Top 5 Schools Series: Want to Sharpen Your Inner Artist? Start Here

Have you been hearing the rumblings lately about art degrees being meaningless in the current economy? You haven’t been taking them seriously, have you?

If not, great. If you are, stop it – especially if you’re considering art school yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is always a need for art in our society.

Graphic designers will always be needed for corporations, entrepreneurs, musicians, and politicians who need branding (or rebranding), as well as filmmakers (for movie posters).

Digital media artists and web designers will always be necessary – the Internet will forever grow as long as new servers are being built; and entrepreneurs, corporations, schools, etc. will always need blogs and websites built, new social media accounts branded, and CMS (content management systems) built.

Also, thanks to our very vain culture, digital artists will always been in demand for photomanipulation for print publications (gotta have that “beautiful” cover shot). Vanity aside, they’ll also be needed thanks to our ever-growing self-publishing industry: indie authors need professional book covers to compete with the traditional market.

Traditional artists also have incredible value.

Skilled sketch artists are always in demand for storyboarding films and games, as well as helping our criminal justice system in identifying culprits.

And don’t forget the comic world. Pencilers, colorists, and line artists make comics the fantastic medium it is – they give the story its immersive body. The proliferation of web comics has increased that demand as well.

Painters are equally necessary in the film and gaming industry for matte backdrops, character design and prototype modeling, world/realm designs, and much more (just ask Yoshitaka Amano, official artist for the Final Fantasy series).

If you’re looking for a good art school, here are the 5 best art schools in the U.S.  

1. Yale University: Yale goes way back (as in 1701), so its presence on this list is no surprise. It’s actually in close competition with #2 for best art school. According to, Yale’s painting and photography degrees ranked #1, while its art and design degrees were ranked #2 in the nation, per U.S. News and World Report in 2010.

Here you can learn graphic design, painting, sculpture, printmaking, acting, and more (of course). Yale’s School of Art offers undergraduate studies, while its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offers, well, MFA’s. 

2. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD): One of the oldest art schools in the nation (founded in 1877), RISD offers both undergrad and graduate degrees in the fine arts (graphic design, interior design, photography, ceramics, film, glass, illustration, and more). It’s located in Providence, which is near New York and Boston in case you want to travel on your weekends or holidays. You’ll be happy to know its alumni include Seth McFarlane. 

3. School of Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC): Located with AIC (Art Institute of Chicago), the SAIC is one of the largest accredited independent art schools in the U.S., according to In addition to what #1 and #2 offer, SAIC also offers animation, new media, art therapy, sound, writing, and a slew of other great studies (undergrad and graduate). Walt Disney is one of SAIC’s many alumni. 

4. Cranbrook Academy of Art: This Michigan grad school offers 2D and 3D art design, print media, sculpture, architecture, photography and painting (like the others above), and even metalsmithing. According to the Cranbrook Academy website, students are given their own art studio. Pretty cool.

5. Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts: Between U.S. News and World Report,, and, the fourth and fifth spots were a battle between VCU, Carnegie Mellon University, and Maryland Institute College of Art, but VCU was the most consistent, so I have it here.  

Like the others above, VCU School of Arts offers undergrad and graduate programs, including sculpture (for which it’s ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report), painting and drawing, film, music, theater, fashion design and merchandising, interior design, dancing and choreography, and photography (read more about their studies here). 

There are more schools where that came from…

…and my point is those who discredit art and art degree programs aren’t looking at the big picture – they’re only looking at what can give someone a sustainable living right now. It’s true that the art world is less financially stable due to its insanely competitive market, but that shouldn’t stop you. At this economic point, every market is competitive.  

Do what most creatives do: go to the school of your dreams, work a job the whole time you’re there, and be sure to work full time while honing your passion on the side after graduation. Once your passion starts to generate income, dig deeper into it until it can sustain you, then, if you want to, you can cut the corporate cord. 

No matter what you decide, never give up on art if that’s what you want to do or feel you’re meant to do. 

For more information

Check out these informative sites that I used for this article:

The 10 Most Popular Arts Schools article on’s list of top art schools in the U.S.’s list of top 2010 U.S. art schools 

U.S. News and World Report’s top art schools list’s list of top U.S. art schools 

Flickr photo by Chris P.

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