Wayne State College

Art and Design Survival Guide

From One Art Student to Another

From Manndi Jo Miller
B.S., Studio Art, Wayne State College
M.F.A., Sculpture, Kansas State University

College is a big change. You are all on your own. This however isn’t quite realized until you actually start your college experience. You’ll start your classes; you’ll get textbooks, syllabi, and supply lists. There are, however, a lot of things you’re not told. In college the expectation level is much higher. You may be given the tools, but you yourself have to figure out how to use them. So from one art student to another, I will try to brief over some things you might not know, but can definitely expect.

Class and Attendance

I think the No. 1 thing  students aren’t prepared for when coming into the college art atmosphere is the art itself. In high school, you are given liberty when it comes to art. You essentially make what you want and how you want it. College art, however, is a little bit different. Your first major core classes are not usually going to have such freedom. The beginning stages of your art education in college are focused on learning, not necessarily creating. You’re going to have assignments in your studio classes, and you will be expected to do them. Most incoming freshmen struggle with this, and I can understand why. I often hear students feel like their professors are trying to make them all the same, turn them into some sort of clones in the art world. Believe me when I say this, but that is not the case at all. Your professors are going to teach you the tools, tips, and need-to-knows about art. When you finally get to branch out and create your own art, these things are going to help you immensely! Although you may come to cringe at the word "perspective" and absolutely loathe still-life setups, the things you learn will make you a better artist, I promise. When it comes to class attendance, however, there is only one bit of advice to give: Go to class. No one can stress that enough. In the majority of classes, you are given two absences until it starts affecting your grade, and it will affect your grade quickly. Save your two absences for when you really need them.

Time Management: Balancing Studio Art and College Life

Not only is the education different in college, but the lifestyle is different too. You’re on your own here. What you do with your free time is entirely up to you. This, however, is where a lot of art students get into trouble. Being an art major is not going to be an “easy” major. For each of your studio art classes, they expect a minimum of six hours of work outside of class each week. Do the math. If you have two studio classes, that’s 12 hours of work, on top of your other general education courses. Not to mention that you want to hang out with all your new friends and socialize at night. I know that sounds like a lot, but it can be done.

Working both during class and outside of class is important. Professors emphasize on that expected six hours outside of class because you really do need that extra time. Art takes time and hard work. Your art classes are going to demand much more time than your other classes. The more time you spend working on your art, the better you will become. Time is of essence for an art student. You need time to figure things out, make mistakes, and learn how to correct things. You will always be able to tell who has put hours into their work as opposed to who only put minutes into their work. The product of hard work will always be much more rewarding for you than the realization that you could have done more, but you just didn’t choose to put the time into it.

Now, no one is telling you to drop your whole life and focus solely on your art. All I am saying is, there can be compromise. You can have the time of your life here at college and get all of your work done. The key to success in managing your time is to use what time you have wisely. Evening studio hours are Sunday through Thursday, so that leaves Friday and Saturday to do whatever you want. Make a plan for all of your classes. A good idea is to pick days of the week to designate to studio time. If you ever have extra time in between classes, consider working on art or getting some homework done for other classes. If you think ahead and manage your time wisely, you won’t come into situations where you have to weigh things out: go to the movies or work on that project? If you work on a plan to manage your studio expectations and the expectations of your other classes, you will have plenty of time for everything else. 

Finances: How to Afford Being an Art Major

Unfortunately, as an art major, you can’t just go buy a textbook, some paper and pens and be set for the rest of the semester. Art classes require a lot of art supplies, which unfortunately again, are neither free nor cheap. This is something you need to understand and take into account before school starts. You can’t always rely on taking out extra money on a student loan for art supplies. You need to make a plan. If you have a summer job, try and save as much money as you can for art supplies. After you receive your supply lists from your instructors it’s a good idea to sit down and figure out your expenses for the semester. Figure out how much money you will need for art supplies, gas, food, and extra activities like movies or shopping. When shopping for art supplies, cheaper is not always better. A lot of supplies like paint and charcoal will last longer if it’s a higher quality. If it holds up longer, the less of it you will have to buy. Always remember to only buy what you absolutely have to have. If you’re only buying that neon pink paint because you think it’s cool, chances are it can wait to be purchased another time. 

Group Art Critiques

Critiquing art in classes becomes a big topic for most incoming art students. Critiques in art classes will either become your best friend or your worst enemy, and that all depends on what attitude you choose to have. When going into a critique you need to have a positive attitude. Critiques are not to make you feel self-conscious about your art or to put you on the spot in front of your peers. That is exactly where students go astray. Critiques cannot be taken personally. Your professor is not secretly telling you they dislike you, and your peers aren’t ganging up on you either. We as art students are put into these situations to learn. From a critique, you can get great insight from your professor and your peers about anything you’re struggling with, such as further ways to expand your ideas and how to better do something the next time you come across it. You also learn how to talk about art, which is essential to know when you’re an artist. It’s important to take in critiques as an opportunity of gaining something, not a time to become discouraged. Your professors and peers are here to help you!

Attitude and Outlook: The Key to Survival

Let’s face the facts; college at times will be stressful. Life, at times will be stressful. You need to realize that sometimes you’re going to have artwork that just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, however hard you study; you might not get a good grade. You’re not always going to agree with your professors and peers. You’re going to be faced with things that often are just out of your control. The attitude you have and the outlook you have for your education, I believe, is the real key to surviving as an art student. I always remind myself that if art is what I want to do for the rest of my life, why wouldn’t I strive every day to be the best I can possibly be? It’s important to make yourself a goal for your college art education and for who you are as a person. The list of things to get out of the college experience is endless. Attitude is everything, the better the attitude and the outlook, the better this experience will be, and the more you’ll grow as an artist and as a person.

Take advice as knowledge, always respect the opinions of others, and don’t forget to have fun! After all, you’re an artist; how many people get to do what we do every day?