Art college ‘pros and cons’ is a subject that I have been mulling over for the last 54 years. That is since I left Portsmouth Art College myself in 1964.

At that time I had completed 5 years full-time art education at two colleges. Firstly, three years at Hornsey Art College in North London, followed by two years at Portsmouth. I finally left with a qualification, the National Diploma in Design. Art colleges didn’t award degrees in those days, but the equivalent, which was sufficient to enable me to get a job as a full time art teacher in a secondary school.

I found a post as the art master in a school in Bedford. I was very poorly paid and I was forced to find a way to paint and sell my pictures in the evenings and weekends. I made more money doing that so I left teaching after just one year and have been a full-time professional artist since.

A weeks wages in the 1960's as an art teacher.

                            A weeks wages in the 1960’s as an art teacher.

Therefore I am a product of a state sponsored art college education. But I was surprised to find that many of my fellow professionals are not. And to be honest the state didn’t really teach me how to make a living as a full timer, I had to teach myself how to do that.



So what are the pros?

What was good about going to art college?

Firstly of course for me is the fact that I met my wife at Hornsey where she was a fellow student.

Secondly I qualified with an NDD to teach art at secondary level. I believe that has since changed, and students now need an extra teaching qualification as well.

Thirdly I met and worked with many very keen and sometimes brilliant art students and tutors. Over five years I explored the art world and developed, by experimentation, my own art style. By the time I left I enjoyed abstract painting on whopping big hardboard panels using acrylic paints. So the other big pro factor was the immersion into a full-time creative exciting way of life.


But now the cons.

What are the downsides of an art college education?

At the present time of course the experience is going to land the student in a huge pile of debt. That is the same for any further education at university level. In my days it was free, and I even got a grant that was enough to survive and live on. Just.

I got a National Diploma in Design or NDD, being one of the last to do that. Nowadays no-one knows what an NDD is or was. Shortly afterwards the degree was changed to DipAD, another set of meaningless letters. Nowadays the art student would get a BA.

Art education has become more like other university courses. Three years instead of five, with examinations and a degree at the end. These qualifications or degrees are useless to a self-employed artist trying to sell their art because that is not how your art will be judged by collectors, critics, and dealers.

Some of my fellow students looked for jobs as fashion designers, graphic designers, or illustrators. But some of us wanted to be artists.

This fact remains…A graduate artist will not be able to get a job as an artist. The jobs just don’t exist. They are going to have to be self-employed. They really will have to know how to run themselves as a business.

The biggest downside to a student’s full-time art college experience was that it did not show us how to run a small one-person business. Most of the tutors didn’t need to sell and survive as professional artists because they were getting a salary as tutors. So they didn’t know how to do it themselves well enough to be able to teach it.

Some of them went further and taught against the idea. They would say that ‘commercialisation of an artists talent is akin to prostitution’. The concept of artists being businesses was, and still is, alien to the high-flying dreams of some students and staff in art college.

However a consequence of the lack of teaching business skills is that there is less competition for the few of us that teach ourselves. So I reckon that’s another pro.



I have explained some obvious pros and cons of my full-time serious art college education. Many of these P’s and C’s are the same today.

So to an aspiring young person thinking of art as a career and pondering about getting into huge debt…


P1. You will probably enjoy the company of fellow creative souls.

P2. You might even meet a future spouse.

P3. You will learn just by watching how to be an art tutor. You could go on and become one yourself. Or you could use the experience to teach others how to teach others.

C1. This is not the best place for learning how to survive as a full-time professional artist. It might even be the worst.

C2. You will probably end up in debt.

C3. You could pick up very anti-business ideas that will condemn you to a life of teaching and justifying and envying other people.


But let’s be positive. You will have to spend these special, precious, creative, years of your life somewhere or the other. This is when you explore leaving home and getting out on your own journey. A while in an art college might show you how to enjoy the art world for the rest of your life.

Good luck.