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How do I research an art school, to understand whether I fit in?

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Every art school stands for a specific way of seeing the world. To understand whether a specific school aligns with your values and artistic practices, consider the following strategies:

1. Discuss schools with your network

Once you reach out to your friends, you will often realize that some of them know (or know of) people associated with art schools: students, graduates, staff, etc. Reach out to them and discuss your curiosities and hopes, and see what insights they can offer about the institution(s) you are interested in.

2. Research the art school online

  • Research the staff: An art school usually consists of classes, which are usually led by a professor (and assistants). Understanding their backgrounds, personalities and values can help you understand whether working there might be a good idea. This empowers you because the question of “Will I get accepted?” will be transformed into an array of deeply personal judgements: What do I think about them? Do I like their way of offering feedback to their students? Is their general attitude beneficial to me?
    It’s usually straight-forward to find out who teaches what topics, and who leads which classes. You can use search engines, YouTube or podcast indices.

  • Research the curriculum: Art schools usually have their curricula online; they tell you what lectures there will be, how many hours will be invested in what topics, and what sort of choices students are given. Understanding an art school’s curriculum is empowering because it lets you judge their offer.

3. Research the art school in person

Researching the staff online is a good way to get a general idea about an art school. For a way deeper ground view, consider personally visiting the school; not once, but continuously. This is challenging (or impossible) when the institute is in another city, state or country; yet it’s important to understand the power of connecting locally. Understand that this isn’t about you showing your work, but about listening in and increasing your understanding of the art school:

  • Visit public art school events: Every art school will have a newsletter and website to inform you about their public offerings: book presentations, roundtables, etc. Visiting these events lets you learn about art, but can also become a platform to connect, and thus to network. It enables random encounters with strangers, helping you get in touch with like-minded individuals. You might get to know a student who then tells you about their experience and opinion of the school. You might get to know a graduate who tells you insights about the staff, or the schedule of a classes’ meetings.

  • Visit the open studio days: Nearly every art school has yearly open studio days. It’s a perfect opportunity to understand the building’s layout – where are the studios, workshops, cafeteria etc. It’s a great way to see the work that gets produced, and to get to know students and staff.

In addition to these public events, art schools have various deeper layers that might allow for visits by strangers (you). Understand that while it’s most always allowed to enter public schools or institutions, this is usually not true at all for private ones! Once you know you are welcome, consider the following options:

  • Visit the school’s work and social areas: Most art schools offer work areas for their students – individual or group studios, and workshops (for operating on wood, metal, to edit videos or develop photos, etc). While these areas are used to focus on work, and thus not ever a good fit for socializing, it can still pay off to visit them since students are there, enabling the chance of random encounters.
    In addition to work areas, most school’s will have cafeterias, libraries and more public areas. The more courageous and open-minded you are in meeting new people, the more discussions and conversations you will have, further informing you about the school. Visiting these areas is usually possible any day of the week.

  • Visit regular class meetings: Art schools often group their students into specific classes (according to the various media and topics), to discuss work and organizational topics with the staff. The schedule of these meetings is rarely published, but can be found out by visiting the school’s work or social areas, or visiting public events.
    Once you know when a class meets, go there and respectfully ask whether you can be a silent guest. Do not expect to be given entrance – some classes are safe spaces, which makes unannounced visitors unwanted. Yet by being there in person, and being accepting of a potential rejection to drop in, you might have the right energy to ask whether you can drop by another time – next week or month. While it sounds easier to simply send off an email to ask about this, this often results in non-answers or a rejection. Showing up in person offers will usually show a way stronger interest and urgency; but make sure you aren’t pushy.

    The reason to visit class meetings is not to show your work. It’s to listen and understand the classes’ atmosphere and group dynamics. This enables you to judge whether they might be a good fit to you, which gives you agency, and a unique authority over the situation: you can’t make them accept you, but you will, upon closer inspection, realize that not every class and professor is as shiny as you expected.

Try to understand which of these strategies resonate with you, to then implement them in a way that suits you. Some of these can be outside of your current comfort zone – if so, investigate whether it makes sense to get beyond that comfort zone. Discuss a plan of action with friends and supporters: can someone accompany you? Can you find an accountability buddy for your research phase? Good luck!