The Most Valuable Lesson I Learned in Art School

Updated: Sep 19, 2021

Believe it or not, I didn’t think that people could go to school to study art. When my mother first suggested it to me, I thought she was joking. It was only after a google search on our dial-up internet during the later portion of my high school years that I realized majoring in Fine Art was a legitimate field of study. I took a less than straight-forward path to get there, but I did end up getting a Bachelors of Science in Fine Art.

While in school, I learned many different things from technique to history. But one lesson stands out from all the rest. What is it exactly? Read on to find out.

When I was a Junior in college, I ended up taking what everyone in my program considered to be the toughest class with the toughest professor: History of Architecture with Professor T. As I scanned through the requirement checklist for Industrial Design, I have to admit I was puzzled as to why an Industrial Designer would need to know anything about architecture. (In case you don’t know, Industrial Design is basically product design. Industrial designers make physical products from shoes to toothbrushes.) But as it was a requirement, I decided to try and enjoy the class instead of whining about its “irrelevance”.

Now, you can imagine my anticipation and excitement around this class. Everyone whispered about Professor T and how hard his class was. There were also mentions of how it didn’t make any sense. But I have to be honest, there wasn’t anything difficult about it at all. That’s because I understood exactly what he was trying to teach us, and it wasn’t exclusively about architecture.

Professor T had a very unusual lecturing style. Instead of providing the exact information you would need to know for the quizzes and tests, he would tell you stories. The story might be about what a famous architect liked to eat or their morning routine or how they fought to keep their school open as protest against the Nazis only to close it in protest when they finally had Nazi permission.

From an outsider’s perspective, it probably seemed like there was no clear curriculum for this class. As the semester pressed on, however, I finally realized what Professor T was trying to teach us: the story behind an artist’s life and work is just as important as the work itself.

It seems crazy, but knowing the story behind the artist is incredibly powerful. It humanizes our heroes and links us to them. Moreover, it proves that they’re just like us. And because of that, I believe every artist should use storytelling in their practice and presentation. A picture might be lovely to look at, but when there’s meaning behind it the image becomes so much more impactful.

That doesn’t mean you’re required to have a tragic backstory or that you need an eloquent philosophical explanation behind every single thing you make. But sharing the who and the why behind your work will allow you to connect to those who follow your work.


What’s my takeaway here? Never underestimate the power of your story. People want to know where you come from. So don't be afraid share it.

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Thanks for reading and happy creating!