Art School Alumni Speak Out

cameraSami Harthoorn and Ari Gabel traveled different roads to arrive at Ringling College of Art & Design. A native of Sarasota, Florida, Sami almost stumbled out her backdoor to get there. Ringling was a good school, and she could save money by living at home.

Ari grew up a short distance from another strong art school, the Columbus College of Art & Design. He developed a love for photography as a sophomore in high school, and considered attending CCAD, but really wanted that “away from home” experience. He was contemplating a state school, but with guidance from an attentive high school art teacher and the support of his parents, he landed at Ringling.

Ari and Sami graduated in 2012 and 2013 respectively, each with a BFA in Photography. Both now reside in Columbus, Ohio. They agreed to sit down and talk with me recently, to share college experiences and recommendations for future art students. The result was a diverse list of suggestions for those wanting to major in the fine arts. Derived from the good, the bad, and the ugly, here is what I heard – with some of my own suggestions piled on top of theirs.

Before you go…

          Research individual programs within a school, not just the school itself. Why? Sometimes the money and resources are focused in a program other than the one you find the most interesting. (Art.College.Life.) How? Start with the admissions office; they’ll have the most up-to-date information about each department, and can put you in contact with current students or recent grads.

          If a big school experience is what you crave, think twice before you sign up to attend a small art school. (ACL) A liberal arts college or university will offer a broader range of coursework to complement your art studies, but you won’t get as focused of an art education. That’s the tradeoff.

          Paying back loans after graduation can feel daunting and overwhelming. Make sure you’re truly aware of how much your education will cost you, and how much you’ll be borrowing before you sign that acceptance letter.

During your time on campus…

          Choose to live on campus! Living elsewhere might be more economical, but you’ll meet more people and feel more connected to the school when you’re there 24/7.

          Experiment! Try new things. You can’t make a mistake.

          HAVE PATIENCE. (ACL) Learning your art/craft takes time and lots of practice.

          “Major in a something that will make you money; minor in something you’re passionate about.” Meaning: it’s not easy getting a job as a fine artist.

          Start networking as soon as you land on campus. Easier said than done, especially since most students won’t have an artistic style developed yet and a related direction, but it’s still a worthwhile goal. Make contacts and try to build relationships with people of all ages and stages of their careers; students, faculty, community members. (ACL) It’ll pay off in the long run.

          “Learn something you can’t teach yourself.”

          Take art history seriously. (ACL) Learning about artists who came before you is eye-opening and inspirational.

          Find your niche. (ACL) Again, easier said than done, but start by doing what you love and applying your unique perspective to it. Your niche will follow.

          Pursue an internship. (ACL) And then apply yourself. You’ll be surprised what you learn about the world, and yourself.

So what’s it like After graduation…?

Shifting to life after college is an adventure all its own. Both Ari and Sami spoke about further developing their networks, and missing the fact that they used to live among other artists and “talk art” at all hours of the day. And of course they miss having access to the great equipment and tools available to them at Ringling. But both seemed ready to actively jump into their art. Sami’s direction has shifted a bit since graduation. She’s sculpting in wood these days, and is interested in store front and set design. She’s also contemplating an MFA. Her recent submission to an open call for artists landed her a spot in Surthrive in the Heartland at The Ohio State University Urban Arts Space. The exhibit runs through September 21st.

Ari hopes to continue his focus on photography. His interests lie in historical anthropology. Check out his website and flickr pages. You’ll see his passion, loud and clear. He is currently looking to assist well established photographers to further his own craft, and continue to build his network and portfolio. He gave me one other recommendation to pass along to burgeoning fine arts photographers. Join the American Society of Media Photographers. Membership for students and those just one year out is just $45/year. Put up a profile and you’ll find consistent job leads.

Sami and Ari clearly enjoyed their time at Ringling, and they both seem interested in the independence that a career in the fine arts can bring. They love their art, and craft, and they are beginning to grasp the business side of working in creative fields – something that Ringling knows how to teach.

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