In this day and age, when people want to start a art education, want to start to learn more about art and get better at their craft, they face a problem.
Do they go with tremendously cheaper, more accessible, possibly with online forums to support each other in your journey, and more practical online art schools/mentors?
Or do they enroll in a robust academic program with a recognized (depending on your country’s paper chase situation, your education level which is proven by a recognized certificate matters a lot, because it qualifies you for more salary no matter the industry) certificate/diploma/degree at the end, face to face feedback with lecturers, the connections you make with your classmates in real life, suffering/practicing together?
There are many situations where these two go head to head as people compare them to it each other and depending on your own personal contextual situation, it could go either way.
Hence, I want to officiate 3 points/rounds of versus to highlight what are the pros and cons of each, spoilers: The winners really depend on what you are looking for in the end for your own personal situation.
There’s no real winner over the other in a lot of ways, please judge accordingly.
Round #1: Practicality/Value
Bottom line, showing a good portfolio is enough to get a job in most industries, this is also true of freelancers in almost every creative industry.
Your qualifications are also proof you can do the job relatively well, a degree in animation would mean you at least know of the pipeline and the process well, you have worked in group projects so you are collaborative, etc.
So this round’s winner will ultimately depend on your own personal contextual situation.
Want to be a illustrator? A concept artist? Usually a very good portfolio is enough to land that job drawing for game companies, etc.
So you can take a cheap (cheaper than a whole degree) course in how to draw from famous mentors online, maybe even pay extra for personalized 1-1 feedback and build your portfolio from there.
There’s arguably no real need to take a degree course and land in debt to get that illustration job. You just need to be able to draw well and have the network (or build one from scratch via cold emailing etc) to land that first job and keep landing them to build a career.
Want to be an animator at a major company? You likely will need qualifications depending on the country, to show that you know of the process, the components of animation, the pipeline, the workflow, the collaborative nature of it, etc.
But if your demo reel shows you can animate, nobody can really say no to you either if you are freelancing and specializing in a certain area to fill in a gap in the pipeline.
In conclusion, you have to really analyze what your career needs, its arguable you can learn everything practical online at a much cheaper price from skilled professionals, and you can still get jobs for your skills as such.
But you might also need the facilities of a school (no money for software or a good computer maybe). you might need the qualifications, the papers just in case/to boost your resume further as complement to your portfolio/demo reel.
A brick and mortar art school would also package everything nicely for you to learn as well without having to search all over the place for different mentors or if the online art school doesn’t have what you need.
However the price is steep at times too steep for a lot of people. The price can be justified by the schools by them saying they have state-of-the-art facilities, top lecturers, the course being packaged nicely for you to pursue, etc.
But in the end that price can still be too high depending on your personal situation.
So, judge accordingly, research more and plan to your own goals. For example, you can take marketing courses and have a day job as a marketer while working on your art with online mentors in your free time and then using your marketing skills to market your art effectively to potential clients.
You can take a course in a brick and mortar art school and supplement it with further online education as well. The options are open and again all according to your situation.
Round #2: Community/Networking
The people you surround yourself with can make or break you, push you to be better or drag you down to their level.
Similarly, the people you surround yourself with on your art journey also matters, if you are purely learning online and there is a community with forums, posts, messages, etc.
How active are you on the forums? Who are you interacting with? How is the vibe/the energy? Is everyone hustling and working hard towards a common goal? Do people give good constructive feedback? You have to keep good company to push yourself. Even the most productive person in bad lazy company will become lazy as well. Environment and company is key.
Brick and mortar art schools, your fellow classmates will be your community, your drive, etc. In the same way, however, being able to meet in real life regularly (assuming there is no pandemic) means you can create great memories together (not that you can’t with people who are purely only available online but its also not in person), having that physical company i.e drawing in the same classroom, the instant interactivity among things like eating together can enrich your life so much.
Networking-wise, brick and mortar schools will tout their alumni network, their teacher’s network etc. Online art schools/mentors can offer their own network through their forums or the mentors’ own network.
Online would be more universal depending, you can network globally as a freelancer looking for global jobs.
For brick and mortar schools you are usually depending on the weight of your school’s name and its network to hopefully get you a job or get your name out there in the network.
There’s also wider associations like the Graphic Artists Guild among many others to consider to be included in or be a member of, if both those networks are not adequate.
Again, this round’s winner will depend on your personal want/needs.
Do you want to make face-to-face memories with people you will hopefully be friends with years later? Are you OK with being online friends/classmates and creating your memories there? You will likely make many more friends and build a bigger community that way as well.
Do you trust a brick and mortar school’s name and alumni network to help you get that job? Or does that don’t really matter. Do you prefer a online global network that lets you have more options/opportunities as a global freelancer?
Round #3: Discipline and Accountability
At a brick and mortar school, you have hard deadlines or you fail the course, you fail the course, your money (and its not a small sum) is wasted, you will have a fire under you to meet assignment deadlines, to work hard and push yourself further (hopefully).
You will be held accountable by grades that will determine if you have to repeat a component of the course and delay your certificate acquisition.
You will be in a system that encourages discipline.
In an online art school/apprenticeship, you don’t pay as much so its not much of a sting if you side-track and never come back.
You will have to exercise self-discipline to keep yourself on the ball doing the assignments which are likely presented in a video course format with no real grading/feedback unless you paid extra for that.
You will have to be accountable for yourself if its a casual apprenticeship and your mentor doesn’t really push (they already got paid to teach and feedback to you so if there’s no work to give feedback on they still just keep the money). You will have to put your own fire under you to push yourself to keep up with the online courses.
Again, up to your preferences, if you know you can’t be disciplined, the brick and mortar school will push you to be more disciplined (unless you can afford to not really care about dropping out of the course and losing no matter what)
If you know you can hold yourself accountable and adhere to an honour system with the online art school courses then that will be better for you in that way.
As I have spoiled earlier in the article, it really depends on your situation financially, your personality, needs, wants and learning style.
Ample research will yield the answer to all 3 rounds for you, some of you might find an online art school/course wins immediately in all 3 areas because of its costs. Some of you might find a brick and mortar school although much much more expensive is better/a necessary thing.