Guest Post: Cultivate Your Creative Skills

The-three-levels-of-creativity - colored

By Laura Young

Many of my earliest memories are of art. My family was into museums, botanical gardens, and classical concerts, so I started making art very early. Through grade and high school I enjoyed drawing and painting, playing the piano, and acting/comedy improv, but I always saw the visual and performing arts as a separate practice from my academics. Art was just something I did for myself, because it was fun and pleasing, and I didn’t think much beyond that.

When I applied to college, I didn’t want to apply to art school because I liked many subjects. At the nudging of a family member, however, I applied to UCLA’s art department, and to my great surprise, I was admitted. I had turned in a portfolio but my academics did not meet the average profile of campus, so their decision confused me. More than anything else, I didn’t know what I was good at. I had plenty of things that I liked to do, but I wasn’t an expert at anything, so I wondered what UCLA had seen.

The summer before college, however, the luckiest thing happened to me: I got an internship at Disney, with a woman named Peggy van Pelt. Peggy was an executive consultant at the company, and her expertise focused on creative people: how to understand them in order to ensure their happiness, productivity, and positive development. Peggy was the first person to tell me that while I was making art, I was also cultivating many powerful creative skills.

Now that I work with artistic students in the college application process, I often hear them worry that an arts degree isn’t “sensible”. I couldn’t disagree more! Here is a short list of what artists are good at:

– Problem solving – being able to approach an issue and come up with many solutions
– Working alone with minimal supervision
– Working collaboratively
– Working effectively and in a disciplined manner
– Multitasking
– Delivering articulate critique
– Accepting critique and utilizing feedback positively
– Being able to consider issues in the long run as well as in detail

Those of us in the arts have been listening with some amusement to the national discussion on how to develop leaders for the 21st century. Critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity… artists are already fantastic at this. Of course, anyone could learn these important skills in any major, but for creative students, an arts degree program can be the best, most appropriate context to better identify and interact with the world.

So. My message to you is the same one I got from Peggy: you are already so good at so many things.  Go have fun figuring out how to implement your many talents! We’re waiting for you.


Laura Young is the Director of Enrollment Management at UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture. She can be reached at, and on LinkedIn at

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Do You See LA?

As kids growing up in Los Angeles, my brother and I thought we were pretty clever the first time that popped into our heads. Years later, flying home, it still makes me smile.

Broad Arts Center

Broad Arts Center

Last month, after meeting with Laura Young, Director of Enrollment Management at the University of California at Los Angeles’s (UCLA) School of the Arts and Architecture (SAA) the question morphed into “have you seen UCLA?” As one of the top public research universities in the country with a first-rate arts program in a thriving metropolis, a better question might be “why haven’t you?”

UCLA is big city living. Its 27,000 undergraduate students in 125 undergraduate degree programs on a 419-acre campus! And don’t forget about the 109 NCAA titles and 60+ national and local fraternities and sororities. But take a closer look and you’ll see the details inside the big picture. Two SAA departments, Art and Design Media Arts, combine to an intimate 395 underclassmen. That’s an environment ripe with opportunity to cultivate your artistic abilities.

UCLA arts logo w namesThe Art Department offers classes in painting & drawing, photography, ceramics, sculpture, art theory, and new genres, while Design Media Arts takes a multidisciplinary approach to media creation, offering study in Interactivity and Games, Video and Animation, and Visual Communication and Image.

Students in both departments begin with foundation courses where they learn the language of art and the principal traditions of each medium. But the focus isn’t strictly on how to create; equal effort is spent on why. Experimentation is emphasized, and students learn to combine creativity with the intangible, and to balance technique with problem solving. The focus is conceptual, not vocational. Undergraduate coursework in either area will earn you a B.A.

painting and drawing

painting and drawing

SAA students must be self-directed. The benefit of being part of such a large institution is that your resources can seem almost endless from the time you first step onto campus. The tough part is that working through a large system can sometimes seem daunting.

Laura Young shared some of the details of the application process with me:

          As part of your application to the UC system, you’ll need to identify your top two choices for areas of study (i.e. Communication Studies, Art); UCLA will only consider your first choice.

          SAA professors make the first decision as to who is accepted into the program; university admissions staff become involved solely to address academic standards.

          Make sure to read the application requirements – SAA requires a supplemental application that you won’t want to miss.

          UCLA is the only UC campus requiring a portfolio from incoming freshman. Again, read the application requirements; your portfolio can consist of 8-10 works in any medium.

          The school has a preference to see self-directed work as part of your portfolio, (not what your high school art teacher instructed you to create).

Last year the Art Department received about 950 applications and Design Media Arts received approximately 850. Both programs admit about 40-50 students. For a top-notch creative education wrapped in a diverse and engaging liberal arts package, I’d say those are some lucky students.

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Painting and drawing photo courtesy of UCLA.

Location, Location, Location

LA palm treesWhere you attend college can have a huge impact on your education.  Are you looking for a small town or urban environment?  Want to be close to mom and dad, or far from them – on the other side of the country.  Wherever you choose to attend school will affect your experience.

But think farther down the road.  Where will you live as a productive artist after graduation?  That’s a tougher question to answer – but one to keep in mind as well.  Whether you find work after receiving a Bachelor’s degree or after completing a Master’s, if art is your world I’d suggest considering schools in the two biggest artistic scenes in the country; namely Los Angeles and New York City.

Connecting with your local art scene is a road to a broader perspective through show opportunities, contacts with other artists and prospective business resources, and just exposure to stuff going on.  You’ll gain from engaging with any city’s art’s community.  However, because of the size and diversity of LA and NYC, you’ll be ahead of the curve if you pursue your BFA or MFA in one of them.

Want to find out more?  Here are a few sources I enjoy to find out what’s going on:

Bill Bush and others post weekly as part of The Huffington Post’s Los Angeles Art Scene coverage.  LA Confidential focuses on the city’s changing art dynamic.  And the Los Angeles Times covers it all – including Hollywood.

For New York, keep up with New York Magazine’s art section, look into the blog NYC Art Scene for interesting exhibits and events taking place in the city, and don’t miss the New York Times Arts Beat blog.

NY taxicabsIn both cities you’ll find large and small programs to suit your needs.  Pratt, UCLA, California Institute of the Arts, and NYU are just the first that come to mind.  Then comes the easy part (ha!).  Do you prefer sunshine and beaches or Broadway and Times Square?

Making Movie Magic

The lure of Tinseltown beckons many.  The moving image is something that infiltrates our everyday lives.  The study of it and creation of it is interdisciplinary and international, exposing students to worlds far beyond their classrooms.  Film combines imagination with technical knowledge, telling a story of truth or illusion with art and sound.

On July 25th the Hollywood Reporter announced the 2013 top 25 schools for film studies.  Only the second year of their ranking, the list is international in scope.  No surprise, USC (University of Southern California) came out #1 with AFI (American Film Institute) a close second.  Rounding out the top five are programs at the Beijing Film Academy, UCLA and New York University Tisch School of the Arts.  My suggestion is to consider the entire list for a comprehensive look at stellar programs.  Included are small and large schools alike.

What career options exist with a degree in Film Studies?  Many.   Besides the obvious director and producer are writer, editor, camera operator, cinematographer, grip and many others.  Research the schools listed and you’ll find more variety and opportunities.  An important tip: writing is a critical skill that will help you throughout a film career.  Remember that behind every successful film is a compelling story.