Friday, January 25, 2008

Rant of the Week: Education

Concept art I did early in my schooling:
I just graduated from BYU (Animation Major), and it’s a relief to be done. I'm going to miss a lot about school, though. Originally I wasn’t planning to go to college: at the time I had a six-year career in the game industry, and I didn’t see any clear advantage between myself and other graduated artists. However, after I married, my wife convinced me that I’d need to set the example for our kids about the importance of college. Almost six painful (but rewarding) years later, I see four ways that my attitude was wrong about the benefits of education for an artist:

First, I assumed that college didn’t really help artists because I saw that some graduates were still weak artists. Now I realize that artists at varying talent levels go to school, and they almost universally improve a lot—and what I thought were so-so artists were often vastly improved. And the best artists I knew would outdo themselves every semester. I’ve known some very good artists that skipped college because of their talent or success, and now I wish I could show them how school could make them even better. The talented artists I know who also embraced learning were once good artists, but now they’re superstars---and they’ll improve as long as they have that humble attitude.

Second, BECAUSE I was uneducated, I often couldn’t distinguish between a good and a bad artist. Many artists that I once thought were “sub-par,” I realize now were actually quite good, but my narrow, teenage-comic-book mentality couldn’t move past any lack of chiseled biceps in their art. My school experience helped me appreciate that the appeal of great art requires much more than superhero anatomy and dynamic poses.

Third, I didn’t realize an important principle of education: you get out what you put in. The students I know who gained very little from school were either too lazy to do the work that would teach them, or too arrogant to learn from the work they were doing. I treated some classes like that and I’ve forgotten those subjects. But for the most part I worked really hard in school and I can see the rewards.

Fourth (and finally), I once thought that most college classes would be a waste of time for an artist. I never wanted to take a math, English, or history course again after high school, and I had only mild interest in the sciences and other subjects. What I’ve realized now is that what I learned in physics, history, geology, etc., has been more useful to me in my job as a concept artist than almost any art class I’ve taken. Even my math and English classes, which I don’t use much in art, have become useful in the managerial positions I’ve held. (I even used calculus once, believe it or not). The variety of subjects is the part of school that I’m going to miss the most.

All that said, I know that college isn’t an option for some artists, but that doesn’t necessarily have to hold anyone back. If circumstances keep you from a formal education, there’s no reason why you can’t work on developing yourself anyway. The nicest (and most painful) thing about college is that it forces you to take classes and do assignments that you wouldn’t have chosen on your own. However, anyone will discipline themselves to do hard things if they want the outcome badly enough. I know that I’ll do my best to keep learning.

Same character revisited now:

This was a fun exercise, and sometime soon I'll render out the newer guy more so it's a better comparison.


  1. Wow, congratulations! I don't know anyone who's left a career of 6 years to go to school. That takes guts. What's the plan now?

  2. I never actually left my career---I worked full-time throughout my schooling for the most part (family to support, house payments to make, etc.).
    That's why I'm relieved to be done in spite of what I'll miss---40 hours a week at work and 14 credit hours at a time takes its toll on you.

  3. Really inspiring post Sam, thank you.

  4. Yay! I'm so proud of you!

  5. Sam, as an observer and fan of your art for many years, I am freaked out at how much you have gotten it appears you have more time for another workshop, eh? :)

  6. Way to go! You probably didn't need to go to school, but I'm awfully glad you did--I learned a ton from you. I still am!

  7. "Talent means energy and persistence, and nothing more." - Quote from Heinrich Schliemann.

    but I'm pretty sure there ARE great talent in u, and what scares me most is u keep DIGGING it, PUSHING yourself to the limit, INSPIRING the rest.

    With all your hardwork, you totally deserve the honor. You have built a great treature to your beloved family and us. : ).

    BTW, i always thought CALarts is the best before I came aross your website. Now i think Utah is a magical land! i guess it's really... really... hard to get into BYU, right?

    Plz write more Rant of the Week when you're free, we're longing for it all the time.

    At last. Happy spring festival! (i know u prefer Xmas, but hey, who doesn't love a holiday?

  8. Thanks for the comments! I should be doing more "Rants of the week" now that I'm done with school.

    Nathan: Tom is making me do a workshop soon, and I'll make sure you're invited.

    Sara: BYU is really hard to get into for people who were born and raised in Utah, but easier for everyone else. The nicest thing about BYU is that it's got a competitive education with some of the better schools, but the tuition is really low in comparison.

  9. very true, very true. I'm glad I went to school, because I had 4 years to make A LOT of mistakes.

  10. Going back to school is probably the smartest thing I have ever done myself, and I am happy to see that the same has benefited you in such an immense way. It looks like BYU has created a great entertainment program, congratulations on your graduation!

  11. Congratulations on finishing school. I always thought you didn't need school anyway, but you made a good case here for it. I guess if I were you I'd just say, "All right - I'm good enough." But look at you... always improving still. You're the man, Sam.

  12. Hello Sam, I had been checking out your blog, and your art work's awesome!

    I'm currently a full-time student, and question of whether it's important to graduate comes up in my mind many times since I know that you will continue to learn something new while working in the industry. Reading your blog, you reminded me that what you can benefit being in school is it allows you to choose what you would like to do and even with academic class, those open up your mind. I'll take my time to graduate. Thank you!
    and yes, congratulations for graduating, and your baby!

    ps- My boyfriend just got in Disney animation studios. You might get to meet him. His last name if Turley if you go under my link.

  13. I hate things that are true; damn your post to HELL.

  14. I couldn't agree with you more, BYU seems to turn out some very good artists. Must be a great program

    Your work continues to inspire!

    Keep it up!


  15. Thanks for this! Really inspiring and helpful since I'm going back to college to get a degree in animation and still feeling hesitant about the classes. It's just nice to hear someone who went back say it was worth it.


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