The New School University Center, 5th Avenue at 14th Street, New York by Spencer Means, Creative Commons 2.0

Is Art School Worth The Payoff?

With the rising cost of tuition, is the training you receive from fine art programs worth the heavy burden of debt?

Making a living as an artist has never been easy. However, with rising educational costs, increasing debt burdens, and a precarious job market, it is more difficult now than ever. Taking these factors into account, what is the cost-benefit of pursuing an education in art?

Art Institutions Carry Heavy Price Tags

It is no secret that a college education in the United States is expensive.

What does come as a surprise, however, is the fact that many art schools are among the most expensive colleges in the country. The U.S. Department of Education found that after financial aid is subtracted, 7 out of 10 of the most expensive schools are art institutions (updated to 9 out of 10 as of 2015).

In his article “Don’t Go To Art School,” artist Noah Bradley found that a four-year education from RISD, for example, is a staggering $245,816. A degree from Harvard Law School, in comparison, is $236,100. The salary of an artist is clearly far different to that of a lawyer, proving the irony of the loaded costs of art school.

Debt Burdens Are Escalating

National debt levels among recent graduates are skyrocketing. Forbes reported that the average student loan debt between 2005 to 2012 rose 58% to an average of $27,250. This trend holds true for art students as well.

Art students are placed in a particularly vulnerable position. The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) found that 66 percent of recent art school graduates are carrying substantial debt. Given that many arts-related positions are associated with low wages, this burden of debt makes it especially difficult to survive as an artist.

Few Art Graduates Actually Pursue Art

Because so many art graduates are carrying around these mortgage-sized student loan debts, many are forced to pursue careers outside the arts. A report by BFAMFAphD found that two years after graduation, ninety-percent of art students are no longer working in the field. This puts aspiring artists in a difficult position.

Is art school worth the price tag, given the fact that students might have to pursue other career options after graduation?

While this is clearly a significant problem, it is not all doom and gloom.

Artists Report Some of the Highest Job-Satisfaction Rates

Despite a general trend of low wages and unsteady work, artists are among the happiest professionals according to several national and international surveys. Those that regularly engage in their artistic pursuits also reported higher levels of overall satisfaction, confidence about the future, higher positive self-image and higher positive social outlook as well as and putting less importance on material objects.

Organizations Across the Country Are Coming Together to Raise Awareness

Many organizations are dedicating time, money and resources to bring this issue to light. The Whitney recently organized an exhibition specifically with the intention of raising awareness around the problem of overwhelming debt from art institutions.

Debtfair, an exhibition being presented at The Whitney Biennial 2017, addresses injustices in the art world and looks at how the greatest source of debt among artists is the direct result of the student loans.

Community Resources Provide Artists With Support

Professional development and continuing education programs have become a vital resource in providing artists with a toolkit of skills needed to succeed in contexts outside their art.

There are many resources available that can assist artists in overcoming professional burdens. Over the past 15 years, professional development and continuing education programs targeted at artists have sprung up across the country.

Some of the organizations and opportunities artists can utilize include workshops at the Center for Cultural Innovation, Creative Capital and National Arts Strategy

So How Can We Bridge the Gap?

Fortunately, the obstacles associated with art school are not being ignored. We believe that given the right tools and resources, artists don’t have to choose between love and money.

While 75% of art students say they need entrepreneurial skills to run their art career, only 25% of art students reported receiving that training in school.

Artwork Archive provides business tools and resources for entrepreneurial artists to run their career with confidence, right from the start.  Many artists that use Artwork Archive have said that they wished they started using inventory and management software while still in school.

Treating your art practice as a business from the start provides a solid foundation for growing a sustainable art career.

And, what’s more, Artwork Archive just released a student version of their management suite and is offering these vital career tools at 30% off for students.

Are you an art student, teacher or recent graduate looking to seamlessly manage your studio, artwork, sales, and shows? Check out Artwork Archive’s new education program, try it out free for 30 days and sign up through the Student Page to get 30% off for life.