I dropped out of art school over a decade ago.
After two years of being bullied by many of my art tutors for being: “too rigorous”, “too concerned with outcomes”, “uptight”, and “asking too many questions”, and two years of being alienated by most of my classmates because of one quite toxic girl’s dislike of me, I left with tears in my eyes. I’m a fighter. I don’t give up easily. But it was clear I couldn’t win. It came to a head when I was told I should “develop more intimate relationships with my tutors” to pass the next semester, innuendo fully intended and confirming many suspicions. This is something I never talked about in public, and hardly very much in private, until relatively recently. It was a deeply upsetting experience I did not have the tools to cope with at the time.
Thankfully I’d been doing a course combining modules with the university’s philosophy department. There I didn’t feel like an outcast and my hard work was rewarded. The mixed messages had been doing my head in. When I went to one of my philosophy tutors and opened up a bit about it all, they suggested I transfer to a degree in philosophy. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My philosophy tutors loved the qualities my art tutors had criticised me for and I thrived in that environment, both as an artist and as a thinker.
As far as I’m aware I’m one of only two from my art class that actually work as artists now – the other was a fellow rebel. The more I have talked with others about my experience, the more I have found others to have had similar experiences, and the positive accounts of the culture of art schools that have come my way remain a tiny minority compared to the number of stories of isolation, harassment, abuse and inappropriate behaviour I have heard, and continue to hear. Not to mention the complete lack of technical skill actually taught or, indeed, desired at these institutions. My advice to young artists now is: don’t go to art school, find someone with skill willing to teach and find the time and space to practice and develop. You have to master the rules before you can effectively break them. Anyone who says differently is a con artist not an artist.
I can see now that most of the tutors I had at art school had little real skill. Some were just attention seeking frauds. I felt like I didn’t belong there because I didn’t. All these years later I am so grateful to my philosophy tutors and classmates, the many books and online resources I used to teach myself the skills I have today, and everyone who appreciates my work. And I am so glad I walked away.
I watched art school chew up and spit out so much talent; I watched so many gifted people have their hearts and their dreams broken to gratify the egos of their resentful tutors. I didn’t paint for a year after I left, it was the most unproductive period I’ve ever had. But then I went back to it and if I can bring a little light, beauty and meaning into the world then it’s been worth it to keep going.