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Saturday, 29 September 2007


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"Still, he quit practicing after a few years. It wasn't because the school had failed, it was because he is lazy."

I have to ask, did you Dad sit around on his butt all day after he quit, drinking beer and watching soaps? Or did he work in another field, or do other things?

Your measure of success is based on outward success--working for a prestigious company, making a lot of money, or being famous. Other people's ideas of success may not agree with yours. That doesn't make them lazy or unmotivated. It may actually make them the wiser of you, the true photographer, the true artist.

Walker Evans was going to be a writer, but he got lazy, and took picture instead.

--I feel fortunate that both photography profs are not only extremely successful professionals, but have also both written books about photography and truly "know their stuff."--

Er, is there any reason why you should learn from them at a university? Yes, an organised curriculum at a single location is much easier. Yes, it gives you a paper to wave around. But there were 16 people motivated enough to stick to the end. Would them (you) all balk at having to attend workshops and courses like the one Michael Reichmann organises in Toronto? Especially since a degree really doesn't guarantee anything. You have to be talented, skilled, work hard and have luck. And not necessarily in that order.

That said, treating education like a soda simply looks wrong to me. "Oh, people don't like this taste much. We won't be selling millions of bottles so we better stop."

I must say, I have similar thoughts about engineering programmes (the area of skill in which I have most knowledge).

It would be interesting to hear the side of employers as to the quality of grads from BFA/MFA studies.

I know that in engineering, almost universally, working professional are bemoaning the lack of basic skills, the expectation of new grads that everything will come to them and that working is easy. We're blaming computers for the "I don't need to learn that" mentality. I wonder if a similar malaise is sweeping photographic circles, too.

It sort of links back to the closure of the UC Santa Cruz decision, too.

"In my own experience, the only learning which has been meaningful has been self-motivated, self-taught, self-appropriated, self-discovered. As the old saying goes, When the student is ready, the master will appear."

Bill Jay


You have a good point Erin. It is all about going out there and fighting for it. But you know what, it takes a lot of energy, and sometimes it also takes some luck, to be very successful. Not all people have the energy or the stamina. Laziness is not what drives people. But it may come to them if they fail too many times. It is good to be strong. It is not good to be weak. So simple. But let's try to help each other anyway.

I think that most degrees aren't really worth the time put in to get them. In the end experience and drive are more important in being successful. The real value I've always seen from attending a specific art school is that you have the opportunity to experiment with a lot of expensive equipment that the normal hobbyist can't afford.

The older I've gotten and the more I've learned about the world and myself, the less I've been willing assign monetary attributes to define success. For example, I'd rather have full publishing control over my blog than write for a magazine because I don't want the content to be controlled by an editor. But a magazine writer would probably be considered more successful than me.

A lack of motivation to do a particular job and laziness are two totally different things. It's very easy in most jobs to be lazy and still be thought of as successful. However, if you're not motivated to do a particular job, then there's little point in going to work each day and it's better to find something else to.

Avoid the tied old pattern of believing that success is measured by money or fame just because you may have grown up with it being defined that way.

Erin, I've always believed the best that education can accomplish is to teach the student how to teach himself. Education doesn't end in your 20s.

In certain fields, like photography, if you can teach yourself, formal education is just a luxury.

Let's see what a realistic Photography degree curriculum should consist of if I were to design it:

a) How to operate a camera: 1 weekend per format (1 weekend for digital, 1 weekend for 35mm and maybe 2 weekends for large format film.) If you can't figure out how to use a camera in a weekend... well, enough said. No extra time if you use color film... nobody develops their own color film... one semester of lab access if you do your own black and white.

b) Setting up a computer to process images: 1 weekend, including color calibration with a puck.

c) Setting up a printer to work properly: 4 years, because you have to start over every year with the latest 'greatest printer ever to be made and the last one you will need', and it takes a year to get the darn thing to print properly.

c) Photoshop. 1 week for basic photo editing.

d) Art history: 4 years (8 semester courses)

e) Supervised work critique: 4 years but one day a month.

f) Workshops: portraiture, landscape, product, etc. 1 week each.

g) Access to a studio: 2 years as needed.


So aside from the art history part, there is really no need for full time schooling in photography.

Taking a picture is easy... knowing what makes a good picture is the difficult part. And practice is key... you can't learn to ride a bicycle by listening to someone tell you how to do it.

Access to good open minded critique and a place to practice is really all that is needed in a pure photography course. 99% of the other stuff you can learn from reading monthly photo magazines... but being exposed to art takes a lot of guidance and person-to-person dialog.

I think my univerity [British Columbia] got it right with it's motto: "Tuum est" which loosely translates to 'its up to you'. In most fields -perhaps less so in the arts- all a degree gets you is an inside track to an interview. The rest does come down to "Tuum Est".

Congratulations, I feel you will be successful.You have found a place to learn and most importantly have the right attitude to learn from your teachers. No profession is easy and it takes the right mentors and the right attitude and drive to make it work. It is a life long journey and I think this is a universal trait of the successful. You are lucky to realize this early. Good luck in your future.

"Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Calvin Coolidge

I think a lot of folks here are missing an important point about colleges, universities and learning environments in general. Erin has an important line:

"In reality, it (degree) is merely a chance to expand one's knowledge. A degree (at least at OSU) gives students the tools and experience to be a great photographer."

She speaks of "absorbing" knowledge and experience from those around her. Workshops are wonderful, and certainly have their place as providing first steps in an area, and reading offers new thoughts, but ones where the reader has difficulty interacting with the author for questioning and expansion on what was gleaned.

A successful college is more than just a place to offer facts. Interaction over time with mentors, peers, what one learns from non-photography classes, etc., can be a wonderful and unique opportunity for personal growth, and when this occurs at the same time one is increasing their knowledge in any subject area, photography or otherwise, what is gained can't simply be replaced by short workshops or all the reading material in the world.

Not that one can't be a great photographer without going to college, but the experience can be very important to some learners, and the loss of programs means that we may well lose some great photographers. And losing even one would be a shame.

In reply of some comments and maybe to clarify what I meant in a few ways...

Shelley: To be honest, my father did just that. Only instead of soaps it was football, lol. In his case, he truly stopped practicing b/c he is lazy. He was also extremely abusive which is why, perhaps, I was compelled to use a strong word such as "lazy." He has not contacted me or helped raise me in any way (physically, emotionally, financially, etc) since I was 10. My point in mentioning him was that even with a degree that most people would see as prestigious, it truly is up to the individual to utilize it after graduating.
Also, with regard to monetary value in life, I don't think that I was clear in my post with the type of success I'm talking about. In no way did I mean to say that the only way that one can be so is if they are making gobs of money through their photography. The type of success I am talking about would vary for each person according to their own definition. To me, I'd be happy to simply be hired, never mind paid, lol. Unfortunately, I have a lot of complicated medical conditions, though, and it will be important for me to be able to keep up with those financially, if nothing else.
When I mentioned getting a lofty paycheck for several weddings, I was only trying to say that with a little persistence, it can be done. And I think that it's a shame that my friend, who is one of the most talented painters I've ever seen, is no longer even practicing art because she feels like she would need to move to New York (way too expensive for her to do) in order to be successful. She is someone who's always dreamed of being famous. I honestly would prefer not to be. I think that if fame, money, power, etc, were my goals, I'd be working for material things instead of for myself.

Erlik- honestly, I would jump at the chance to attend workshops or classes. Unfortunately, in Oregon there aren't a lot of opportunities as far as workshops go and they would be far too expensive for me to attend elsewhere. My mom also has MS, and so I don't like leaving her very often. For me, getting a BFA is like taking a lot of great workshops all in once place, along with some other great bacc core classes. Most of all, though I will be in debt beyond my wildest dreams, student loans are paying for my classes and materials, though I still have to work full-time to cover my medical bills. I'm sure that for a lot of people, it's about having a paper degree. But like I said in my original most, for me it's about experience. Workshops can offer that, too, but they aren't realistically something that I can afford. Another thing that the university offers is the use of their equipment. I could never afford my own darkroom equipment and I am someone who learns through observation, so reading a book about how to develop film would be relatively useless to me. Not only can I use the university's dark room (rusty pipes and all, lol), but I can also access their computer labs which offer CS3, Aperture, etc. Also all tools that I could never afford on my own.

Andy- I think that you hit the nail on the head with your comments. That is exactly what I was trying to say, but I think you worded it a lot better. Interaction as well as experience, at least for me, is the best teacher.
"They know enough who know how to learn." -Henry Adams

"A successful college is more than just a place to offer facts. Interaction over time with mentors, peers, what one learns from non-photography classes, etc., can be a wonderful and unique opportunity for personal growth, and when this occurs at the same time one is increasing their knowledge in any subject area, photography or otherwise, what is gained can't simply be replaced by short workshops or all the reading material in the world."

Yes, you do have a point. But I'm afraid it's a bit idealised view of university education. Let's see... I'll be narcisstic and use myself as an example.

I graduated English and Comparative Literature. What we did was, well, language and literature. And a bit of film and theatre at CL.

I'm not an art historian by vocation. The last time I had art history was in high school. But compared to my classmates both in high school and at the university, I'm an expert. Why? Because I read about it.

I'm not a historian by vocation. The last time I had history was in high school. But compared to the majority of the people I've met, I'm an expert. Why? Because I read about it.

I could call myself a photographer. Okay, I'm not a Cartier-Bresson. OTOH, although I may be deluding myself, I think I can take a good photo. And once I got a camera, the main part of my knowledge was acquired by reading. Interaction with other people interested in photography also helped.

Ditto with my knowledge of 3D graphics or website building. All self-taught.

I work in a computer magazine now. I ended there because I read about computers. I remember reading American computer magazines for several years before I had an opportunity to lay my hands on a computer. Once I entered the magazine, my knowledge grew and one of the main reasons was the interaction with my colleagues.

Not to mention the fact that I simply know beyond any doubt that I _am_ a vastly better journalist and editor than... I don't know... something like 95%... of the people who graduated journalism. And all I had of journalistic schooling was a couple of workshops and short scholarships. Plus the learning from real professionals in the field.

So as I said... A peer exchange and learning from professionals in an organized way is easier. I don't doubt that Erin will get a good education in photography at the university. But she (right gender? difficult to tell with that particular name) could also learn a lot if she were outside the regular education channels.

Degrees in things that people used to learn either by themselves or on the job (e.g. creative writing, photography) are symptomatic of the sadly risk-averse society we live in. No great writer of the 19th century, or great photographer of the 20th, had a degree in the skills of their profession. Elliott Erwitt said that everything he knew about photography when he started out was on the back of a film box. Now, if they could just print the Sunny 16 rule on memory cards we'd be fine.

Laziness is not the opposite of drive. Both are choices with moral value attached. And both can either be profound life statements or reactions to untenable mental or emotional conditions.

I feel bad for anyone whose parents have chosen to wallow as a reaction to their own life experience, rather than make the more enlightened choice of caring for those they have a responsibility to.

However, I wonder how much the slip into complete social uselessness and emotional collapse is a result of having gone to law school when he patently shouldn't have?

Maybe he should have been a photographer?

Erin, you go, girl, get that degree..then get the MFA..keep moving forward exactly the way you're doing it..don't waver...i wavered..i had a full scholarship and i balked and nobody even tried to talk me out of it because no one in my family had ever been to college anyway. To this day i regret it. I ended up teaching myself photography. Have i learned it? um, yeah, in fits and starts and leaps and lurches and falls flat on my nose. If nothing else, the degrees will always let you start your resume with something impressive. And the rest is, yes indeed, absolutely up to you. Best of luck to you, your energy, motivation and articulate expression are a source of inspiration. GOOD LUCK!

Erin and all,
I don't feel a degree is the most important product but it certainly helped me all through a long trail of jobs, eventually leading to being a community college instructor. But what's not been said here is:
There's a great difference between most college programs and the workshops offered by organizations or institutions without a government or department budget behind them. The college programs support research by its professors which benefits us all. More importantly, they offer comprehensive, continual, and by comparison, cheap (yes, it varies between colleges) education for all levels and for people who may wander in and get hooked on a lifelong passion. The workshops offer wonderful experiences but you need a lot of cash, often a lot of equipment, and certainly a specific direction in mind before committing travel, time and money to enroll. I appreciate Erin's comments and the fact that many different paths can be good for many people is just the better for us all as long as we stay open and don't throw away the paths that allow the most to participate and enjoy their work.

good info. I find so many info that can help me in my study. tq

good info for me as art design student. Hope it will give me spirit to finish my degree.

the school that you graduate from is for sure an inspiration to all your future

if you graduate from a school that is top of its field this might garentee that you find your dream job faster.

also you will find that the level of education is higher than other schools so its a nice equation

if a is successful career

a= x+y+z

x is your school name
y is your experiance taken from school and work
z is your personal talents

hope the best for all


I completely agree with that! Josh

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