Art School: Is it worth the money?

There's a lot to be said about a 4 year degree. Lately though, most of what I could say about it is negative. I have a degree in graphic design from a four year liberal arts school. When I made the decision to go, I kind of assumed that I had to. After all, how could I find a decent job without a degree! 

 © Matthew Simmons Photo 2012

© Matthew Simmons Photo 2012

Now, looking back, I see things much differently. Not only am I not even a designer, but most of what I've learned about photography has come from outside experience. Not once has anyone asked where I went to school before hiring me. No one has asked to see any credentials, and my degree is sitting in a box in my closet. I guess you just don't need a degree to be an advertising photographer, editorial or a music photographer anymore. 

As a commercial photographer, what HAS made a difference is my portfolio. That seems to be the only thing that matters. My current portfolio contains no images from college, like the ones in this post, by the way. 

So what's the point of art school for photographers? 

I'll say this. I wouldn't be where I am today without my college experience. At university, I met the people I needed to meet to get me to where I am today. I met the people who would make the biggest impact on my personal and professional career. I was also plugged in with the right contacts who would get me to Nashville in the first place. I learned how to light. My curriculum did a great job teaching me how light, natural or strobe, works. That knowledge is invaluable. 

But that understanding of light is not something I could only learn in college. With the abundance of resources on the internet now, you can learn almost anything you want about photography for free, or for a nominal fee that doesn't come close to the debt you incur as a college student. One new resource that has popped up is Jeremy Cowart's See U. I've been working for Jeremy for the past few years and everything that I've learned from him and more is available in See U. It's an unbelievable resource for young photographers, adept photographers, and even pro's. 

So my encouragement to young photographers everywhere is this: Go to school. But only do so if you have the means. Be prepared and readily aware of what you are getting yourself into. You will learn a lot. It won't be a waste of time, it will likely be a very rewarding and enriching experience like it was for me. But it's expensive. Dear God is it expensive. I wish I had had the options that young artists have now when I was 18.