Thoughts on College for an Artist

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

At age 23, I had a mini crisis about what I was doing with my life. It was the age where all of my friends from high school were graduating universities and getting good jobs and I was there stuck still working at GameStop & going to community college. At the time, I had a dream to work at Blizzard as a designer, so I found a Blizzard recruiter on LinkedIn and emailed her asking her for advice on what to do to work towards my dream job. She started off her reply with "I don't have much time, but...." To be quite honest, I was blindly asking around for help so I did not expect an answer at all, but she replied with an essays length of what shaped the next 5 years of my life, and I'll share how it has helped me.

I ended up moving to Southern California to go to California State University of Long Beach to study Studio Art with a concentration in Graphic Design & Illustration. One thing I do regret was working full time while going to school full time. I mean how else was I going to afford rent, food, books & tuition, right? I ended up trying to get straight As and I found myself spending more time on classes that I struggled in rather than putting more effort/focus on the classes that were a direct part of my major. I learned that getting an "A" doesn't matter. That's easy. As cliche as this sounds, what matters is what you take away from that class.

Keep in mind that you will be working a 9-5 for the rest of your life. College only takes up an average of 4 years of your life. That's nothing. Work hard, but I can't stress enough how important it is to enjoy your time in college and the experience it gives you. Make friends, get involved, stay on campus to study. Enjoy the environment your school built for you. I joined the world wide 24 Hour Animation contest, and it was straight up hell. Being on campus for 24 hours working on an animation in a small team you've never worked with without sleeping is hell. But you know what? I remember every moment of it and learned so much from it. I learned how to work in a team that we had just formed. I learned and experienced how strict deadlines can be in a professional field. I learned so much in just 24 hours, so get involved and see what comes out of it.

Be open minded! I stressed out about how I had to take different types of classes such as 3D design, Safety for Artists and Art History when all I really wanted to focus on was my major. Take those classes & have fun with them. Make friends with your classmates and learn as much as you can from all your professors. I didn't know how interesting & useful a laser cutter was until I took 3D design. I didn't know how cool it is to code an Arduino to make a motion sensor, LED lights or potentiometer to work. I didn't have any clue how dangerous all the chemicals in the materials we use for traditional art was. I didn't know McDonald's logo was red and yellow to activate hunger in the consumers. Be open minded & try not to think "I don't need to learn this for my future career."

College is a great foundation, not just for artistic skills, but also for business skills, networking skills and general knowledge. It sounds cheesy but the more you know, the easier life becomes. I’ve learned this the hard way. Study business, finances, economics, math etc. Even in creative businesses those things will matter a lot and the more knowledge you are armed with the better you can negotiate for a higher salary in the future or run your own freelance art business yourself.

Be supportive to your fellow classmates and develop a reputation of being reliable. Your reputation is everything. You never know who will end up at a major company and will then either recommend you for a position or warn people to never work with you. Your reputation in any industry can be critical, especially in it's early stage. Of course, you can’t please everyone all the time and should not try to, just something to be aware of but don’t let it drive you crazy either.

The projects you take on outside of school is what is going to make you stand out from the crowd. We often hear students complain that their degrees got them nowhere and their education was useless. Yes, there is a shortage of jobs out there especially in this field, however the degree is not a magical ticket to employment whatsoever.

  • You have to be the one to do the further studies.

  • You have to choose your expertise.

  • You have to research your chosen industry and their requirements.

  • You have to keep a pulse on the news, industries are constantly changing.

  • You have to make the connections.

  • You have to do the networking.

College is an excellent breeding ground for all of these things, but many students just keep to themselves and do the bare minimum. Colleges lay a foundation of knowledge which is so important, but they will not find a job for you. Never believe them when they tell you that. It doesn't matter where you end up going, just remember in the end it really won’t matter too much where you went, what will matter is what you did with that time.

Special thank you to Kathy Zuniga for taking the time out of your day 5 years ago to give me, someone you didn't know, genuine and heartfelt advice.