Am I Too Old For Art School? / by J. Logan Carey

When I was studying for my Anthropology degree, because I was totally convinced I could easily find a job in a museum or something (HA!), I decided that I wanted to take drawing classes for my electives. Electives were supposed to be those things that you were also interested in, but might be outside your chosen field of study.

Unfortunately for me, at Michigan State University, unless you were an Art major you couldn't take even the most basic of art classes. All I was able to get into was a single, solitary History of Art class.

I remember it pretty vividly actually. We learned about different styles of art, painters, and artistic movements. We learned how some pieces might be interpreted, what symbolism might be peering from the edges. It was enticing, but it was lip service. Here's all these wonder forms of art that exist, but we just observed and commented. That was all. I couldn't touch any of it, couldn't get my hands on it.

I wanted to get my hands dirty. I wanted to learn the skills that art students were learning so I could take my doodling to the next level. But I couldn't, so I studied maps and meteorology instead. Never ended up getting job in any of those fields. Sadly, I also never became Indiana Jones either. You lied to me, Steven Spielberg!

Fast forward a bunch of years to now. I'm a bit more settled down now, as things go. I've got a full-time job and a full-time relationship, two maddeningly lovable cats and a home that feels like a sanctuary. I've gotten very serious about studying and learning art over the past year or so. I've always loved to draw, but I never had the fire under me I feel like I do now to do it. But I'm also, sort of middle-aged I guess. YUCK, I hate that phrase. I'm 38. Too old to be young, too young to be old. Right? RIGHT?! 

There are lots of great places to learn art online. I just wrote a post about them called Best Places to Learn Art Online. Most of them are very much affordable alternatives to traditional art school, especially when compared to traditional art school. And I am taking courses through several of them, but sometimes I have to admit that I kind of crave that traditional college course structure when it comes to learning. I need the proverbial whip behind me, I need some deadlines and clear path. Now, this really can't be an expectation throughout my art career, but right now it felt like something I needed so I got an idea.

Essentially what I did boils down to this: I searched online for publicly posted syllabi of traditional art classes.

After finding and reading through many different options, I chose one program in particular that provided a detailed syllabus for Drawing I, Drawing II, and Drawing III level courses. The syllabus broke down the reading list, assignments, and in-class projects in great detail so I could see what the professor wanted the students to read, study, and draw for each and every week throughout the semester.

I had a complete guide for what reading material to acquire and the order in which to study it for the type of art classes I was never able to attend in college. It would be just like taking a traditional college art course...

...with three HUGE differences:

One, this would be a self-guided course of study, which is perfect for me being able to fit it in around my schedule that is a lot busier than it was when I was in college.

Two, that I was not bound to the racket of purchasing the newest edition of college textbooks.

And Three, NO TUITION.

Here's how the book pricing went:

  • Book 1: Current edition price: $116, mine was $4 on eBay

  • Book 2: Current edition price: $90, mine was $7 on eBay

  • Book 3: Current edition price: $41, mine was $4 on eBay

  • Book 4: Current edition price: $40, mine was $7 on eBay

You couldn't even buy the eBook versions of these textbooks for these kinds of prices.

You couldn't even buy the eBook versions of these textbooks for these kinds of prices.

So my first foray into the world of a traditional art class cost me $22.

The next two courses, Drawing II and III will be cheaper because they use some of the same textbooks I bought for Drawing I.

Now I know some of you are saying: "but what about the group interaction wahhhhhh."

I think anything skill or knowledge in life that you want to learn boils down to this simple truth: YOU are the one who has to do the work.

You could be in a room of the most talented artists ever to pick up a pencil or paintbrush, and it would improve your artistic ability absolutely ZERO because we don't learn through osmosis, we learn through doing and then doing again.

Again and again and again and again and again. That's it. There's no ultimate secret. No mastermind program is going to show you an amazing shortcut to mastery or even competency. It will always come down to you and the level of work and effort and study you are willing to put into your thing.

And who says group collaboration has to take place in a classroom? Have you heard of the internet? If you want to find a group of people in real life, then check sites like Reddit or ask your creative friends if they're interested in a meetup to compare and critique your work. That type of outside-the-classroom thinking is what it's all about in the long run.

A college or university does not control your ability to observe and learn and become skillful in anything, they just get you to pay them to tell you that they do. Art schools seem to be particularly unscrupulous when it comes to this. So do some research and then develop your own learning plan to guide you on your way.