On The Collegiate Question, a reply to Meagan

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This is a reply to the article found here.


First thing I have to say is I’m a huge fan of Meagan’s piece here.  I wanted to reply to it to throw a little bit of my own thoughts and perspective on the same issue.  I, obviously, never graduated from a university or college.  I also don’t feel that it is as important as people claim it to be, but we’ll get to that.  I’m going to try and doctor down the original to just what I’m responding to, if you want to see the uncut piece in its entirety, check it out on this blog.

Growing up, I was always told that in order to make something of myself I needed a college education.

This was a huge part of my life.  To a point that I never thought of anything different until my junior year of High School, and even then it was only a fleeting thought.  I still went to school.  It wasn’t my choice, it was my families.  I didn’t pick my major, it was what I was good at and what could make me the most money.  That was all that they cared about – money.  

Creative jobs are riskier, and the term ‘starving artist’ can be very real. 

I want to expand on this a bit.  Creative jobs are completely subjective.  You not only need (to some extent) a base skill level with the field, but you also need someone else’s outside opinion on your work to make it “good”.  As a mathematician, if your numbers work, your good at your job.  That is an easy distinction.  It comes down to speed at that point.  Creative jobs have speed, skill, and even if you study from the greats you need someone else’s approval for it.  It’s not feasible for you to succeed in a creative field financially or professionally without someone else supporting your material or at least consuming it on some level.  

Artists generally don’t make as much money as doctors, lawyers, or engineers so you could be facing the very real possibility of graduating with your shiny new degree, and thousands of dollars of debt in your pocket with no way of paying that back.

Without going into a lengthy discussion on the Art world (you can find supporting information on my arguments all over, or just ask and I’ll point you in the right direction), I want to say artists and creative people DO NOT make as much money as almost ANYONE else with a degree.  Their considered “worthless degrees” by much of the intellectual world.  It’s not as simple as saying they generally don’t, they don’t.  The few people who do succeed in these fields had an insane amount of luck behind them to explode how they do, or friends in the right places.  English degrees, History, Art, Ceramics, etc.  All skills that are outlets for human emotion and communication yet considered useless in most the world, and as we’ll see soon, people won’t hire you because of this stigma.  

You’re competing with people who have 10, 15, 20 years of experience under their belts for the same job.

Let’s also not forget the 16-year old that somehow makes you look like you have no skill at all in your field.  This may be the most disheartening part about being in a creative field.  

…you will find yourself taking anything you can in order to climb the ladder of experience even if the job sucks, and there is no pay.

And this is if you can find a job in the field, or if you can afford to live off the pay.  Many times you’ll wind up doing something outside your field of study and then your experience doesn’t match your degree, and once again you find yourself essentially without an education in your work.  

College isn’t all bad though. It does provide a structured environment for people to learn the basics of art and important life skills.

I’m going to disagree with this section almost in its entirety, but not on principle.  My experiences in school (the three times I’ve now gone back) were not the same as Meagan’s.  I never found a structure.  It felt like I was being pushed through a machine designed to sell me on the idea of a degree.  They provided the degree, and I paid for it.  Everything in between was a time waster.  That was my personal experience and view (of the same school mind you).  I have very little positive to say about a continued education in creative fields except for that it does provide some credibility to who you say you are, teaches you the absolute basics, and proves your drive for whatever your craft is.  But this is mostly individual and has little to do with the institution itself.

I realize I sound very anti-school in that, and I don’t mean to be.  I definitely see the benefits of going to college, completing your education, etc.  It just feels hollow to me, given the current commodification of the American education system.  I just want to remind everyone that it does NOT mean you will succeed, nor is it a measure of success.  

As an artist, your art should speak for itself.


Kind of, but I already explained that.  


In a perfect world. However, we live in a world where more often than not, it’s who you know that gets you anywhere in life rather than your actual talent.


There it is!


I can’t guarantee what is the right path for you. Every person is different. As someone who attended a formal art education, I can say that there are good aspects about college, and bad.


I love this part honestly and couldn’t agree with her more.  It’s a personal decision.  As someone who has attended three different universities in my time, I also feel decently qualified to write a response to Meagan, even if not qualified to write the entire thing myself.  


However, everything you can learn in a classroom you can learn on your own. The internet is a powerful tool with free tutorials and discussions from other artists around the world comparing their own experiences. You just have to be motivated, and diligent.


And this will be my summary note.  If you care about something, go learn it.  Don’t bind yourself to the idea that if you don’t learn it in a cramped lecture hall then you haven’t really learned anything.  Push yourself.  Learn everything you can with the tools provided to you before you decide if you want to put the money into learning more.  Nearly everything you could want to learn at every level of study is available online.  Hell, even I’m working on a series of online classes for writers.  (If you’re interested, let me know and you can get on an advanced list with previews and early enrollment).  

College and Universities should enhance your life, or they’re not worth it.  If you’re not feeling it, or your not sure if you want it, don’t spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars it’s going to cost to go sit in a room.  The best teacher in life is experience, so go have some experiences before you decide what to do.


Have a great day everyone!  


Brandon Cliffe

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