College DecisionsRecently I had a bright young man in his early thirties question me regarding the pros and cons of attending a local community college for part or all of his education as an artist. His question was: "Do you think that a person, if they gave 110% and demanded it of their instructors, could get a very good art (painting) education attending a community college?" This query comes from one with an interest and background in fantasy art of the comic book variety also wrestling with a decision as to whether to pursue a graphic design or a fine arts curriculum with an emphasis in painting. Thus what he is contemplating is not one but two decisions that are, to a degree, interrelated.
What he asks, of course, is impossible to answer not knowing the college or colleges he may be considering. Like most other things, community colleges can be broken down into three categories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, with additional information, some judgements might be made. First of all is it a two or four-year-college? Second, how many students are enrolled in the art department? How many instructors are there? How diverse are the course offerings? What are the library/computer facilities like? Are the instructors practising artists? How old/young are they? What kind of reputation does the college art department have in the local art community? In addition, some general assumptions can be made. First the cost may be half or less what a local private college might demand. Second, most freshman and sophomore level credits are transferable. With upper level under-grad credits the ice is a little thinner. A large number of the students attending will be older, working class, married individuals much like him. And finally, community colleges are best for basic, lower-level course study.
Having explored the type of college (and presumably made a choice), the question of a fine arts path versus graphic design is much tougher. And though they shouldn’t be, they often are mutually exclusive. In some colleges, the two departments are barely on speaking terms. Some colleges don't even have a graphic design department in fact. In general though, the graphic design department will prepare the student for working for a company doing that kind of art (heavily computerised now days too). The fine arts department will tend to turn out individuals struggling to work on their own or teach at some level. That's not to say that after graduation there will not be some crossover much like there is in the music business (country to pop for instance) but it is not done without some difficulty and broadening of ones educational experiences. In the end (and this is a trite cop-out), it really depends on the individual, which is best.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
19 July 1998