The Only Benefit of Art Schools

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Students work hard.  Art students are no exception. They wake up early because they know they have to meet their classmates in a room.  The class will happen whether they are there to learn or not.  Similarly, across the city, an artist of some renown (hopefully) is waking up to teach these students.  He or she has to or the students will be sitting in an empty room.

They are a part of this system that works well using that simple agreement.  A school devoted to the perpetuation of knowledge.  The ideas behind a culture that thousands of brave souls have added to with their lives throughout human history.  

This system that introduces students to their instruments, that molds their minds to think differently, craft observance like mirror and express themselves effectively, all for the chance to add their unique point of view to the culture of art has shaped and inspired their youth.  They arrive in unison and engage in learning because they care about the culture of art.  They burn for it.


A good friend of mine, a young actor, recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Drama in Scotland.  A gifted young man, unleashed on the world, with a year of morning til night training in the craft he loves so much.

Because it’s a post graduate program, they actually award him a Master’s degree.  A well respected school that has been molding young men and women for the stage for a hundred years actually sent this young man off with a piece of paper that said “Master” on it and a head full of new skills he couldn’t wait to use.  

A recent checkup found him working a job at a local pub and auditioning when he could.  His story is not unique.  It’s so common it’s a little boring.

Training in any field should prepare students for the professional world. and there are no shortage of senior or night classes aimed to prepare emerging artists for the professional world.  In the case of actors they include resume & headshot creation, auditioning/cold reading skills, even taxes and business, accounting for artists. And of course endless roundtables and Q&A’s with working actors on the politics of everything from casting directors to Unions and other such nonsense.

What’s wrong with these kinds of continuing professional classes?  Nothing, except they miss the most important point, completely.  When my actor friend was in the Academy, he was almost impossible to reach by phone.  I’m working hard, every day, he would say.  I’m sure he felt the fire in his veins and the strain on his muscles as he pursued his craft.  It is a lot of work.  And he loved it.  He didn’t want to do anything else.

Not once did he mention the structure guiding him through his classes.  The army of administrators, building managers, janitors and other service workers that it takes to run a school as large as the Royal Dramatic Academy of Scotland.  These people were all working behind the scenes and being paid to do the daily work of keeping the classes on schedule and the students on track to graduate with a Master’s degree by years end so a new class can take their place next year.  

This structure is my point!  The structure is what these classes don’t teach.  How could they?  They don’t even know what the actual problem is.  A few young artists are missing job opportunities because they can’t write a resume or take a headshot, but far more missing the opportunity to do their good work because they no longer live in a structured way that facilitates their progress as an artist.

The appointments, the space, the rules, the grades. Classmates with guaranteed parts in practice projects and obligations to each other are the stuff that took that young actor from a wide eyed lover of acting, to a man capable of expressing himself through that craft.  True to their promise he did learn to be a better actor in that year.  What he didn’t learn was how to structure his life so that he may use his skills until his dying day.

In fact, upon reflection, It seems that it may even lower his resolve in that time.  No matter how much of the onus professors place on their students to take control of their own lives, accept the responsibility of coming to class, the structure, like a mother’s hand (or a personal trainer) has no alternative but to make their students ill-prepared to structure their own lives without them.

After the life obligations of a full-time job, food, shelter, etc, the artist is left with a mind full of the fire of their craft and absolutely no clue how to use it.  To incorporate it, daily.  

So, like you would expect, my friend begins a new audition process, pounding the pavement to find work, when really it’s an attempt to find  that structure again.  Replacing an academy’s headmaster with a director or producer, classmates for cast-mates and a classroom for a rehearsal space.  Ultimately we all long for a structure. To let someone else decide when we need to be at rehearsal and when the deadline for finals are.  We crave it in a way that I find fascinating.  

So, how can we structure our lives so that we gain the positives of school without going back into it.  Can we feel as accomplished, as fulfilled and as successful as we did in school?  Even moreso.  We weren’t getting paid to work in school.  We were paying for the privilege of the structure.  

What would you, as an artist, pay per month for an artistically structured life that is as motivating as a personal trainer?

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