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For Art's Sake
 
 
Art schools aren't just for bohemian kids. You can train to be an animator, toymaker or videogame
designer.
2006 EDITION
By Peter Plagens
Newsweek


Posted Aug. 22, 2005 - Where are two main things you should know before applying to art school—
instead of just going to college and majoring in art. First, art schools aren't just for bohemian kids
who want to express themselves in painting or sculpture anymore. They're career-oriented training
grounds for entry into animation studios, videogame firms, fashion houses, car companies and
more. Second, if you're leaving home to attend one, your housing situation will probably be more
funky than the dorms at Swarthmore. Oh, and a third thing: SATs don't count for much and often
aren't required at all. Everything depends on your portfolio of artwork.

Art schools, which offer a B.F.A. degree, are located mostly in big cities. New York has four major
ones—Parsons the New School for Design, Cooper Union, Pratt Institute and the School of Visual
Arts. Los Angeles boasts three (Art Center College of Design, CalArts and the Otis College of Art
and Design). Boston (School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts College of Art),
Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, University of the Arts), Chicago (School of
the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College) and the Bay Area (San Francisco Art Institute,
California College of the Arts) all have two apiece. But you can also go to a nifty art school in
Providence, R.I.; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.;
even Sarasota, Fla.—as well as Canada (ah, that tuition-dollar exchange rate!).


As with anything having to do with art, sameness is definitely not the name of the game. Art
schools are much more different from one another than, say, private liberal-arts colleges, where a
B.A. in French is, well, a B.A. in French. Out in L.A. (actually, Pasadena), Art Center has big-time
automaker support for its "transportation design" program. Across town near the beach at Otis,
students can major in toy design in a department that enjoys underwriting from Mattel and Hasbro.
The Pennsylvania Academy homes in on "how to do and make things—how to draw, paint, mix
color, cast bronze, etc.," but SMFA in Boston favors "creative investigation, risk-taking, and
individual vision." (If you work it right, both SMFA and PAFA can give you a university degree, too,
from Tufts and Penn, respectively.) Cooper Union's art school—it also has a science
wing—eclines to require "declared majors or minors, or lockstep sequences of pre-requisite courses."
 
Bottom line: students can find themselves in the figure-drawing equivalent of Professor
Chalkbottom's organic-chemistry lectures or be turned loose to follow their video bliss.


While the competition to get into art schools isn't statistically as fierce as with top colleges, it's still
not exactly easy, especially where popular specialties are concerned. For example, Pratt—which
admits slightly less than half its applicants—takes only 45 of 750 aspirants in fashion design.
Highschool grades and SAT scores are modest preliminaries; 3.3 and 1140 (without the writing test) are typical at one school. The main event is your portfolio.


Here's a composite list of what you'll be expected to present: 15 to 20 pieces of artwork in various
media (including a three-minute example in a "time-based" medium), each of which you've worked
on for at least five hours. Be sure to include several examples (often as much as half the portfolio)
of realistic drawing and painting from life. One school requests an "artist's statement" explaining
the work; another says the whole package can't weigh more than 25 pounds. One school
welcomes CD-ROMs in place of originals, and another advises the applicant to "grab the
admission committee's interest with the first work" and arrange the rest to demonstrate sustained
artistic progress. Whew! Picasso might have had trouble with all that.


If you do get into an art school and survive the grind (in art school, you can't ace any exams just
because you're a brain—art takes hours of hard work, period), the payoff can be an interesting job
with interesting people in an interesting enterprise. And that funky housing situation? Most art
schools don't have dorms. The best they can do is to help you get an apartment with some
roomies. But think of the possibilities. You did see "Moulin Rouge," didn't you?
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