Process versus Outcome


Armand Cabrera

I was having a discussion the other day with some people online about the importance of a degree as an artist going into the entertainment industry. It was interesting to listen to people who weren’t artists or art directors give their reasons why they thought a degree was absolutely essential. My argument has always been this is misguided, especially in the arts.

Let me state clearly I am not talking about art instruction which is a separate but sometimes overlapping endeavor. I am talking about a degree. A degree is a process; the result should be a professional portfolio. It is supposed to symbolize the satisfactory completion of a curriculum under the instruction of a master. Its veracity depends on its results, not on the degree itself. Others will make the argument that a degree shows a level of ability to follow through on something. If the portfolio is lacking doesn’t it also show the inability to determine what a waste of time it was? It can’t be both. Only the outcome matters.

To assume that getting a degree gives you a professional portfolio ignores the facts and anecdotal reports from professional artists themselves. Most of whom claim they learned nothing or very little in art school and that their real learning came afterward.  If this is true then its time to re-evaluate a degree in the arts.

With the commercialization of higher education and changes in lending practices by the banking industry prospective artists need to carefully consider what they are getting into when they take on large amounts of debt. Hard to do when you are in your late teens to early twenties and you have no or little experience with such matters. This is where councilors and advisers really need to step up and give good advice about the current economic climate and not just tow the corporate line to put money back into the institutions coffers.

The internet allows people interested in a profession like art to interact with professionals in an unprecedented way. Sites like PACT (TheProfessional Artist Client Toolkit) even provide contract templates and general price structures for interested parties in the science fiction fantasy illustrators, Video Game and entertainment, table top gaming, and comic book industry.

Online help through social media can give savvy students free access to critiques and opinions across a broad set of disciplines and experience. Portfolios of these pros are freely available to view and help the decision making process about who knows their stuff and who doesn’t. Beyond the free advice there are numerous opportunities for paid instruction for a fraction of the cost of a big school

In the end, it is important to keep your focus on acquiring a professional portfolio.  Careful consideration must be used to keep from saddling students with tens of thousands of dollars of debt which according to most studies, they won’t pay off until their 40’s or later. This delays starting a family, home purchases and retirement provisions all of which help provide security to an already difficult career as an artist.

2 thoughts on “Process versus Outcome

  1. Thanks for posting this Armand. Having been a Technical Illustrator/Graphic artist for over 20 years. Most of the time it did not matter if a person had a 4 year degree or not. What did was could you produce the work in time to meet the deadlines. I agree with you that ones skills are developed over time.

  2. I earned a BFA from a small liberal arts school a long time ago, I chose the most affordable option. I have a good career in commercial art but I have often wondered where I might be if I had attended one of the big art schools. Further along in my career or just emerging from a monumental debt? Who knows. Things are certainly different today as far as access to information and opportunities to educate yourself with the internet but I don't know if I would have had the wisdom to properly choose my artistic education's "foundation" back then. Maybe I just got lucky and wound up at a good school that gave me good training that I was able to build on once I graduated. I think part of the problem is our "instant gratification" society. Only the rarely gifted can graduate from a 4 year school and be the finished article. Specially in art, we all learn more the more we practice our craft. Ultimately, we have to look at ourselves and our skill realistically and honestly and choose a school, or atelier whose curriculum speaks to us, not just the one with the biggest name.

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