Now that completed the Art Institute of San Antonio's Digital Photography degree program, earning a BFA in Digital photography, I've been asked more than a few times was "art" school worth it? I think that's an odd question considering I believe that any educational experience is worth it. If you leave knowing more than when you arrived, it was worthwhile. I guess a better question would be did it make me a better photographer? And the answer to that is YES!!!
For those of you not familiar with the Art Institute, it's a fully accredited, for profit college with a well-rounded curriculum containing core photography classes, general education classes, and a wide variety of electives. No school's curriculum is perfect, but I would argue that is also the appeal for a school as well because it's a continuing education process. It will never be perfect because the photography profession and knowledge about the profession is continuously evolving and changing. As students, it is natural to complain about the things we don't like. But that doesn't mean it will be any less of an educational experience or important for us. And I was no different. I can name three classes I didn't particularly like or thought I needed, one I was on the verge of hating. But just like on the job, there will be aspects of the job that one does not like, and yet it has to be done. So like I said, even at its perceived worst, college does prepare you for the future.
But what about the photography? Let's get this question answered right now. Did attending college for photography make me a better photographer? Yes it did. But it did so much more. Prior to attending, I was a hobbyist. I had the love and the passion, but the technical know how and the historical understanding was still unknown to me. One of the most important lessons I learned at the Art Institute was to see myself as an artist. Prior to that, I saw photography as only a craft. It was a powerful craft that I loved, but only a craft nonetheless. I did recognize photography as an art form, I just didn't see myself as an artist. I think a lot of it had to do with being older and the negative connotations that are often associated with artists by someone of my generation. My perception about this first started to change when I took the History of Photography class. My instructor (she knows who she is) guided me and the rest of the class through a previously unknown side of photography. As a lover of history, this moved me in a way I didn't think I could be in my 40s. I immediately started to realize the word "artist" was multidimensional and really didn't have a meaning that could be put into words that would apply to everyone. Art, by it's very nature can be objective, subjective, and/or biased all at the same time, depending on the viewer as well as the artist. I started to get inspired by photographers like Gordan Parks, Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Anne Leibovitz, Man Ray, William Eggleston, and so many more. I can say that not until History of Photography did my thirst for photographic knowledge really kick in.
We had classes on just about every aspect of photography and lighting, although they leaned more toward the commercial side of photography because the goal of the institution is for its graduates to get a job. But that was ok with me. But as a healthy counterbalance, we did have instructors with fine art backgrounds that enabled us to also get a healthy dose of that perspective as well. While not always my favorite perspective, I came to realize its importance because as I've come to observe, the fine art and commercial side of photography are often at odds over what is good photography and what is art. They approach the camera in two completely different ways with completely different mind-sets. It was always an experience to listen to and debate photographic concepts with fine art photographers. They forced you to look at photographer in a more conceptual way. I don't think they were ever convinced to see it purely from a business standpoint though. Although I didn't lean that way as much, I learned so much from their point of view that has also enabled me to better my photography and to take it places I would have never considered prior. My passion is documentary/editorial/street photography. I won't go into my least favorite, but we all have our least favorites. I've often said college taught me just as much about what I DON'T want to photograph as much as it enabled me to know what I DO want to photograph.
In conclusion I would like to reaffirm that I will always cherish my experience at the Art Institute. It was invaluable to my success as a photographer. And as a result, I now have a full time job as a photographer. How cool is that? To actually work in the profession you went to college for. That's not such an easy thing to achieve in this modern day and age with this economy, particularly as an artist, more particularly as a photographer. Because of the diversity of what I learned in school, it helps me approach photography from a much wider and open perspective; which is a talent many photographers don't have. Don't get me wrong, there are tons of self-taught photographers that are doing wonderful work that I still look up to, admire, and respect. But my education is an invaluable investment that has already started paying off. And when all is said and done, at least for me, it was always about the knowledge. I crave knowledge, particularly in things I'm interested in. And there is nothing I love more than the art of photography. (Except my wife in case she is reading this. I love you more babe.)
"Keep it F8"