I am a firm believer in education. I should be. My profession is a teacher, but it goes beyond that. Since I graduated from college in 200, I have tried to keep my education going. I have been enrolled in some sort of class or have been teaching myself pretty much since then. I even went so far as to undertake earning a MFA in Animation and Visual Effects while working full time and raising a family. I guess I like the torture. While surfing the net I keep coming across discussions on art related websites about how formal education is not important, but it is only the work that counts. I agree that the work is the most important thing, but I don’t think we can discount formal education.
One of the main arguments that I hear is that most of the things you learn in class can be learned on the Internet. Most of these tutorials are cheap, if not free. I agree that a lot of the technical skills can be found. I know that I have found some great resources online for learning visual effects such as Video Copilot. There are also great resources to have your work critiqued by your peers such as The CG Society. However, there is something lacking from all these sites: structure. In order to teach yourself something complex like visual effects you have to be a pretty motivated person. We all have busy lives and the problem I have found is that usually learning something new can be put on the back burner because of your “real” job or family. A learning environment such as a school program can give you that structure because there are deadlines for the assignments and a set of guidelines that you must follow. This mirrors the real world more than teaching yourself. I am in no way bashing self taught people. Most of my skills have been self taught. However, I appreciate what a traditional program offers.
Another thing I hear a lot about is that schools are typically behind in what they are teaching because they are too big to adapt quickly. Sometimes this is true, but this also depends on the school. I also think that this depends on whether or not the student wants to pursue all that is out there. Obviously one avenue cannot provide you with all the information you will need. This happens with everything, not just formal education. With just about everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. If you are going to school just to get a degree, which I will admit I did for my undergrad work, you probably won’t come out of school with anything more than a piece of paper. The people who excel are the ones that go above and beyond and really want to learn. I don’t think the problem necessarily lies with the university, but with the student. The thing you have to ask yourself is, “Why am I doing this?” I asked myself this very same question a few years ago. I knew I wanted to teach at the college level, and in Texas you need a Master’s degree for most good positions. I originally enrolled in a educational technology Master’s program thinking this would be a quick way to get my degree. After taking three classes that were way below my knowledge level, I started wondering why I was pursuing this. I didn’t want to be a teacher forever. I knew that. So, how would this degree benefit me in the long run? Well, it wouldn’t. That is when I started looking for something more. My undergrad BBA was basically a lot of theory. I didn’t want my graduate work to consist of only theory. I began looking for a program that would give me marketable skills while providing me with a Master’s degree. I found The Academy of Art University in San Francisco and was really impressed. What impressed me about this school is that the instructors are actually working in the industry they are teaching. Because of this, I have access to people who know what is happening right now, not 30 years ago when they started teaching. I am learning skills that I can use right now and in the future in case I do want to stop teaching or start working on side projects. I also have a peer group that are going through the same things I am and working on the same projects I am working on. This is extremely helpful because I might approach a task one way, while another student approaches the same task in a completely different way.
With that being said, I still go out and find other ways of doing things, and look at other programs that are used in the industry. The thing is, I have not limited myself to just this program. I have been working through other things to make myself a better artist. In order to succeed you have to keep bettering yourself. In fact, I am taking this summer off from my Master’s work to take some courses at FXPhd. Will these courses count towards my degree? No. However, these courses will help me to become a better artist. By honing my skills I will be able to compete more effectively in the industry should I enter it. I’m not just doing this for myself, but also for the students I teach. I want to be the best at my job. To me, that includes keeping up with the latest techniques and programs. If one of my students asks me about rotoscoping, I want to tell them everything I can. If a student asks how a particular shot was done, I want to be able to help them deconstruct it. I could be teaching the next Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay. I want my students to see my passion so that hopefully they will develop a passion of their own. I guess this discussion all depends on your view of success. There have been many successful people that did not graduate from college or even high school. There are many millionaires who didn’t finish college. However, I think there is something to be said about sticking with something and finishing a degree program. I don’t think money should be the only motivator. Money comes and goes. The satisfaction of knowing that you undertook something, stuck with it, and finished says something about an individual. I want to better myself, that is why I keep learning. If it leads to more money, great. If not, so be it. I started my Master’s in part so that I can teach at the college level, but that is not why I have stayed with it. I still think it is an accomplishment. It still means something to me. Sure, there will be people who are better artists than me. That is not what this is for. This degree says that I went through a program that lasted several years. It says that I had the commitment to start something and to see it through. It says that I have the drive and the passion to take my skills to the next level. But most of all, this degree says that I am trying to better myself. I am proud to say that I graduated college. According to the US Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p20-560.pdf, only about 10% of the US population over 25 years of age reports having an advanced degree. I would say that having my Master’s degree is something to be proud of. I still think there is something to be said for formal education. Yes, it does take time and money, but so does anything else that is worth having.