In 2013, Paige Robbins graduated from Pittsburgh Technical Institute with an Associate's Degree in Graphic Design. Madaline Gardner is studying Drawing in the pursuit of a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute in New York. Samantha Willhide is working on a Bachelor of Science in Art Education at Kutztown University, AND Eric Brennan is a graduate student in I.U.P.'s Master of Fine Arts program (read Eric's solo interview at the bottom of the page).Their insights and experiences as art students may do a lot to de-mystify art school for our current students who will soon follow them.While each of our guests studied significantly different parts of the art spectrum, all of them had similar classes in the first year at school: drawing and design study were absolute requirements for all, as well as a 3-D design course of some kind. Throw in some digital design classes for some, as well as art history, photography, and general education classes and you've got a fair understanding of what each of them experienced in the first year.
"Every one of these classes train and prep you in more ways than I can explain," said Robbins.
When asked what was surprising in the first year, Maddy Gardner replied, "The first day I had to draw a nude model I thought it was hilarious and awkward, but I quickly came to realize that it's one of the most important skills for an artist to study."
Willhide was surprised at the level of autonomy students were allowed.
"I was very surprised by how much freedom we were given within our projects, even from the very start. They still had some guidelines, but for the first time I actually felt like I had to do sketches to plan my work out because of how loose the guidelines were. I was also surprised by how little they actually taught, and how that alone was the reason I learned and improved as much as I did. I was learning from myself and by what my peers and teacher had to say about my work at each critique."
"It was very intimidating at first," said Willhide about college studio classes. "It really knocks you off of your high horse, going from being 1 of only 8 AP students in high school, to 1 out of 500 or more talented artists makes you realize your not as great as you thought. That level of competition however is what drove me to work so hard."
"At first I had to get used to other students walking around the room and viewing my art as I was making it. You learn that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad days, and that there is always going to be someone better than you," said the Pratt Institute freshman.
"Everyone have a different strong point in their work," explained Paige Robbins. "That hardest part is looking at someone else's piece and wondering 'Why can't I do ----- and well as them?'. There will be projects and assignments at are out of your comfort zone, but that is when you have the potential to do the most learning and growth as an artist."
Pursuing an art degree means hard work. There's little in high school that prepares art students for the level of endurance required in college work. Studio classes are usually 6 hours of classroom instruction in a week. Gardner experienced 6 hours, once-per-week studios, while Willhide and Robbins experienced either 3 hour studios that met twice a week or two hour studios, three times a week.
"There is a lot of hard work and late nights, I won't lie to you," said Robbins.
Art students are expected to be constantly at work, both during and outside of the scheduled instructional time.
"You are expected to work constantly, stopping or slowing down can lend you some unsavory comments from the professor," relates Gardner, adding,"I would estimate I work about 4 hours or more each week day on art outside of the studio, weekends are used entirely for catching up on work and preparing yourself for the week ahead."
Willhide's out-of-class schedule is similarly filled.
"On average, I work about 2 hours each day outside of the classroom on various projects... weekends vary. However my weeks also vary: one week I might have to be in the studio for 5 hours each day, while others I don’t have much to do at all," said the Kutztown freshman.
As to the amount of time spent to complete individual projects, Gardner offers that she is usually given about a week to complete a single work of art, but since she has a lot of classes, that translates into a huge workload.
"Normally we are given until the following class meeting to complete a single piece of art, or a large component of a project, which is pretty hard when you have something due every day. If you aren't careful, work piles up quickly and you can become overwhelmed."
Willhide's workload is similarly heavy. She manages a large portion of her work from outside the art studio classroom as well.
"Drawing classes typically have in class and out of class projects going at the same time, so the projects for out of class take up to 8 hours in a week to complete. 3D and ceramics typically require a lot of out of class work, so I would say I spend up to 10 hours on ceramics or 3D out of class each week on top of what I do in class. Being an Education major means I have to manage my time very wisely, however, because of my non art classes."
There are monetary challenges, too. As with college textbooks, art supplies are expensive.
"I probably have spent well over $500; however, depending on what material you use for a project determines how much more or less you will spend. One project could cost you $100 dollars while others only cost you $15," estimates Willhide.
Gardner has spent even more.
"I would estimate that I have spent over $600 out-of-pocket, which comes to about $1,500 (including the $900 kit that is put together for you at the beginning of the first semester.) Not to mention all of the money spent on caffeine and vending machine food to stay alive."
As to where they do their out-of-class work, both Willhide and Gardner like to work in the studio spaces provided by the school, although some smaller work is completed in their dorm rooms. Many artistic processes require space and specific equipment to complete them and it is not possible, or not practical, to attempt to do them outside of the art studio.
Robbins noted that college was very different from high school because "...going to college for a specific field is a whole different ball game than high school. You will have your gen-ed classes but when you walk into a room, full of other people from far and near, who are all there for the same passion, it wipes away a lot of the fear of 'getting along' with your classmates."
When asked what was difficult about transitioning to college, both Gardner and Willhide echoed Robbins thoughts.
"Art School is a lot more work than high school, without question," said Gardner. "You are learning about what you want to learn about, and in such a serious way. There is a lot of money and time at stake that can easily be wasted if you don't have your mind in the right place. And on top of that, you have to be your own motivator. No one is going to pat you on the back and tell you did a good job if you really didn't. Learning that I needed to have pride in myself and what I am studying became very important to me."
Willhide noted, "...not only are you being asked to do a lot more work, you have to do it in a lot less time. Teachers also don’t hound you about getting your work done, its up to us to motivate ourselves to finish on time. The critiques can be pretty brutal as well, from students and teachers it’s easy to tell what works they love and which ones they hate."
"When you walk into a room full of other people ...who are all there for the same passion, it wipes away a lot of the fear..."
And Robbins warns caution to those who aren't prepared to approach school with maturity.
"Some people have trouble handling the responsibility of out-of-class work. We had at least 50% of my starting class drop out due to grades, or not being able to handle the pressure. It can be a hard transition into the adult world."
And what was found to be best about the experience?
"For me, I love learning new things about art and being able to work on so many different styles and in so many different mediums. I have been exposed to so many new aspects of art that I didn’t even realize existed," answered Willhide, who also found that she has begun to look at her work more critically and improve more quickly.
Gardner, who enjoyed the new social freedoms and responsibilities, provided similar feedback regarding her art studies.
"Educationally, I have bettered myself as an artist more that I could have imagined. When you are studying what you love there is a definite passion, may it surface as frustration or pride. When I first began taking sculpture, I was frustrated beyond belief. It was a constant struggle, building something out of nothing, I hated it. But over time I learned that three dimensional art allowed me to understand two-dimensional art in a way I could have never imagined... Because of my hard work I was granted another scholarship and had my works displayed in the freshman show, so I feel I had a successful year. It is so exciting to see the upper classmen's work knowing that I could hopefully reach that level eventually."
Robbins loved the camaraderie.
"Having a class full of students who enjoyed art makes the school experience so much better. Classmates work together to critique each other and held each other grow. Sometimes you end up staring at your own work until you hate it and it's good to have a new set of eyes for a second, third, or even fourth opinion."
"If you take your work seriously, others will too."
As to practical advice, Madaline Gardner writes: "Learn to do your assignments as soon as they are given. Never put anything off, even for a day. Take your work seriously and never put yourself down. If you take your work seriously, others will too. It is important to stay alert and energized during classes, as professors definitely take notice to students that spend more time creating than fidgeting or staring at your work."
Willhide's advice is strikingly similar.
"You are very lucky to have the opportunity to be in college so don’t waste that opportunity. From the start of the year be attentive in class and avoid missing class, you may not think that drawing for 3 hours straight or sitting in a critique is worth it, but trust me it is! Criticism and hearing what your peers have to say can be some of the best things you will experience in helping improve your work. Also, don’t put anything off till the last minute, not only will your work be of better quality because of it but your teachers will also respect you a lot more."