Should You Go to an Art School to Become a Photographer?

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In this video Lee Morris sits down with Mike Kelley and David Strauss to discuss the value of going to an art school to become a photographer. Is it worth it to spend all that money or not?

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24 Comments
  1. Matt Horner says

    I was told by a local gallery curator under no circumstances should I sell my work as I have no background in art and he would have no reason to sell them. He also followed with advice that I should talk to photographers but to be aware that they are not very forthcoming with help and advice. He was like his own self fulfilling prophecy. He had done work for the BBC and his pictures were on sale for £1600. They are genuinely awful, like the sort of thing I'd have said was great on my first day with a new camera – BUT – he can charge what he likes because that's his 'style' that he intended.

  2. Troll Of Justice says

    when is david scheduled to finish puberty?

  3. Thomas Clark says

    Most successful people, regardless of profession, put an emphasis on learning as opposed to being taught.

  4. Simon Jones says

    Isn't Full Sail University a scam? They aren't accredited correct – it's a certificate program? I remember being enamored by their pitch as well as an art institute rep while in high school. Personally I did go to art school for graphic design in a top 10 program at a technical school, i was fortunate to do so debt free. It was extremely worthwhile and not only did I get a job as a staff designer coming out of school, 90% of my 100 person graphic design class all are employed as creatives. My school has a huge network, and I've gotten many jobs and opportunities through it.

  5. Naher1mne1utub says

    TL;DR: degree doesn't teach you either how to be a good artist or how to make money. go practice right now. and never get into debt.

  6. Andrew Phillips says

    Very interesting. I'm 58 years old and went to university to study photography about 10 years ago. I'd been taking photos for 40 years and I wanted confirmation of my ability and to learn all there was to learn about photoshop and "modern" techniques. I was very quickly became disillusioned. This was not the way to a career. After three years there were students who would struggle to explain the difference between an f stop and a shutter speed. One day I asked my class of 20 how many hoped to make a living through photography. Everyone said they did. So far as I know only one did and he is now a tutor at the college. Do I regret it? Yes and no. I still owe money and photography is still no more than an obsession. However I learned (in my own time) about the history of image making but fuck all about photoshop. In my opinion an art degree is not necessary (and maybe even counter productive) if you want to be an artist. I'm all for education but not if it doesn't teach you anything useful. I wish I was part of this conversation.

  7. Nathan Carrille says

    You can't teach art, you can only teach technique, art is abstract, it's present in each individual. What art school maybe does is give everyone the same tools(as in teach them the tecniques and give them the knowledge that will allow them to create), and show them everything that has already been done ( history) and now let art come out of the individual's mind and become something palpable. With that you create artists, shitty ones, and amazing ones. On another topic. To believe that being a good artist is enough to make a living is straight up ignorance. Most artists are better off studying business/investing in their business, and making connections, rather than spending money in art school, or music school, or design school, or whatever.

  8. Lindsay Webb says

    Three guys, who don’t do art, discuss why art school is unsuitable to end up like them

  9. Somewhere Down The Road says

    NO! Art School is not needed, but can be helpful in helping you understand the Fundamentals of Photography if you have the money to spend on it. If someone really wants to be a Professional Photographer they need to Study the Fundamentals of Photography and work as a Photo Assistant for a few years learning everything they can about fundamentals and the Business side of Photography from as many photographers as they can work with in as many different types of photography they can…then they can go out on their own to start their business. This is the investment you make to help insure your success, this is the way I started when I first decided Photography was what I truly wanted to do…this was over 35 years ago. I am not a famous photographer by any means but this served me well as a launching board to start my career. .. I am still learning and will never stop learning. If you do this just for the money or fame you are in the wrong business. I know a lot of photographers that are "Okay" photographers and make a lot of money because they can sell and I know photographers that are awesome and are starving, the difference is understanding People and Sales. If you can't sell, you will starve.

  10. Sebastian Sarti says

    You go to art school to become an artist not a photographer. Everyone is already a photographer, every phone has a camera now. (Let that sink in for a moment) Learning lighting techniques, learning camera techniques, learning camera gear can be understood in a week, you guys have tutorials. But to be an artist nowadays you need an art school degree. That's all I'm gonna say about that. 😉

  11. Matthew Koster says

    To answer the question about "What is an art school", I would define it as a school who's primary function is to teach "art" be it performance arts, graphic arts, etc. In Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) there is Cantebery High School which is an art school, those who are talented in arts go here to develop their skills to get into a higher art school like OCAD (Ontario College of Arts and Design) which is affiliated with the University of Toronto. That being said, you can take similar courses at other universities/colleges, just the university or college is not specialized in Art. Its like going to a technical college or school, they're courses are more geared towards automotive, and metal working type courses.

  12. Sven Pixa says

    I think the (lack of) commercial success in art of most teachers at art schools does not say much about the quality of their class. That's because, a successful artist is great at creating and marketing art, but not necessarily at explaining things and inspiring young people. During my studies in mechanical engineering I had more than once a professor, who was for sure a great engineer, but a terrible teacher.
    In addition, I think to being able to assess the quality of the work an other person created, it is not necessary to being capable of creating extraordinary work yourself. For example, a curator of an art gallery is very rarely an exceptional artist himself / herself, but he / she is able of selecting extraordinary art for his / her exposition.

  13. brandon weber says

    Lee I will give you $10,000(all I have), and I can work for free as an assistant. I can quit my job and move to wherever you are located within a week. No, I am not kidding. I just finished my AA, and was looking for a photography school in my area to transfer to, but I do not think the school will produce the results I want. I have little experience in photography, but I have an unbreakable drive to make myself better.

    If you would be willing to accept an eager learner, then i'd be more than thrilled.
    A reply would also make me happy.

    – V/R Weber, Brandon

  14. ColejgH says

    "You cant buy motivation and drive."
    Thats so goddamn true.

  15. ColejgH says

    I wish I could talk ome on ome with someone so I could get advice on writing. I love writing, but I like writing poetry and rhythmic style writing. I am not going to school for it though, because that's a waste of time. But how do I make money from this?

  16. Ben Macwhinnie says

    I've just finished a BA in photography and my main reasons for doing the degree is the access to high end equipment that i'd never have been able to experiment with otherwise (Full frame DSLRs, VR Headsets, Electronic gimbals, Graphics tablets, Profoto studio lighting). I was specifically wanting to learn as much technical skills as possible but also felt I was at a point with photography, were i was just creating shiny images that look nice on instagram, basically shooting peoples profile pictures for them.

    I feel as though the first 2 years I dived fully into convincing myself I was going to become a gallery artist due to the nature of the research and marking schemes provided. This was actually beneficial for me because it made my images have depth, meaning and become a all round more intelligent person. However, when it came round to my final year of university all I could think about was what comes next, I needed a job and i ideally wanted one in a large fashion based studio for my first year. I managed to land myself a job working for Boohoo as an image re-toucher after applying to around 50 jobs online and only receiving 5 replies. Most of the students on my course seemed so focused on getting the highest grades possible in their final year that they have actually now graduated and had nothing lined up resulting in them having to get a minimum wage job back home.

    My university provided a great deal of emphasis on putting on guest lectures every Tuesday bringing in famous artists, producers, curators, designers for everybody to come and visit and ask questions. They also have 1 project every year which is solely graded on the personal work you are doing outside of university, wanting to see evidence of entering competitions, getting portfolio reviews, designing websites, social media, business cards etc. We would also have end of year exhibition projects were we would collaborate with other course such as film and animation to create group work in a public gallery or work in a group of photographers and independently fund raise and organise our own exhibition within the city.

    Overall I feel as though most universitys have the tools in place to give you what you need to become a successful photographer, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be on the courses learning curriculum. A lot of my technical knowledge came from independent experimenting with the university equipment in my free time, speaking to students within other genres to learn about things like stop motion, VR, video editing, VFX. I for example knew that shooting tethered and using capture one would be something I needed to know in the future, so I simply went and asked one of the technical staff if they could teach me it one day and they did.

    University can be worthwhile, but obviously as mentioned in this video a lot of young people just do it because they are confused, like the idea of the social aspect, but then even when they graduate they still don't feel mature enough to go into a full time career.

  17. TORMY VAN COOL says

    ART SCHOOL … I challenge any school to give the feature to be able to transmit your feelings to the public. That's ART.
    Which, for me, is innate … or you have, or no one can give it to you.
    IF you have, perhaps with some education, you can better manage it … but feelings are feelings, talent is talent … in Art you should let it FREE to express … not any education can give any rule. Where a rule/policy is, the Art is lost (IMHO)

  18. Walter G says

    My two cents, getting a degree in most disciplines do not prepare you for a career in that discipline, it's just the nature of the university programs. B.S, M.S, M.Ed

  19. Tristan Cairns Photography says

    I really enjoyed ya’lls talk. So I’m a full-time freelance photographer with a “photography” degree from the Art Institute of ATL and I can honestly say that the only con to getting that kind of education is the student loan debt… other than that it was all pro’s. I personally had the best experience! I was taught by very experienced photographers who were still active in their careers, got to use the best equipment in the industry, had an infinite amount of resources available at my fingertips, received tons of hands-on experience, learned a lot of trade secrets, had tons of portfolio reviews, and met some insanely talented people. I had the will to succeed and I ended up graduating top of my class with several awards! However, after graduation I didn’t have the funds to make a move to New York or LA to start assisting (b/c of student loan debt) and ended up moving back to my hometown in Alabama to work for myself. It’s been a rough 9 years since graduation and I’m still paying on my debt. I have no money to buy new equipment and properly run a business. All the pictures you see on my website (tristancairns.com) were shot using the original Canon 5D. It wasn’t until 5 years ago that I upgraded and bought a refurbished 6D (which I’m still using). I would suggest to anyone considering going to an expensive trade school like the “Art Institute” is to make sure you have the funds beforehand because it’s ruff having to pay back that much debt afterwards!!

  20. Richard Paice Photography says

    is that a round table right there,

  21. Luis Salazar says

    The education is good, but to make money is a skill, there’s Photographer’s that has a gift, 😎

  22. Stuart Schaffner says

    There is a concept in many professional fields of 10,000 hours of structured practice. It's true of many STEM fields and certainly for foreign language training. The two classic fields where this is true are music and drawing. Now this is structured practice: spending hours at a time drawing ovals or practicing scales and etudes rather than just making drawings or playing tunes. It's also true for glassblowing, woodcarving, and most pro sports.
    If your field has such a requirement in order to excel, it is both a barrier and a chance to succeed in a highly competitive environment. It sounds like some jobs in Photography require this and some don't. Lee Morris seems to be concentrating on the ones that don't.
    I remember a B&H lecture by Robert Rodriguez Jr., a landscape artist who was also a professional musician. Perhaps you should talk with him or with Katrin Eismann.

  23. Ektor Tsolodimos says

    Lee is great.

  24. SodaLemon4 says

    Very interesting video, thanks!

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