What Is The Point Of An Arts Degree?

"My dream ever since I was a kid was to become a jeweler. It’s something I’m really passionate about. I already know how to do a lot of different techniques, and I think I’m pretty good at them. My question is this. Is there a point to going to college and getting an arts degree? I’m already a good artist. Will an arts degree actually help me to succeed in some way, or is it a waste of time and money?"

asked by Cynthia from New York, NY

I won’t lie to you; art is one of the most difficult fields to break into. It’s also a declining field. There are expected to be 2,000 fewer jobs in jewelry-making in the year 2020 than there are now. That means that people who are in this field will actually be losing their jobs. This isn’t said to discourage you, only to put some perspective around how difficult it is to get started—or keep going.

Is art school useful or not? Ideally, you probably actually want to look for an apprenticeship. That is the traditional way to find a foothold in the field, get access to better supplies and equipment, and get your name out there. This enables someone who is already successful in the field to transfer some of that momentum to you.

There are more jewelers who are attending trade school than there were in the past, however, so you might want to still consider that art degree. Trade school or community college can give you access to a workshop where you can learn new techniques and build up experience and a portfolio. Art school can also give you these opportunities.

The other reason to consider getting a degree in art is that not only will you have a chance to work on your portfolio and use tools which you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, but you also may benefit from building a network of professional connections in the field.

Just as the benefit of an apprenticeship is partly the professional connection it provides you with, the benefit of going to art school is partly networking based.

It’s easier to get into a field where you know people than one where you don’t know anyone. You also might be able to get an internship of some sort this way. Many designers who make it on their own start out by designing for major companies or other design houses first.

There are no guarantees with jobs at all right now, and particularly no guarantees in the field of art, so yes, it is possible that the art degree won’t help you. That’s why nobody can tell you whether it is the right choice to make or not. It could be what you need to break into the field, or it might end up being a waste of your money.

I recommend that you check out some programs near where you’re located (New York is a great city for this), maybe get to know some faculty members, and see whether that can provide you with any insight. The clearer the path to success you can envision, the more likely it is that a program will actually help you.

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