At Large  January 6, 2023  Anna Claire Mauney

Alternatives to Art School

daniel chekalov, via unsplash

While there are a multitude of benefits to attending a prestigious art school, crafting your own art education can be rewarding in other ways. And while working from home and without a formal accountability structure might be daunting for some, the low price point, customizability, and the vast world of internet resources make this option more than worthwhile for others.

philippe bout, via unsplash


Many who cannot afford the high cost of institutional learning are wary of spending anything on education. That is understandable but can also very limiting. The act of granting oneself permission to invest financially in personal education can, in itself, set the tone for growth. Feelings of legitimacy are no small matter. And of course, there is the more obvious result––access to instructional materials and learning environments sans debt. 

In terms of setting a budget, the particulars are up to the individual. You can devote the monthly (or quarterly) average of what you currently make from your art—even if that’s only $25 or less. If you’re not making anything from art, devote a percentage of your savings. The amount doesn’t matter, it can be $100, $1,000 or $5,000. It just needs to feel right to you. The key is that whatever you spend will be more affordable than art school but will also give you a sense of investment and validation that can transform your mental state. 

Digital Resources

Due in part to the coronavirus crisis, it is easier than ever to find niche communities and informational catalogs online. Some are hidden behind a paywall while others are free to join but both can provide immeasurable value. Personal experiences and information, shared by both new and seasoned self-employed artists, are especially numerous and present across multiple platforms including Facebook, Discord, and Reddit.

Patreon—a subscription service founded in 2013 and designed to provide freelance professionals with a source of monthly income—is essential for any art student in the 2020s to explore. The website functions a bit like social media, with a stream of posts from the creator and an interactive comments section attached to each post. While content varies from one creator to the next, it's easy to shop around and find something that works for one’s education goals and desired learning environment. 

Digital artist Lois van Baarle’s Patreon is a particular standout in terms of creator accessibility and content quality. With monthly tutorial videos that always clock in over 60 minutes and an approximate 24-hour turnaround time for question responses, this group is more than worth the $5 a month subscription for anyone interested in the digital medium and the business of modern art-making. The right Patreon subscription will feel like the most productive art classroom with an engaged creator, exciting content, and peers that are honest yet encouraging. 

Playgrounds, the host of a Netherlands-based biennial art festival and conference, decided to move their events online, rather than cancel them this year. While only snippets of talks have previously been uploaded, this year's artist talks were all streamed for free across three live twitch channels. On December 12, they will stream Playgrounds TV, an event largely geared towards artists in the game design industry, on one of these channels. It is unclear if this free live streaming will continue in 2021, but you can subscribe to any of their social platforms for updates and scour the web for similar changes to programming more suited to your educational needs.

Today’s catalogue of podcasts is another great resource that has bloomed in the last few years. With so many entrepreneurial, financial, and art historical shows to choose from, the podcast world, like Patreon, allows students to be choosy. And unlike Patreon, they’re mostly free.

A particular gem, This Can’t Be That Hard, is—in the words of host Annemie Tonken—dedicated to, “helping photographers create profitable, sustainable businesses that they love.” While centered on photography, much of the show’s content can be extended to the management of any non-scalable business. The community is small, the episodes are bite-sized, and Tonken regularly shares beautiful PDF freebies containing everything from email templates to marketing brainstorm worksheets.

by dollar gill, via unsplash

Physical Resources

Lastly, one of the best ways to set the stage for an at-home learning environment is through physical resources like books. Most universities publish reading lists, whether geared towards specific courses, departments or programs, on their websites. Buy or check out the ones that catch your eye and pick a few that don’t, especially if they seem intimidating. If you’re borrowing from a library, mark important pages with post-its and find a way to scan those before returning. Keep your collection organized and in a spot that feels inspiring. 


Similar to granting oneself permission to spend in the first place, buying tangible items like books and art supplies can really shift the tone of a self-set education. Again, this whole process should be guided by what feels right for the individual. Only then can one go from framing this route as a back-up to owning it as a tailored, exciting, and freeing approach.

About the Author

Anna Claire Mauney

Anna Claire Mauney is the former managing editor for Art & Object. A writer and artist living in North Carolina, she is interested in illustration, the 18th-century, and viceregal South America. She is also the co-host of An Obsessive Nature, a podcast about writing and pop culture.

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