Why a Good Creative Education Matters

Illustrated Desk by Philip Kennedy

Recently our writer Michael Arnold wrote a wonderful piece about breaking into the creative industry called Making Your Bones. In it he questioned whether or not having a degree is really an effective or necessary way to get into the creative industry. It’s a good question and one that runs through my head frequently. Before working as a freelance designer and illustrator I studied Fine Art and Art History. It’s a time that I look back on with fond memories and a cheery sense of nostalgia. Indeed, I enjoyed my days in college so much that I recently returned to education to pursue a master’s degree in illustration. It is for this reason that I feel I must jump to the defense of education and share some thoughts on why I feel a good creative education makes a difference.

Many may wonder why would you choose to study a creative art? As Michael so rightly put it, the idea of teaching creativity seems counter-intuitive. It is fair to say that education and creativity do not naturally seem to go hand-in-hand. Why do you think that is? For me, I believe that the main reason for it has to do with our schooling. From an early age, creativity gets quickly set aside and instead we’re forced to focus on answers that can be learnt off quickly and facts that can be easily recited. The school system relies too much on making us feel that every question has one right answer and that very little can be gained from original thinking and by doing things differently.

In a fascinating TED talk about how schools kill creativity (below), the educator and author Ken Robinson talks about this very thing. He describe how we become educated out of creativity and how the school system “stigmatises mistakes”. It is no wonder that many people feel that a creative education is pointless. We get conditioned into thinking that creativity is not something that we can learn.

So, I hear you ask, is it possible to learn to be creative? I think so. Creativity comes from all sorts of places. You need to open your mind to new things and new concepts. It comes from mixing and matching old and new ideas and questioning assumptions and understandings. Most importantly, creativity demands a certain degree of fearlessness and a willingness to make mistakes. For some, this fearlessness comes naturally but for many others it takes a little more time to find your feet. Michael likens the education system to a bubble, and in many ways he’s correct. It might not be for everyone, but there’s a lot to be said for having a safe place to build your skills, your confidence and your opinions about design. A good creative education gives you the time to be fearless.

That’s not to say that being within education is easy. Perhaps the most important lessons are learned when things get hard. I have huge admiration for those who are self-taught, but education has a way of putting you up against things you had never even considered relevant before. Yes, following your interests can be hugely important but sometimes you have to learn lessons by facing the things that you originally had no interest in whatsoever. As people, I feel we are instinctively drawn to fashion and trends, so it’s important for us as designers to be in contact with something that has a little more substance. Not everything you learn will be relevant, but you’ll encounter new approaches, ideas and attitudes within education that you might never encounter anywhere else.

All this said, a creative education is no guarantee that you will become a great designer. New perspectives and opinions are good, but they are no substitute for handwork and a good portfolio. With student debt spiraling out of control, it’s hard to fully justify the necessity of a college education for those who already have talent and a strong work ethic. It is upsetting to see that education is becoming more and more of a privilege. With the age of retirement getting older and older, I find it really upsetting to think that taking three years out to pursue what you love is turning once more into a privilege.

So, yes. If you feel you don’t need a college education to break into the creative industry I say – go for it! But – if like me – you need a little time to build your skills, your opinions and your confidence (and you can afford it), it comes highly recommended… and that’s even before I mention the parties!

What do you think? Is an academic education important? You can read Michael’s original piece here.

November 5, 2013 / By