Think you need to go to an expensive university or college in order to get that art director job? What about that little piece of paper that says you graduated? Is that necessary?
It turns out there is a very nuanced answer to this question. Still, to answer it with my bonified and experienced opinion, I would say, “no, a degree is not absolutely required to become an art director.” However, I’m speaking for the entertainment marketing industry, aka movie poster makers.
Perhaps there are some differences in other graphic design-related industries, but for the purposes of staying in my lane, I’ll be more focused on how degrees apply to the art director field in entertainment marketing. I will warn you that my views are controversial.
Degrees are an expensive scam
I’m very adamant that in today’s world, with the abundance of online tutorials, it is very possible to become proficient in art, design, typography, and any skillset needed to become a skillful designer or art director.
Don’t get it twisted, though. I believe universities are important for doctors, engineers, and attorneys but art? Come on, this stuff is a lot easier to pick up, and chances are people’s lives are not on the line.
Am I hypocritical because I have a degree from Pratt Institute, an art school in NYC? Nope, I’m saying I could have gotten just as far in my art director career without going to Pratt.
I had a somewhat decent portfolio when I first started in the movie poster business, and when I interviewed for my first job, I was able to use my social skills and enthusiasm to get on board.
Cost of schools
I’m shooting myself in the foot if I expect to get an honorary Ph.D. from Harvard, but I feel it’s important to look at the numbers and what you get. Browsing the website Campus Explorer, I was able to get the annual tuition costs for some of the top art schools. Look at this craziness:
- Art Center College of Design: $39,672
- California Institute of the Arts: $36,997
- Rhode Island School of Design: $35,991
- Pratt Institute: $35,991
- Ringling College of Art and Design: $33,946
Those costs are just the tuition. What about room and board, food, books, art supplies, computers, and other costs? The article went on to say that all these average additional costs from, say, Pratt Institute, have the average potential cost of almost an additional $20,000!!!
So, we are talking anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 per year to go to a top art school in the US. Give me a break!
The corruption is a cause
I don’t want to get into a tangent, but ever since the government got involved in the money side and subsidizing loans and making it way too easy for ignorant high school students to qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, the cost of tuition has risen tremendously.
It’s predatory lending and the banks know this.
Check out this graph from an article in US News.
Universities are part of the scam as they have lobbyists and powerful influencers whispering into the ears of the monetary policymakers in Washington. They were so influential that they made student loans the only type of loan you can’t qualify for bankruptcy with.
You are a slave to the interest rate and attached to them for your whole life regardless of the financial predicament you find yourself in. The banks and universities are winners, no matter what.
I think this should change!
Hands on learning
Some things you can’t learn online that relate to art are skills like screen printing, lithography, typography press, sculpture, and, say, glass blowing.
Obviously, these are all useful skill sets that can come in handy for art directors…well, maybe not the glass blowing, but I’m open if anybody out there is using glass in their graphic design work.
I myself use many non-digital techniques and illustrate outside of the digital world, but the hefty tuition fees don’t justify it.
You could take private lessons from some amazing artists that would be a fraction of the cost and maybe just as good an education. I even do private online lessons for eager learners. You can even book me if you are interested. Just email me through the contact form on this website.
The college experience
College was a blast! I made a lot of friends that I keep in touch with today. The experience of coming from a small town in Colorado to the big city of NYC was an amazing transition and a quick course to street smarts.
I’m not sure I could put dollar value on it but I do think if comparing to today’s college costs it still is not worth it.
Time is money
Not only is college expensive from a money point of view but also time. We are talking about 4 years of your life to get a BFA. That’s a lot of time that could have been spent already working within a company.
I’ll go onto to say it too that you don’t need that much time to become proficient in Photoshop, Illustrator, and Color Theory. A few of the essential skillsets for art directors.
Learn on the cheap but from the best
In today’s day and age, the ability to outsource education is so easy. There are plenty of online tutorials for designers and art directors on YouTube for free. Also, there are plenty of online schools that are very affordable.
In fact if you are wanting to get into the movie poster industry I would suggest our classes.
We are currently creating the most in-depth and useful courses for aspiring movie poster designers and art directors. Actual art directors in the industry teach our courses.
You learn from the best and won’t learn any unnecessary classes that you would be required to learn in college like economics or social studies.
I had so many useless classes that were required in order to graduate. Waste of time and money!
What’s important to creative employers?
Creative agencies want to hire young and ambitious designers that want to get better at their craft. They look for enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
The other aspect which is just as important is the portfolio.
You will be required to send your portfolio along with your resume to get a job. If you can secure an interview, you will most likely run through it during your interview with the creative director or whoever is doing the hiring.
What about that degree? I’m pretty sure they are less important now. In fact, I’m going to say that a portfolio and a good attitude are going to supersede the degree, and there are people in the industry who didn’t get one either.
Get your foot in the door
If you don’t have a degree but want to start working in this industry, then apply for all the available jobs. I’ve seen people go from interns to art directors. I’ve also seen project managers transition to designers.
It’s all about getting that foot in the door, working hard, and position yourself so that you can fit into a vacancy when it arises.
Forge a degree
If none of the above works, just forge a degree! Just kidding, that’s a joke. Never do that as it’s illegal, unethical, and will give you bad karma.
Climbing the ladder
The other cool thing is that if you have started as an intern or secretary and moved up to designer or art director and have a good reputation, then chances are you can switch companies a lot easier.
If you are good at networking and know people at other agencies, then chances are you can land an interview, and most likely, they will only want to see your portfolio.
Sometime they will bring you on a for a week as a freelancer and if all goes well they may offer you a job.
My quick story
Maybe this will inspire. Yeah, I went to Pratt but majored in fine art. I didn’t learn anything about graphic design. The closest thing to art direction I learned was illustration.
Of course, I learned about art, art history, color theory, and the foundations of art in general but never stepped foot in a class that had computers in it. That’s right, I didn’t learn Photoshop proficiently until 2015, 14 years after I graduated.
When I decided I wanted to design movie posters for a career, I forced myself to learn Photoshop and Illustrator online. I had an art director friend that pointed me in the right direction but other than that; it was all self-taught.
For full disclosure, I will say that I did take a college course at an in-state junior college for around $200. But I dropped out and never finished it because I was learning more online. It was a waste of time and gas.
In 2017 I landed my first gig as a Jr. Designer when I was 37…all without a degree in graphic design. I nailed the interview with good vibes and a decent portfolio, although looking back, I can’t stand that first portfolio!
If you are young or old, you can do this if you truly put your mind to it. I’m going to recommend learning online and absorbing as much good design as you can. What I wouldn’t recommend is paying $50-70,000 per year. You’re just making universities and banks even richer.
Take our classes when they are available or even try an in-state Junior College on the cheap. I mean, I wasted that $200, but perhaps you would find a better teacher or have an enriching experience.
Where to start?
Watch our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter so that you are notified of our classes when they come out. Or you can hire me as your private online teacher.
Plus we have these articles which should point you in the right direction:
- This Is How You Become a Movie Poster Artist & Designer
- Top 5 Software Programs For Making Movie Posters
Either way I wish you luck and success!!!