Why I'm Glad I Didn't Go to Art School

When I was a senior at Eisenhower High School, back in 2002, I had a fantastic class schedule. My first two hours were a block class of Vocational Mechanical Drafting IV, followed by two hours of Graphic Arts, then an independent study class for 2-D Art, and English was my last class of the day. It was pretty clear which end of the building my heart was with by the time I finally reached that senior year.

One day a representative from the Art Institute of Chicago came and did a presentation on their school. I was convinced I had to go there. How exciting at 18 to think about moving to the Windy City to start the next chapter of your life among other young artists. I never felt like I fit in in high school, surely art school would be my home. I had decided. I was going to study graphic design in Chicago. Done deal. I shared my enthusiasm with my parents and they were on board.

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Yearbook Exhibit A: Me painting at an art night at Ike. Note the quote (which I'm sure I didn't exclaim...); the art is for everyone's protection. Also,  notice the painting on display is the one featured in my previous blog. Fun stuff.

Yearbook Exhibit B : Me in drafting class with my then favorite Weezer shirt and hoodie combo and my Wonder Woman style metal cuff bracelet.


I packed up my portfolio and my dad and I drove down to Chicago. We watched another presentation about the school, toured the campus, and I had a portfolio review. It was all thrilling! I was on the cusp of adulthood and I was going to embark on this journey independently in a brand new city. The advisor told me at the review that based on my work and high school transcripts that I was accepted. My heart sang. I was good enough!

Then came the official application and tuition information. Dad said we would take it home and talk it over, but I knew I would be going there. I just knew it! Wrong... When we got home mom and dad had a long discussion and decided that $35,000 a year for school was just too much. Now, I realize I could have gone off and done it anyway. I could have gone out and got into all kinds of loans and pushed my way through the resistance, but I trusted my parents. It didn't make sense for me to spend $140,00 on an education that would land me a $30,000 a year job (on average out of school, and if you're fortunate enough to land a good job!). I'm no math major, but seriously... that's crazy! I'm glad they told me I shouldn't go and I'm glad I listened.

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When I went back to my high school I told my art teacher, Ms. Cebula who I loved so much, all about it. She suggested I look into The College for Creative Studies in Detroit. After all, in state tuition for a smaller school had to be more reasonable... Ms. Cebula was awesome enough to set up an appointment for me at CCS to have a portfolio review. My mom signed me out of school early, and I loaded up the Bronco to head to Detroit, on my own this time. This was before GPS, it was before smart phones. I remember using MapQuest to print off turn by turn directions and keeping that close by the whole drive down. I was excited again, but much more nervous. I had been to Detroit many times for concerts and sports games, but never by myself. Amazingly enough I made it there without getting lost at all.

My meeting went well. My portfolio was reviewed. My transcripts were examined. I was accepted and I was thrilled. Then came the paperwork and tuition information. It was $25,000 per year. I thought, $10,000 a year less was a bargain! Surely this was the place for me. Wrong again. At this point I protested by saying I wasn't going to go to college at all... I was going to be a tattoo artist or paint murals...

After cooling off my parents assured me I should go to college. They told me I should have a degree to give myself a better chance at a good job and that I should seize the experience of going away to school. This time around we looked at tuition prices at Universities in Michigan that had Graphic Design programs. The two I was most interested in were around $8,000 a year, and so I became a Central Michigan University Chippewa.

When I went for freshman orientation I started out being excited, but ended it being very upset. I remember getting my list of first semester classes and wanting to cry. Not a single art class, but I was enrolled for "Economic Development of the Pacific Rim." Not really a topic that sparked my interest. Thankfully, I was able to swap that for a 2-D design class. Unfortunately, the first assignment in that class was to learn the color wheel. I went back to my dorm room and cried. I. Should. Not. Be. Here. I thought. I am not being challenged. This is insane.

I set up a meeting with an academic advisor to sign my major, plan out my path to graduation, and have a little protest about some of the introductory classes. I bought my portfolio and was able to get a pass on Drawing I in exchange for a higher level design class in my later years. It wasn't much, but it was something.

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North Arts Studio at CMU in winter.

I took photography the same class as bronze casting. So many great experiences!

I took photography the same class as bronze casting. So many great experiences!

As time went on, the classes became more challenging and ultimately I did grow as an artist and as a person. I learned so much. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to double major in Graphic Design and Sculpture, with an Art History minor. If I had more time and money I would have totally triple majored with photography (or quadruple majored with printmaking if I had taken it before my senior year). Somewhere in my junior year I realized if I stayed on for a fifth year I could also complete my teaching degree, so I went ahead and did that too. Options are good.

More so than all the classes and education... I met people there that never would have come into my life if I had gone to school somewhere else. People including my husband and lifelong friends. I also learned that you should never cut your own bangs. Just don't. Looking back I'm glad I didn't go to art school. I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be. I'm glad I didn't resist, or stay mad, or give up. I am the person I am today because of the sum of my experiences. Seeing as this is my tenth year of being a freelance graphic artist (a graphic artist who paid off the last of her student loans last year!!), I feel very good about where I'm sitting today.

NOTE: The dollar amounts listed in this blog are the best I can remember from 17 years ago. If my numbers are not one hundred percent accurate, I would not be shocked.