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Why art school was not for me, and may not be for you, by Francesca Jane Allen

Francesca Jane Allen studied Photography at the prestigious London College of Communication. Since then she’s been an It’s Nice That Graduate and is now on a total rise – 70,000 adoring Instagram followers and emails flooding in from established publications from all over the world to commission her. A few weeks ago we wrote to Francesca asking her to write a piece about her time at art school. She was one of the few people who responded with a negative point of view on the subject, so we asked her to elaborate on why it wasn’t for her, and how even though you’re encouraged to go, perhaps sometimes it isn’t always the right thing to do. Here she is on why you don’t have to go to art school to be a spectacular photographer…

Francesca Jane Allen

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this, it’s feels very personal to me. There’s one draft that I erased completely as it serves as more of a “dear diary, school sucks!” hate piece. School didn’t suck, I just sucked at it, and that’s fine.

Four years ago I left my A-Levels early to take an art foundation class at Newport University, followed by a BA in Photography at London College of Communication. It felt very rock ‘n’ roll to leave sixth form with no real qualifications. I hated my Foundation; I argued with my tutors, did all of my corny projects the night before (nobody wants to shoot a photo story about the day in the life of a crisp packet) and had little in common with my peers. But it was all going to change when I moved to London. I had dreams of 1970s-style college parties and 24-hour studio usage – think David Bailey’s lifestyle in Blow Up. I dreamed of meeting the friends I had been destined to meet my whole life, like-minded luddites with a camera permanently strapped to their hand.

The reality was a dingy tower block and an isolating experience that caused me to often eat lunch alone in the toilets. Art school turned me into a sad shell of myself. I stopped believing in myself and tried to make work I knew the tutors would like, the whole time crushing myself to fit into a specific category to never receive more than a C-grade as a reward.

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Francesca Jane Allen: Untitled

The grading system seems to have little to do with the work you make and everything to do with the boxes you can tick. Art is subjective and it infuriates me that something somebody has made – something which is often very personal – can be deemed wrong. I’m friends with a group of very talented photographers, many of who studied photography and received equally as bad grades as myself.

There is little to no relation between the grading system and how much success you will create for yourself later in life. The people who received firsts are tricked into a false security that they’ll be more employable than those who didn’t. But let’s face it, in this day and age, everyone has a degree. I’ve come out from university with little more than a wider understanding of the history of photography and a more refined way of forming my thoughts, God, someone teach me how to get a job!

“There is little to no relation between the grading system and how much success you will create for yourself later in life. The people who received firsts are tricked into a false security that they’ll be more employable than those who didn’t.”

Francesca Jane Allen

Some people thrive in education, many of my peers did, but education was never my cup of tea and I don’t know why I forced myself to stay put for so long. To me, university felt like three long years of stalling real life from happening. Obviously something made me stay, but I will never know if it was a hope that suddenly I would feel a sense of belonging with my peers and the course, or a genuine fear of what happens after education.

Since graduating I feel like life has finally begun. I’m working for some great publications and brands and it feels like everything’s going right. I don’t regret the past three years, I see it as a time where I learnt to grow up.

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Francesca Jane Allen: Untitled

“My advice? Do things, make things, work yourself to the bone, and good things will come.”

Francesca Jane Allen

I feel like my expectations were a little high. I wanted a community to immerse myself in and nobody can promise that fabrication. I do have this, I am part of an incredibly talented group of young artists who are humble and wonderful and all struggling to pay rent. My advice? Do things, make things, work yourself to the bone, good things will come. Olivia Bee gave a great TED talk on talent and came to the conclusion that talent is non-existent and making good work comes down to hard work and good taste. I am an advocate for both of those things.

“To me, university felt like three long years of stalling real life from happening.”

Francesca Jane Allen

If you’re thinking about going to art school, good for you! It could be the best thing you’ve ever done, or the worst, but remember, you don’t need it. Despite what education and your parents and society has told you for your whole life, you don’t need this to succeed. Educate yourself; learn a language, learn a skill, watch YouTube tutorials and ask your friends.

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Francesca Jane Allen: Untitled

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Francesca Jane Allen: Untitled

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.