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Why is it still a good idea for young creatives to go to art school?

To mark the beginning of our month of Back To School features, it seemed best to start by addressing the most obvious question – why go to art school? The hike in tuition fees has led to many questioning whether university is still the best path for young people and the rise of specialist vocational courses (such as those provided by Shillington College) have challenged the traditional art school model. Here we asked a selection of creatives why they feel that going to art school is still the right decision (we’ll be exploring the counter arguments later in the month). So over to them, but you can add your thoughts using the comment thread below…

Marina Willer, Graphic Designer and Pentagram Partner

Going to art school is still the right choice because hopefully there will be that one teacher that will inspire you for life, and that will change everything – open your eyes, show how much fun life can be when you find your talent and enjoy what you do.

Art school is an amazing opportunity to have the space, encouragement and support by people that believe in art on your side. That can change your life for ever and it’s fun!

It is important because often if there’s a lack of encouragement, young people who are very talented abandon the idea of being an artist, not even knowing that they could have made a living out of that.

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Marina Willer: Tate Modern identity

Fred Butler, Fashion Designer

Leaving school and going to art college is one of the most exciting moments and opportunities in life. A whole new world of possibilities opens up from simple pleasures like wearing your own clothes to meaningful factors such as meeting new friends who might just become the most crucial people in the rest of your life.

The facilities at art school offer you an immediate myriad of skills to experiment with, learn and develop to establish your unique visual language. It’s a hub of endless ideas and energy with so many like-minded visionaries to interact with and inspire. I think that it’s just as important to explore perceptions of creativity on the dance-floor as it is in the classroom, so I’m an advocate for burning the candle at both ends.

When I was at college there were graphic designers and illustrators who met at gigs and latterly formed bands which have now become household names. You can never underestimate the unexpected from any situation.

You can test the three years to the maximum by constantly pushing for knowledge from tutors, technology, forums and clubs, the library and ultimately everyone around you. Everyone is a freak and it’s great to at last discover that you’re not the only one!!

Finally it’s your chance to shine and metamorphise from an institutionalised teenager to a valid practitioner, ready to shake up the professional work place.

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Fred Butler: AW12 Collection

Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor University of the Arts London

“Pursuing a passion for the creative arts means choosing a path that might not be the easiest but is certainly the most rewarding. Arts students are the people the late great Steve Jobs called “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers.” But as he said: “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Art school gives creative thinkers the space to explore, experiment and develop their own unique vision; ultimately, it gives artists and designers the chance to think and act in radical new ways that can influence the way we see the world.

Creative graduates are entering the creative and cultural industries at a point when they are thriving. In Britain they are the second largest sector of the economy and a huge employer of graduates. Worldwide they are a major engine of economic and societal growth and innovation. Without them we would all be poorer in every sense. The creative industries are hungry for the innovation and fresh perspectives offered by each new generation of creatives and the demand for them is global.

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Nigel Carrington

Riitta Iknonen, Artist

I wouldn’t blithely encourage anyone to go to art school, but what I can say for myself is that my lifelong friends are teachers and fellow students from there; that alone makes art school seem like a pretty significant part of my life. Mostly it’s your colleagues that make the experience exciting (I must mention that I went to art school before the hike in tuition fees…).

An art school atmosphere is ideally a collective working together to solve the tangliest problems, rather than isolated geniuses trudging along.

My experience of art school is that it is a solid base to observe from; a position of safety. Other lessons are that it’s good to learn that you don’t know, to experiment and eventually springboard to the next steps.

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Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen: Eyes as Big as Plates

Tom Fitzmaurice, Graphic Designer and D&AD Trustee

I didn’t feel equipped at all when I was finishing my A-levels to enter a creative career at all. As a potential graphic designer at the time I hadn’t had access to relevant software and what was being taught was archaic and also irrelevant. What a lot of schools were teaching with graphic design was just a cloudy product design course to be able to fill in an exam sheet. You weren’t able to explore or see the bigger reality of your craft.

Art school is in my mind essential to repairing a lot of what is lacking beforehand, being able to have larger scope, engaging with new technology, making valuable young connections and handling – in my case – industry-relevant briefs that extend past small scale ideas.

I considered the main benefit was the culture that is created through access to specialists, tutors and most important, like-minded and opposing fellow students across different creative courses. It’s a hub of young holistic talent when put together, and done right, you are able to prototype ideas fast, messily and then fully realise them in what feels like a very natural environment.

It will be unlikely that you will be afforded the time to play, explore and really understand your own creative self once you are employed as much as you can at that point you could be starting art school. Also, agencies that hire young creative hotshots require a degree as standard with whipped cream and sprinkles thrown on top for good measure, so from an employability stand point you should build your career on solid foundations.

The creative industry will always be looking for the new young talent that can answer modern society’s newest problems and art schools still do the best job of breeding a culture of these talented creative youngsters.

Astrid Stavro, Graphic Designer

When I was in studying a BA at Central Saint Martins School of Art & Design I went all the way up to Sheffield to interview Ian Anderson for an interim project. This was ages ago. He told me that the only reason why he accepted to see me was because a student who wakes up at 5am to travel 3.5 hours by train and back on the same day for a 30-minute interview was worth seeing. One of the million things he said during what turned out to be a two hour long interview was: “You need to know the rules of the game in order to break them.” He was right. I now say this to young designers. You can’t play chess if you don’t know how the game works, right? 20 years down the line I have not mastered the game but it’s a hell of a game if you learn how to play.

The best time of my life was the two years I spent at The Royal College of Art. It opened my eyes in many ways. If I could, I would start over again, and again and again. To be surrounded by such amazing talent —professors and classmates— who would inspire, illuminate and make you turn green in envy with the amazing work they produced. I mean, people who would make you feel like a worthless piece of shit in comparison.

To have a two year parenthesis in life in which to focus and develop what you love most. Most importantly, to realise that with motivation, commitment, perseverance and hard work you can transform a dream into something tangible and real. The enormous satisfaction of realising that the rest of your life is the place where you will be able to continue honing your skills forever: it really can’t get any better than that.

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Astrid Stavro: Elephant Magazine redesign

Back to School
Throughout the month of October we’ll be celebrating the well-known autumnal feeling of Back to School. The content this month will be focusing on fresh starts, education, learning tools and the state of art school in the world today – delivered to you via fantastic in-depth interviews, features and conversations with talented, relevant, creative people.