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Should you encourage your teenager to go to art school?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Not necessarily “starving”

“Mom, I decided I want to go to art school.” The words hang in the air. Sure, you’ve encouraged your child’s artistic and creative expression through his academic career -- but as a complement to the math and science and history education. You figured he’d aim for something a little more….practical. Doctor? Lawyer? CPA? Artist really wasn’t in your differential. But it's here now. Should you encourage your child to go to art school?

teen artist

Kids -- especially teenagers -- have a knack for throwing their parents for a loop on a somewhat regular basis. You think they are headed down one path, then -- boom! -- complete one-eighty. Then -- boom! -- another sharp turn. Because of that, you may be tempted to dismiss this art school declaration as a passing fancy. Yes, it might pass. But it might not, and you need to be ready to support and advise if it's not.

Do they have the talent?

Subjective though it may be, you do need to discern your child's talent level before the art school applications go out. Talk to your child's art teachers and ask hard questions about your child's artistic gifts. The art teacher has seen hundreds if not thousands of kids pass through her art classroom, and likely helped with portfolios and written recommendations for more than a few art school applicants. The teacher can help you either direct your child in a different direction, or help you identify schools that would be good matches.

Do they have the passion? And the work ethic?

Along with artistic talent, your child will need a real passion for the arts. Art school is still an untraditional path in many ways, and there are sure to be challenges unforeseen in the "regular" academic trajectory. A passion -- a deep love and thirst for the arts -- will be essential.

Just as with any other field of study, your child will need to have a strong work ethic. Having artistic talent isn't enough. The willingness to continually work at improving and evolving artistic expression is critical both in art school and as an artist. In that way, the artistic path is just like the "traditional" path. You have to really work at it.

Do they have the business sense?

Going in an artistic direction does not negate the need for some serious business sense. It can be hard to put an exact value on artistic creations, but one still needs to make a living and pay for all those supplies. A business sense certainly helps. At the very least, an art school your child is looking at should have some classes about business management for artists. Your child should be aware of and open to this very practical side of highly creative endeavors.

Art-related careers

Even if your child goes to art-school, it doesn't necessarily mean he or she will end up a practicing artist, "starving" or otherwise. There are more art-related careers out there than you might know! Artist management, for example, or teaching art or computer-based multimedia design, just to name a few. Spend some time talking to the career offices at various art schools and you may be surprised to learn some of the many ways art school graduates are making their way in the world.

Whose life is it?

Aside from trying to discern if art school is the right thing for your child as an individual, you may need to go though your own process of acceptance that your child is not doing what you want him or her to do. It's been that way since early childhood, hasn't it? You want your toddler to go one way and she most definitely wants to go another.

As a parent it's natural to want the best for your child -- and have some pretty strong ideas of what "best" means. At some point, however, your child does have to live his or her own life and make his or her own decisions. Maybe you still have some room for negotiation, but maybe the best thing to do is to support your child in this educational -- and possibly career -- path. Having a child who is doing something he or she truly loves is a gift in many ways...to both of you.

Read more about kids and art

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