It’s a big question, isn’t it? A question that has plagued not only just artists, but pretty much everyone: “To college, or not to college? Obviously, there are several questions and variables that go along with it. Our friends at The Atlantic, provided a little more insight that might help make that decision for some.
“…according to a recent report by BFAMFAPhd, a degree in the arts only very rarely leads to a career in the arts. Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists uses 2012 Census Data to get a picture of artistic career paths.”
The article goes pretty in-depth describing a lot of the pros and cons of a college degree; more specifically, degrees related to the arts. The result provided a lot of interesting facts such as, 7 out of the 10 most expensive schools in the country are art schools, and out of the 2 million art graduates in the nation, only 200,000 of them (10%) make a living primarily as artists. Most of them end up working in an art-related profession, such as teaching music or art. From there it got even more interesting, getting to the fact that people without arts degrees are becoming working artists. Only 15.8 percent have a B.A. or B.F.A. and a surprising 40 percent of working artists didn’t even graduate from college, and 70 percent don’t have a four-year degree.
The article takes a few real-life examples from actors, Arthur Chu and Nikole Beckwith. They had a lot of positive things to say about either not having degrees entirely or degrees that weren’t in the arts.
“I’ve had directors say they love working with people who got into acting in later life because they have more real-life experience to draw from, as opposed to having everything filtered through the specific lens of the theater.” -Arthur Chu
“I forget that I’m one of the only people I know who isn’t slogging through major college debt,” says Nikole Beeckwith. “Instead of having [to work all the time] I was able to audition and send things out and be writing and working and be trying to find out where my best foothold was in an industry that meant so much to me.”
But, with all pros, there are cons: “being an actor in New York not having gone through some kind of program … it was so hard. It was impossible.” For Nikole, not having college connections in the theater world made it hard to land parts even with extensive experience in New England theater.
In similar fashion, Arthur states” “I only ever seriously started considering performing as even a hobby, much less a part-time career, when I hit college. [By] then I was up against people who’d been in the scene since they were teenagers and children, who had a tremendous background in reading plays, doing theater exercises, hanging out with theater people, etc.”
In the end we’re still left with the same question, “Should I or should I not go to college to pursue an art career?” One of the authors of the report, Blair Murphy, stated, “I believe that arts education is extremely valuable. The best programs develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, along with intellectual curiosity, creativity, and an amazing work ethic.” And there has to be some grain of truth to that. There’s so much that you can learn and benefit from the experts, professors and co-students even. But, does it out-weigh the financial burden that comes with it?
“…there needs to be a way to allow young artists to grow as artists in a space that gives them distance from the pressure of the art market, while also being realistic about their economic lives after graduation. That’s especially true,” Blair concludes, “if they’re starting their post-graduation lives burdened by student loan debt.”
What do you think? What was your experience? Did you go to college and ditch the career entirely for a higher paying job due to the college debt? Did you skip college and now years later, still a starving artist, regret not going to get a better education? Read the article from the Atlantic, because it’s way more in-depth than this one, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.