 01:39 PM
Laura from Brooklyn, NY

it was a HUGE waste to me, although fun, and great for networking, meeting famous artists, I didn't learn much. I went to a prestigious school in Baltimore, MD and... I think it was much more helpful for people who didn't go to a magnet high school / middle school / special advanced art classes ... I would only really say my senior year was worth the money... the business class we took on illustration and marketing... but even then, I think i could have saved myself from the debt that i'm in now by going to a community college. They should have been focusing on the business of being an artist the entire time at the college, and not at the very end!!!

Feb. 19 2013 01:38 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Art school teaches one perspective. :-)

Feb. 19 2013 01:35 PM
Llayne from Danbury

My art school eduction was the best thing that ever happened to me. Development of critical thinking skills has given me a huge advantage in life. Combined with a natural curiosity, it has prepared me to do accomplish anything I put my mind to.

Feb. 19 2013 01:33 PM
Alyson from Flatbush

I enjoyed my art school education. I had previously attended a state university and still unable to find an environment that suited me. The critical thinking skills that I gained encouraged me to work with a variety of techniques and materials without being intimidated by new concepts. And yes, I did get a career in my field of study.

Feb. 19 2013 01:15 PM

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