My Apology to Art Students

For years (as an engineer) when I made fun of college students not doing any work or not studying anything of actual utility, I often used art students as an example.  Today I offer my apology.

My daughter is an illustration major at a college called Art Center in Pasadena, CA.  I don't know if this is usual for art schools or if it is just this one college, but these kids do an insane amount of work.  My wife and I both attended Ivy League schools and my son went to Amherst, all of which are high on rankings of top academic stress schools, but none of us ever worked like the kids at Art Center.  My daughter coasted to A's in one year at Rice University, which she would describe as a cake walk compared to art school.   Her art school features five 5-hour classes a week plus each class can and does issue up to 9 hours of homework a week.  Typical weekly assignment for 1 course:  draw 300 hands.

In addition to all of this there are mid-terms and finals.  Below is one project my daughter did for one course's final exam, a set of children's books put together from scratch with her own art.  This strikes me as an insane amount of work.

I will add that I have become reconciled to art school in other ways.  To some extent my daughter's false start going to a major university in a liberal arts program was a result of our family's expectations about college.   Our bias was that a liberal arts degree from a highly-ranked university was the path to success.  Art school was for slackers who ended up sleeping on the street in a refrigerator box.  But you know what?  Art school teaches a real craft and teaches it rigorously.  Can Yale say that about its gender studies program?

One caveat to this is that my daughter can write.  She went to a high school where all the assignments and exams were essay-based.   She can toss off a polished 5-paragraph essay in her sleep.   If this were not the case, I would worry about this one aspect of art school.  I consider writing (and remember, this comes from a mechanical and aerospace engineer) to be the most important core skill and an education that does not teach writing or provide a lot of writing practice is suspect in my mind.


  1. Georg Thomas:

    What an interesting prejudice-shattering experience. And your daughter's creations are absolutely wonderful.

  2. me:

    The mark of a truly smart person is the ability to recognize and analyse where their biases differ from reality.
    Beyond that, it just reaffirms my personal impression of quite how superb Warren's character really is that he makes a point of publicly describing his change in views... Coyote for President 2020!

  3. CapnRusty:

    Pasadena's Art Center was the world's finest school of automobile design for many decades. I dreamed of winning the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild competition in the late 50's and getting a scholarship to go there. Don't know if it's been overtaken by 3-D digital technology.

  4. irandom419:

    Sounds like the difference that applied makes in something.

  5. ErikTheRed:

    That's always a tough one. I recently had a family member who was interested in a career that could in theory do well for them, but is in one of those fields where the income levels / financial lifestyles for most of the bell curve are difficult to distinguish from that of the homeless community (one might argue the homeless are better off). On one hand, you don't want to shit on their dreams, but on the other you don't want them to dig themselves into a hole (that you'll wind up helping them out of) either.

    I personally know a few artists who are fairly successful - by that, I mean that they've been able to support a reasonable middle-class or better lifestyle with their work - but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. I suspect Coyote's daughter will be in this outlier group - the biggest struggle I see is the desire for artists to pursue their pure view of art balanced against the generally more reliable income they get from commissions or more commercial work (I only know two who have made it to the point where their pure art has reached the commercial acceptance level to allow them a fairly stable and comfortable financial existence).

  6. cc:

    You were not entirely wrong. At the state school where I went, it was known (obviously not well enough) that about 90% of the art students would never make a living at it, and it does attract that space-cases and those with weak reality perception. Someone in art needs enormous talent to make it.

  7. marque2:

    I am not sure what school your daughter is going to, I have noticed that there are programs that teach drawing and graphic design, which are top notch. On the other hand, the "arts" programs at the state schools (Universities) I have been to, seem to be mostly about throwing yarn around something, or writing something nasty about the US or the school on placards, and protesting. It is sorta like the Mike Rowe situation where he says many people are better served in a trade school, than in the University. A graphic design school - is more practical trade, and you don't have to be weighed down with useless info about all the great 20th and 21st century artists with their anti establishment hate art.

  8. Broccoli:

    I am an alumnus of Rice University 06. In my experience as a engineering major, you had to seek out the challenging professors and classes intentionally in the liberal arts schools or you could coast if you wanted to. In the engineering curriculum, the hardest classes were mostly the mandatory classes referred to as weed-out classes.

    This would not be helped by your daughter only completing year 1 courses, as those are deliberately easy at Rice because of the requirement to take 8 classes outside your field of study, if you were an engineer you had to take 4 classes in humanities and 4 classes in arts for example. Interestingly enough, for the humanities and arts majors they had dumbed down versions of science courses to meet the 4 class requirement. As an engineer you couldn't take those courses and get any engineering credit. This was not true in the inverse, the humanities majors were right next to the science/engineering majors in the humanities classes and they got full credit towards their major.

    This was also not helped by there being certain majors clearly designed to have an easy route for the athletes, none of which were in the sciences or engineering schools.

  9. Coyote Little Sis:

    Your niece is experiencing the same heavy workload at SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design. (98% of the SCAD class of ‘16 left with jobs or guaranteed placement in grad school.) I am surprised and delighted by these two artists coming from our gene pool. At least your mate is an artist. We are baffled in our house.

  10. Bill Drissel:

    I remember in the late '50s, engineers and science students griped about 3hr lab classes for one credit hour until they found out that architecture and art students had 5hr "studio" classes for one credit hour.
    Bill Drissel
    Frisco, TX

  11. JK Brown:

    Well, art bridges the gap between the useful arts and the economically useless liberal arts. If you don't get bogged down in the "fine" art, then art has objective utility "which gives lie to its maker." Capitalism makes the latter, with some historically having intrinsic value, possible for those without independent means. Sadly, the liberal arts "professors" work to inculcate a hatred of capitalism in those who owe their leisure to pursue a liberal art to capitalism.

    "In the precapitalistic ages writing was an unremunerative art. Blacksmiths and shoemakers could make a living, but authors could not. Writing was a liberal art, a hobby, but not a profession. It was a noble pursuit of wealthy people, of kings, grandees and statesmen, of patricians and other gentlemen of independent means. It was practiced in spare time by bishops and monks, university teachers and soldiers. The penniless man whom an irresistible impulse prompted to write had first to secure some source of revenue other than authorship."
    --Mises, Ludwig von (1956). The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality

  12. allthekingshorses:


    Good for you to admit your bias.

    Parents pay tuition and/or students accumulate massive loans, for prestigious but useless degrees from colleges within well-respected Universities.. The College Board, professors of useless subjects and government student loans for vapid degrees are all part of the racket which we taxpayers are forced to subsidize.

    Give me an underwater welder, a construction manager or a graphic artist who works for a company like DIsney any day over those yoyo's.