Recently I met with a graduate with a Visual Arts degree in Painting and Museum studies from a local university.
She wanted to meet to discuss her photography.
Naturally I asked how she came to contact me.
She said her professor suggested she talk to me.
So I thumbed through her portfolio.
Her work was not impressive.
It wasn’t her fault.
The university required her to take only 1 quarter or 10 weeks of photography for her art major.
I did feel terrible for her and her classmates especially those who aspire to be photographers.
What they are learning in basic camera controls, composition, art history and photoshop just isn’t sufficient.
“I learned very early on you can’t become an art teacher until you become an artist.”–Annie Leibovitz from Life through a Lens documentary
With the exception of those who were in industry who went back to get a Master’s degree, many art professors have had little or no interaction with folks who buy or commission art work.
So the caliber of an Art school always comes down to the strength of the curriculum.
This usually translates into the philosophy of the person in charge or the department chair for the Art Department.
Perhaps I can share my college experience at Kent State University in Ohio as an example.
For a 4-year-university, I have to say my Alma Mater had a requirement which made a lot of sense.
I’m surprised this isn’t a requirement in the 2 colleges where I teach.
At Kent State University an internship in photography was a requirement for graduation.
While it is true that most colleges have a requirement for graduating seniors to undergo a portfolio review and a solo show, I don’t feel it is quite real enough.
The trouble is: the people reviewing the work are also the professors who are teaching.
Failing or not giving those students a thumbs up would be an admission that they as teachers weren’t doing a good job.
Besides, professors have to be encouraging and nurturing or else word will get around and they won’t have students.
So rather than put the faculty in that position, powers-that-be, at Kent State and probably the better 4-year colleges, made their students apply and submit their portfolios in the real world to see if they can get hired as an intern.
It can’t get more real than that, folks.
In my case I started the process of applying for internships as early as my sophomore year.
I recognized very early on the importance of this.
I funded my own education so I didn’t need to be reminded of how expensive my major was.
So I wanted to learn as soon as possible if I had the chops to make it.
If you’re a art major, seek out professionals in the real world as soon as you can.
Get an honest opinion about your work.
And if the pros say your work isn’t up to par, it’s time to speak up and tell your art faculty advisor at school what the pro in the field thinks your portfolio needs.
This is especially important if you’re due to graduate.
That degree is no doubt an achievement but what’s going to land you a job is your outstanding portfolio and not so much that piece of paper or where you went to school.
For those searching for photography schools or colleges to attend, please be mindful of those “for-profit” colleges like Art Institute.
So do I think photography as a career is doomed?
I think not but like many art forms, it’s always evolving.
The next generation of photographers will probably have to learn how to shoot and edit video but more importantly how to run a business.
Take 5 minutes of your busy day and listen to what Gregory Heisler has to say about it.