Ask the Art Prof: Should College Art Students Study Abroad Even if it Distracts from Job Preparation?

rome_cnt_24nov09_iStock_

“Would you suggest that art students to go abroad during their college years even if it might distract from job and art portfolio preparation?”

Absolutely. I’m a firm believer that one should take advantage of every opportunity to travel. For many students, studying abroad is one of the few chances they will get to immerse themselves in a foreign country for an extended period of time. Unless you get a Fulbright grant or win the Rome Prize, it’s unlikely that another opportunity will present itself.  After graduation most students become so focused on their job search that getting up and moving to a foreign country for several months is just not a viable option.

Some people may argue that one can always take a vacation to a foreign country. That’s true, but studying abroad is very different than just taking a short vacation trip. I studied abroad in Rome in the RISD European Honors Program, and it was anything but a vacation. The first few weeks were fun, but after that, the reality of living in a foreign country really started to settle in. Normal every day tasks, like talking on the phone, required hard work and concentration to achieve.  I remember that I used to get headaches at the end of the day from listening to and trying to speak Italian all the time.  I never thought this would have happened to me, but I found myself craving anything that was remotely American because I wanted something that felt familiar for a change. Living in a foreign country is the ultimate life lesson that just can’t be replicated any other way.

I saw so much when I was studying abroad. When I was a freshman studying art history, learning about all of these famous works of art through textbooks and slides felt so sterile and abstract that I found myself feeling completely disconnected and apathetic towards much of the work. Then there I was in Rome, where walking down the street meant watching the pages from my art history book come alive.

Caravaggio_salome-with-the-head-of-john-the-baptist_1607

Caravaggio

And even better, I actually remembered all of those works from my art history books and was pleasantly surprised at my ability to name every one. It was thrilling to be able to truly understand what those works were really about because I was able to experience them in person.   I remember putting myself on a personal mission to see every single Caravaggio painting that was within reach. I saw every Gothic cathedral in Paris and in the surrounding cities. I don’t think I will ever have a chance to see that much in such a short period of time ever again.

Be prepared for some drawbacks to studying abroad that can be tough when you return. The truth of the matter is that studying abroad is one big distraction from portfolio preparation.  I remember when I came back that I felt jealous of my peers, who had been working hard and taking all sorts of neat classes while I was abroad. Many of them had created a substantial amount of work, and had made tremendous strides in their work, especially in terms of technique. By comparison, I had achieved very little artwork when I was abroad; I found it so hard even think straight much less accomplish portfolio caliber works when I was there. I felt like I was behind where my peers were and had a lot of catch up to do.

I recommend going junior year, because then you have senior year to catch up and get yourself back on track. Another option is to take one semester abroad, as opposed to an entire year. One semester abroad, the equivalent of just a few months, is not going to make or break your career. It will certainly not be the difference between whether or not you can get a job or not.  I can guarantee that you will treasure a study abroad experience for the rest of your life.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


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