What do you believe are the most critical skills or attributes needed to be able to successfully work in this area?
I used to say that my college degree in political science and a dollar would buy me a cup of coffee in serving the career I’ve chosen. But, in reality, the exposure to history, literature and the Arts afforded by a well-rounded liberal arts education has proven invaluable. When I attended the Art Center College of Design back in the mid-seventies, many students had previously earned degrees from other colleges and universities—often in unrelated fields—and Art Center functioned as a de facto graduate school. As an example, one of my friends arrived at Art Center’s photography department with a degree in economics and a couple of years at the Brookings Institution under his belt. The varied backgrounds of the students created a mosaic of unique perspectives and ensured that class discussions were anything but dull.
Today, many young people are going off to art colleges right out of high school. True, they may get some mandatory general studies that satisfy a school’s accreditation requirements but I believe that, ultimately, they get shortchanged in not only developing their individual perspectives but also learning how to effectively defend a given thesis. Many at that tender age cannot see how seemingly irrelevant fields like science, music, literature and world history serve to hone a personal aesthetic that will handsomely inform their work down the line. Without this aesthetic, proficiency in various software makes one merely an operator or technician, not necessarily an artist.
It may be an Arthur Koestler “bisociation” sort of thing. For example, the memory of strata studied in geology class and the mental image of storm clouds conjured by a Wagner symphony may together inspire a remarkable landscape photograph that otherwise might have been most ordinary. If young people have the luxury of time and financing—and these are assuredly big “ifs” today—I recommend that they first pursue at least two years of solid general education before focusing on a commercial art education. The initial time and expense committed will ultimately yield a high return on investment.