Is Art School Right for You? An Interview With OCAD Student Julia Tchaban

graphite stick self portrait dressed as Frida Kahlo

Today I’m excited to share an insightful interview with Julia Tchaban, an up and coming art student at OCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Julia and I had an interesting discussion about the value of art school. Her thoughts and advice are helpful to anyone looking to apply.

In this interview, Julia explains the value of going to art school, even though she strongly believes that one doesn’t need an art education to be a great artist.

Enjoy the interview!

Best,
Aaron.

Interview With Julia Tchaban

1.    To start off, why don’t you introduce yourself?

My name is Julia, I’m 22 years old and I just completed my first year at OCAD University. Coming from an arts high school I’ve already had quite a bit of experience in painting, sculpture, printmaking and photography, which I will definitely study here at OCAD. I may even go so far as take up some integrated media and design courses as well.

When I’m not in school I’m working part-time as a Page at Toronto Public Library. I love to read, go to concerts, watch movies and take a ridiculous amount of pictures (my love of photography black and white or digital, doesn’t matter). Ideally I would like to be a working artist and display my work in galleries. But now I’ve started to warm up to the idea of maybe even teaching on the side.

I took Writer’s Craft in high school and a part of me wants to pursue creative writing. I’ve fantasized about being a travel writer and travelling all around the world J. If I could combine a creative career and travel I’d be in heaven.

Coffee stirrers and styrofoam balls hot glued to a wooden boards and spray painted gold

2.    There is a great divide when talking about the benefits of art school. I’m curious—how do you feel about spending your time there? Are you learning skills that will help you get to where you want to go in life?

I’m definitely learning skills that will help me in my future career as an artist. The studios at OCAD are amazing and well equipped. You can work with anything from printmaking to photography, wood, or even metals. A lot of the instructors have TA’s and all studios have monitors so there’s always someone to show you how to use a machine or give you advice on how to proceed with your creative vision.

They really provide a base for you here. You learn to work with everything and they really encourage you to experiment and use all the studios in the school. They give you the freedom to combine everything you’ve learned. It’s this freedom that I had at Etobicoke School of the Arts as well and I love it.

Life size charcoal portrait of Julia

3.    You recently took exception to an article that argued for the ‘benefits’ of art school simply because it teaches you ‘how to think.’ Does art school teach you how to think? Is that what you went to OCAD for?

When I was in high school I always kept hearing about OCAD and how many students from our school went there, so to me it was my one and only option. I wanted to stay in Toronto and live at home, work part-time and go to school so OCAD was the perfect choice. But to be honest I didn’t really want to go to school. I’d had enough of high school and I had this strong belief that you didn’t really have to go to university to be a great artist.

My parents got tired of fighting with me about this. They just wanted me to go to university and they didn’t care which one anymore. If I were going to put myself through the torture of school it would only be art school. Otherwise what would be the point? First semester was brutal. I was terrified that I would fail everything and I was in a very negative frame of mind. So, naturally, I hated OCAD.

I was struggling with keeping up in all my classes, but once I found some great instructors that really helped me, I relaxed. Finally I was enjoying drawing and I wasn’t so fixated on the fact that it was ‘school.’ Art school definitely helps with teaching you not only different skills, but also how to think, speak and write about art. It really expands your mind and exposes you to all the possibilities out there.

As an artist you really never stop learning or honing your skills. But most importantly what art school is great for is the art community. You are around other artists and you’re constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and getting critical feedback. If I were holed up in my room painting and the rest of the time working to pay the rent I’d really be cut off from the world. I can’t imagine myself not being in art school anymore. Not going would have been stupid but it’s definitely still a love-hate relationship.

A stencil project using edie sedgwick photographs overlapping Julia’s own.

4.    How do you feel about the value of art schools in general? 

I believe that the value of art school depends on the person. For example, look at that article you linked on twitter (with the woman who felt that art school was a complete waste of her time). Perhaps she found that an art career wasn’t for her and to switch would mean going back to school. Even a BA in English is probably safer than an art degree. Once you go down the road of art school there’s no going back. You’ve got to be set in what you want to do because there’s no cookie cutter road to a 9 to 5 job for you.

The value is in the skills and talent that you have and your vision. If I could take what I learned from art school and put it together with my style and my ideas and just keep working away at it, at some point my work is bound to be noticed. Then it’s just about marketing yourself and making connections.

A plaster bust out of mold that Julia made of herself. Spray painted gold and titled ‘Rebirth’

5.    A lot of people have this idea of art school being fun and games. It’s clear you’re passionate about painting, but has OCAD been a smooth ride for you?

Ha! Those comments from people always make me seethe with rage. Creativity doesn’t come when you want it to, and when it does it’s for a short time. It’s surprising how much energy drawing and painting takes out of you. You might as well be performing backbreaking labour. It’s physically, mentally and emotionally draining—I haven’t experienced this as intensely as I did at OCAD.

An arts high school was hard enough because it wasn’t just art classes every day but academic courses as well, so it was a lot to juggle. But OCAD is ten times harder! Not to mention the fact that I took four years off after high school so to say it was a shock is putting it lightly. There are a lot of assignments and not a lot of time to complete them as there was in high school. And artists like to put in the time and do their best work which isn’t always the case when you need a credit.

The other thing I had to learn is to distance myself from the work and not take it so personally. Sometimes it just comes down to passing. The artwork may not always be to your liking or be as grand as you imagined it to be but you still learned something from making it, and in the end that’s all that matters. For me it’s been a struggle with creativity, time-management and organization. The last two are hard to master when you are a chronic procrastinator with a serious avoidance problem. I was, and still am, terrified of art school. Art in itself is never a smooth ride.

6.    As a thank you treat for doing this interview, and because I know you’re a fan of Creative Ethos, I want you to share with me the biggest creative challenge in your life right now! Then I will create a post with tips to overcome that challenge. 

Woohoo! I feel like I’m being granted three wishes by a geenie! I think what has come up in my research and in my struggle with procrastination and creativity is ‘self-control.’ It’s a skill like any other but how do you go about developing it and staying on track?

No amount of time-management and organization is going to stick if you can’t control yourself and keep going. Have you read any articles or books that deal with this issue? Thanks so much for having me!

Signing off:    Thank you, Julia. You can expect a post on developing self-discipline within the next week or two :). Lacking in self-control is a common block that any creative person usually has to overcome before they can turn professional. I’m happy to write on that subject because I still struggle with that one myself.

What are your thoughts on art school? Do you think it is worth the time, energy, and money? Do you believe that art can be taught? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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