I'm an art-school dropout wannabe!

I'm in art school but I'm freaking out about the money and about what it all means!

By Cary Tennis
Published October 5, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

Like many of us out here, I need some of your advice. I want to drop out of my MFA program. I have already dropped out of another grad school where I was getting a master's in library sciences. I was initially attracted to library school because I had worked for a library during college and found it quite enjoyable. Also, it seemed a pragmatic choice. I could enjoy my placid day job as a librarian and work on my artwork during the evenings. However, I got bored with library school and annoyed that some of the librarian stereotypes hold true. The fussy lack of confidence I found in the student body was disheartening. It was too easy for me. I slacked off constantly and got good grades for nothing. I started missing art. I wanted to create again. So I decided to give getting an MFA a try. I figured I would enjoy being a professor and art would be my full-time life.


I have only been in the program for about three weeks, so a part of me thinks I need to stick it out for at least a semester. However, I am panicking. I don't think I made the right decision for several reasons, the first one being primarily about money. The cost of getting an MFA is ridiculous. I cannot even think the amount of money in my head. Not to mention the loans I still owe from college and library school. I have not been sleeping well because all I can think about are these mounting loans.

I feel guilty. I feel guilty about all the money I am investing in what amounts to a self-indulgent degree. Yes, art can change people. It changed me. But I don't know if I believe in the idea of getting an education in the arts. If I really wanted to change the world I should be doing my art in the world, not hiding away in some pretentious graduate program. The more prominent artists in this world do not have MFAs. Hell, some of them don't even have BFAs. If I became a recognized artist I would be invited to teach even if I didn't have an MFA.

To top it off, it's been three weeks and I have not made a thing! I have a crit coming up next week and I have nothing. My time is taken up with classes I am not really crazy about, worrying about money and feeling guilty and depressed.


Clearly I have some good reasons to want to drop out of art school and perhaps run back to library school. I am almost done with that degree anyway, and like I said before the library is a great work environment. But I don't want to seem like a flake. I am afraid of what my parents will say, what my professors who urged me to attend art school will say. My live-in boyfriend is understandably annoyed because I can't seem to make up my mind about where I am heading. I don't want to feel like I am giving up. If I drop out I might feel relieved, but I also won't really know what to do. If I decided to drop out today I will be broke and jobless. And frankly that scares me. Your advice often isn't advice but just your thoughts. And that is what I would like to hear. Just your thoughts.

Not Sure of Anything

Dear Not Sure of Anything,


Treat this course of study as though it were a work of art that must be finished at all costs. Persevere through your uncertainty and your panic. Pay attention to the details of your subjective responses. Think about what it means to be panicking in art school. Think about what it means to be borrowing so much money, to be following the directions of teachers. That is all part of being an artist.

Think about what it means to want to be an artist. That can be your art for now. Study the lives of other artists; consider their agonized indecision, their confusion about what role to play in life, their methods for completing their work and making a living in the world. Use this time to learn all you can. That's all you have to do.


You don't have to "produce art" now. You're in art school. This process can be your art for now. You're supposed to think and learn, acquire techniques and skills, grow and develop as a person. That's what you're doing. So go to class. Throw yourself into your problems. Believe in yourself. If art has changed you, then honor that change; make this your way of paying art back. Devote yourself to art. Be a humble servant of your craft and your genius. Do the right thing. Stick with it. Be an artist.

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