I study at art school and need advice

Discussion in 'Education' started by jasonaldean, Apr 1, 2020.

  1. I go to a pretty well known/renowned art school in the california bay area and majoring in photography. Recently I’ve been pretty dissatisfied with my education, both what I’ve learned in school and with what the actual value of my degree would be.

    My parents are quite adamant about me continuing school, and believe that I need one in order to start a career.

    Right now I’m considering leaving school (it’s my first year) and finding jobs in my area centered around photography. I’ve found quite a few that I’m qualified for and could pursue. My dad says that these jobs are there to pay the bills as opposed to make a career and I believe that they add up on a portfolio and resume and will lead to building a career better than just sitting in a classroom all day.

    I’m not exactly looking for validation, but I’m stressed right now, and I know my parents don’t have any real idea of photography as a career, and I need to make sure I’m not making some massive mistake.

    There are other things contributing to it as well, school has taken a massive toll on my mental health to the point where it can be difficult for me to find the will to leave bed.
  2. Jason, do you have a trusted tutor or mentor at school who you can talk this over with? Sometimes you can get into a situation, or state of mind, and can only see one way out of it, when others might be able to suggest different solutions. Something similar happened to me as a young man. If the school understand your concerns, for example they might be able to let you take a break from the course to get practical experience, work or whatever, and return when you feel you are ready.
  3. SCL


    Filling in schooling with some part time practical experience may help you gain some perspective. Critically, for a career in photography, you need a firm grounding in managing business, and you won't get that in your first year. Yes school can be stressful, and with the state mandated stay at home orders in many states at this juncture, it just adds to the stress. But real life as an adult is much more stressful than school...so get some exercise, walking, pushups or whatever, as well as mental exercise...and set short term achievable goals for yourself. You need challenges, and the rewards will speak for themselves. Many students, especially in their early college years have doubts, but the end result and sense of achievement and accomplishment, as well as skills developed are well worth the effort put in to achieve them.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  4. If you’re unsure about your parents’ advice, you’d be wise to be more unsure of advice from strangers with all sorts of opinions on the Internet.

    I get that your parents may not be familiar with photography as a career specifically but if you trust their values and the way they’ve raised you, I’d still give their judgment weight here because they likely know you well and have your best interest in mind.

    I agree with John. Since you have a good school at your fingertips, use its resources, including access you may have to alumni who’ve been through school and likely have faced similar career choices you’ll be facing. Also talk to teachers you like and current older students.

    Many of the art schools I know help students make important connections, which can eventually help a career thrive. That’s no small thing.

    Good luck. What I can say is I’m very thankful for my education as it’s provided me many advantages in life, even though it wasn’t the direct step to my career. Any job I ever got and running my own business for 30 years required good communication and people skills, all of which were aided by being in school.
  5. +1 on the above. I'm reluctant to say anything because there's the possibility of messing up somebody's life and because the world is a far different place than when I was at RIT so many years ago. Remember that many people end up in a different field than the one they went to school for, no matter how sure they were at the time that this was their calling. This may be even more true of photography, which can be a hard way to earn a bad living. Still, there are people who are successful at it and do just fine. They are the people with good business sense and often, some business education. IMO, photography is a craft. It isn't terribly difficult technically and a degree in just that may not have much value. The whole value proposition of college is different today and you have to be careful not to sink a lot of money into something with little potential for return. That said, college is a sort of filter that shows who can stick to a goal and persevere when the going gets tough. It's always better to walk into an interview with a degree, even if it's completely irrelevant, than not. Co-op programs are common here and some defined work experience might clear up some suspicions and doubts. Just remember that it's very difficult to go back to college if you decide to leave. Life quickly intrudes.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  6. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I agree with John Seaman and samstevens.

    Specifically, seek out a professional in Pastoral Care and Guidance located in your School, your Community, or your Place of Worship, etc.

    movingfinger likes this.
  7. In another day and time, it was possible, even beneficial to "apprentice" yourself into the 'profession,' as it once was, but may be no more.

    My daughter went to a photo school of good reputation, but it no longer exists. Such programs seem to be disappearing very rapidly. She was smart to go on to a regular baccalaureate 4-year degree program. Like painters (fine art, not houses), many photographers today have a 'day' job to make ends meet.

    I really can't tell you what you should do, but careers in the arts, like those in sports, provide the rewards for a small minority of those who aspire to them.
  8. No advice, just an anecdote.

    After I finished my photography course I went pounding the streets of London knocking on the doors of all the photo studios I could find listed in the phone book.

    I happened on the studio of a very famous fashion photographer of the time. He was charming and polite, and invited me in to look at my portfolio. He stopped at one picture and asked me how I'd shot it. I explained that I'd used a diffraction grating over the lens. At which he needed to ask what a diffraction grating was. I explained as best I could, and even told him where I'd bought it.

    He then very politely showed me the door, telling me that he didn't need any more assistants, thank you.

    Oh, and at no point in the conversation did he ask what qualifications I had.

    End of story. Make of it what you will.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2020
  9. => "Emergency brake!"
    Sorry, I might not understand your situation (entirely); I've never been in the US. But
    • that school costs fortunes, right?
    • is close to zero fun
    • "questionable", monetary value of the education on the job market?

    Photography hasn't been my main field of work. To my limited understanding the field is split into:
    1. Badly paid staff jobs.
    2. drive demanding self employment careers.
    3. fortunate very few.
    Back when I had to pick a career (3 decades ago) local stats claimed: 80% of photographer apprenticeship survivors would drift into different jobs later.

    The issue: No matter what diplomas you 'll have to show: Your work will have to satisfy your clients. And everybody is ready to criticise photographers (while some breeds of MDs or lawyers, maybe even mechanics, might be able to do their thing unquestioned).

    Everybody might face different mental health challenges. For me having a rather leisurely, employed "just get your few hours done" job seems to make life easier. I show up, work and go with no need to bill, do accounting, chase customers, plan ahead...(<- Of course there might be highly functional appearing people, with different needs too. and others might have problems that make self employment the only way to work at all. There is no "one size fits all" advice.)

    For me it was kind of easy to go to school. - Yes, it was far too early in the morning. Sure, I had some teachers, I didn't like. I even didn't get along with some co-students. But how much harder would it be to try selling your services as a photographer? They usually tell: More than two thirds of business success are based on self selling skills. If you ('ll) generate income from shooting people, you'll most likely have to interact with / even direct and manipulate them, while they are in front of your camera.

    From just looking at stats: Photography will be rough competition. You'll most likely have to be good, modest, very efficient + "lucky" on top of everything else. Education priorities might be:
    1. Find some good harmless (dropback) "dayjob" career, preferably mothballable and get the key qualifications.
    2. Marketing / Business ownership
    3. photography
    I have no clue what full time schools can or could convey skills & knowledge wise. You can read and watch instruction videos on your own. The really important lessons are those that get you going, with something you aren't familiar with, yet. + Analyzing mistakes you made where it didn't matter yet.

    I'm just a middle aged guy in a foreign country. I suggest assuming everything you wrote and listed is right and taking the consequences from there
    They might be right. Do Plan B schooling!
    Neither do I; I just met at least 4 stranded "photographers" outside the field and suppose the others working at camera stores weren't overly fullfilled either?. I failed to work my way into a newspaper and side jobbed as a products shooter. Thats all.
    Life shouldn't be taken overly serious in general. Its only temporary, you know?*
    But "school" should be a rather playfull far from "freaking you out"- serious (or however "mental health toll demanding" should be called political correctly) thing, a sandbox like environment...

    The massive mistake I can imagine: You have one set of funds (on student loan?) to burn on education. It should be wisely and frugally spent on something kind of likely to pay back later.
    "Photography" as an education subject means "wagering high". Odds to win are 20%? - Even less?
    You can always quit a plan B career wealthily and pick up your camera instead.
    Yes, turn super frugal; no splurging like an average minimalist, aim to retire at 40.
    Good luck!

    That was the rough goal. Get into a position from where dabbling with photography seems neither scary nor frightening or boring but always doable on the side.

    *= Attempting to clarify:
    I don't need "serious" problems in my life. I appreciate when things stay "playful" and disasters "amusing". This does of course include wagering low and playing it safe. Such can be doable and enough fun too. And unlike wagering higher, it won't break my neck.
    Ending as a failed formally educated photographer, doing McJobs, to live long enough on rice and beans, to hopefully get student loan debt free, would be a nightmare.
    Trying some business idea and giving up, with a big black zero on my account, after working my behind off, to make less than minimum wage and returning into an old regular job would be an experience I'd write off as "a little mistake on the side".
  10. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    My guess is that he was a businessman who quickly summed up people and would take any advantage at any cost to others and you learnt a lesson from that experience.

  11. Real simple, your parents are right! Stay in school and get a degree. Making a decent living through photography is difficult and very few people will succeed in that venture. While a 4 year college degree will not materially enhance your photo career, a degree in art can be a entry into a career in many other fields. Your comment on your mental health is more troubling, and you should definitely seek help in that area and speak to your parents.
    robert_bowring likes this.
  12. Your closing sentence suggests the likelihood that perhaps your problem is more serious and deep seated than simply the question of staying in school (or not) or even how to make a living as a photographer. Others above have suggested seeking out and working with a trusted mentor or professional counselor, I strongly agree. Hang in there!
    Ricochetrider and robert_bowring like this.
  13. What is causing this toll on your mental health ? Are you passing all of your classes ? Is the load work too heavy ? Are your class mates bullying you ? Are you starting feel that you may not be the right fit for photography. Are the teachers lousy ? Is the course work not relevant ? Are your classes too expensive ?

    Most of us enjoy learning about a field we are interested in and usually go out of our way to learn more new things about the subject. However if you are not excited about your course work it could be that you are having second thoughts about being a photographer. I'm not sure what school you are attending but there are still jobs out there for photographer especially in the Advertisement and Magazine industries. Those jobs are hard to get and internships usually go to people graduating out of prestigious schools, with good grades and with good portfolios.

    There also some photography jobs that just pay the bills like your father said such as: retail-photographer, sports, weddings, events , youth-sports, portraits, news papers, forensics, editing . These photographer jobs are mostly free-lance jobs, so don't expect to be heading to an office 9-5 everyday.

    It takes a lot of dedication to become a photographer these days. Especially with the advent of Digital cameras. The competition is as stiff as ever, but even stiffer now than in the past. The good thing is that you are starting early, so maybe you can find a niche somewhere and build from there. However, if the mental toll is too great, I would consider that you evaluate what is really bothering you and either get out now while you can, or adjust your aspirations.

    You might also consider majoring in photography with a minor in something else, or vise versa.
    Last edited: May 8, 2020
  14. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    The OP was last seen April 6.
  15. EH? This is just a copy of my initial response to the question. Seems strange ...
  16. I am looking forward to seeing Emilyava’s posts on polarisers, crap 70-300 lenses, hiring models...
    Tony Parsons and John Seaman like this.
  17. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    I was thinking - she sure doesn't look like a young man !;);)
    Ludmilla likes this.
  18. Few professional photographers have degrees in photo. Pros get successful through school of hard knocks. Few young people have any idea whatsoever about how to get successful at anything whatsoever ... and most absolutely fear knocking on doors.

    I was a successful commercial photographer thanks to advice from elder successes about knocking on doors.

    Any fool can make a photograph.

    A college degree won't guarantee an income, proven over and over with the twin curses of Covid and technology.

    Pick a trade (e.g. plumbing, painting, electricity) and get good at it.
    Jochen likes this.

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