5 Art School Tips Every Major Needs to Know

Art school students are famously spacey. But is wisdom buried under the layers of ink and clay? This article unpacks five specific strategies drilled into art students that would revolutionize anyone’s perspective and productivity–if only they knew. A true insider gives you the scoop.

Strategy #1: Brainstorm properly.

Here’s what you do when you study Studio Art: you turn ideas into actual, physical things. But those ideas aren’t easy to come by.

In order to build up ideas, you need brainstorming techniques. Here are some tried-and-true methods to find the unusual connections and tethers of truth that constitute a “good idea.”

  • Open a blank word document, or get some scrap paper, and start writing about whatever your concept is. And don’t stop. Write down whatever comes to mind, even if it’s your grocery list. Write for five minutes. Then, go back and read it. You might find some unexpected associations that will ignite a winning idea.
  • Bubble it out. Take a central word or phrase, write it down, and circle it. What other related words immediately pop up? Write them all down, surrounding the central word. Keep going.
  • Flip it. Instead of thinking, “How can I make this better?” think, “What can I do to make this worse?” Your brain will get unstuck and light up brand-new pathways.
  • Subvert it. Easy example: what are some things you could do with a baseball? You can throw it, use it as a paperweight, dump a ton on the ground, drill it to the wall, float it in a tub of water. Use this same method with anything else—college prep classes, new work uniforms, term papers—and you’re guaranteed to mine some original thoughts.
  • What’s so important? Whenever you’re brainstorming, check in periodically and ensure you’re getting at the core of your problem

Strategy #2: Problem-solving.

Art students are trained to look around, ask people, and figure out a way to get our stuff done. You need to look in every possible nook and cranny.

When you have a problem to solve, don’t just try conventional routes. Break down your problem. What, specifically, do you need? (Example: I need to get an internship with this local company.) What is every possible way you could do this?

Strategy #3: Analyze what you see.

We are visual creatures. And even though people say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” sometimes you jump to conclusions after just glancing at the cover.

This is where thinking critically about what you’re seeing (also known as rhetorical analysis) comes in.

  1. First, look at all the parts separately. Name them. Dump your mind of any prejudices you might have.
  2. Then, look at how they come together.
  3. Next, name any references that come to mind. What does it remind you of? Does it seem familiar?
  4. After, consider what this visual piece (be it advertisement, store window, or co-worker’s outfit) is trying to say.
  5. Finally, once you’ve dug deep and really looked into everything and re-understood it, you evaluate whether or not it’s “good” or “bad.”

Basically, this is a technique for being open-minded. Every time you back up and re-evaluate what you’re seeing, you’re practicing tolerance.

Strategy #4: Be comfortable failing.

Failing is such an important part of learning. Ask any art student who’s had to try and draw somebody in sixty seconds. (Actual drawing class exercise.) You learn to trust yourself, to be comfortable making something ugly, to find the beauty in the process. You know it doesn’t have to be perfect every step of the way. You make messy marks and then you move forward.

Strategy #5: Self-reliance.

Art students know from day one that they won’t have a steady six-figure job waiting for them post-graduation. We learn other techniques for finding work, which basically boils down to learning marketable skills.

  • Build portfolios. No matter what you want to do, you need to prove that you know how to do it. This is where portfolios come in. Portfolios are a group of your best work in an area. Include at least five examples, but no more than fifteen.
  • Get yourself a website. And a Facebook page, and a Twitter, and an Instagram. But at the very least, buy yourname.com and use a site like WordPress to make an online space where you can show your portfolio. (Plus, emailing someone a link to your website looks so very professional.)
  • Go the extra mile. When you’re interviewing for jobs, send handwritten thank-you cards. Buy coffee for people in the industry and pepper them with questions. Diligently build contacts. Believe in yourself.

And truly, whether you’re brainstorming ideas, trying to solve a problem, analyzing what you’re seeing, failing at something new, or building up your own self-reliance, that last sentence comes into play again and again. Believe in yourself, and your skills..

DresslerHeadshotDressler Parsons is a senior at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, simultaneously pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. She also writes part-time for Student-Tutor, and is passionate about showing people their potential for a bright, beautiful future. In her free time, she cooks edible things and knits inedible ones.