I am often asked what school, if any, a person should attend in order to pursue a career as a professional realist oil painter. To start, lets just knock any college or university out of the running, so we don't have to go into some long winded rant about modernism or how their professors are stupid faces etc, etc. Let's just say college is great if you want to study at a place that offers a sports team, drunken karaoke parties, and a 3 credit course on snorkeling. So, this leaves academies and ateliers up for discussion. But which one is the right for you? (I was thinking of just leaving the article finished here to make it all existential but I guess I'll answer the question)
The short answer is I don't have an answer. It's really up to each individual student and what they hope to achieve. If you ask most people which place is your best option, they will simply rant and rave about whatever school they attended because they drank the proverbial cool aid of artistic dogma, and therefore their school is the bestest ever. However, just because this was their experience doesn't mean you will have the same experience. Only way to find the right one is to do your own research (and by research I don't mean posting questions in the comments section of this article).
What to look for?
I would say, first and foremost, is an ideal location. Expensive cities are expensive, and uprooting and moving to a new city isn't all that easy and definitely not all that cost effective. If cost is not a factor, then give me some money and stop being selfish. There are so many academies and ateliers nowadays that you can't throw a stone without hitting one. Most of these schools are listed on the Art Renewal Center's website, but not every single one of them is, so make yourself familiar with Google to find the rest. I know, this is hard. Another important factor to consider is whether the aesthetic that is being taught at the school agrees with or conflicts with your own vision for your future work. If you want to be a photorealist, don't go to a painterly school and vice versa. You should admire the work of the students and teachers who are there. Most likely, how and what you want to eventually paint like will be built on this foundation. Next, the environment of the school and the overall warm fuzziness of its ambiance is integral to having a positive education. All it takes is a couple bad seeds to ruin the environment of a school. Don't believe me, go read "The No Asshole Rule." You may be at the school for a long time in order to complete the program, so make sure you get along with everyone, students and teachers alike. Some schools out there get pretty pretentious and lack a good hearty amount of "that's what she said" jokes integrated into their teaching pedagogy. If you want to find out what the environment of a school is really like, go visit and talk to the people there. Corner a student and pester them with questions when the teacher isn't there. A good school will have the same energy as a good episode of "Saved by the Bell." Another vetting strategy in choosing your school: do some research to see the success rate of how many of their students and graduates go on to make a career of it. A school producing a lot of pros will brag about the success of their alumni somewhere on their website. Lastly, do they have a built in all you can eat Panda Garden buffet. I have yet to see a school like this, but you bet I would have gone there had it existed.
Things you may not get.
Any program will only offer you the basics of how to make a realistic picture and may not delve into how to sell an art (though some touch on this). Business is its own separate entity that has to be learned with time and dedication just like anything else, and you can't really fault a school for not teaching this stuff. They're busy running a school. That's the business they know, and besides, the art market is changing so fast it's hard to keep up with it. Your art career really starts after you leave any school and your student work is just that, student work, and is not really intended for sale (I am referring to Bargue copies, figure drawing, etc). DO NOT approach a gallery with this stuff or your career might suffer coming out of the gates. Going from student to professional is a hard transition, so get ready for it, and no school out there will do this for you. A second issue of concern is the fact that most schools offer very little in the way of full scholarships and grants, (though they do exist.) However, if you think about it, most of them are small business that simply cannot afford this luxury. But there may be other options. Some schools will trade tuition in return for services like modeling, cleaning, monitoring, and possibly teaching beginner students. Now although these jobs suck compared to being something awesome like an assassin for hire, they may be your only option, especially if you are traveling abroad to study and have no legal status to work. Lastly, if your expectations aren't realistic for what you are going to learn, you will most likely be disappointed. Any program out there guarantees nothing if you aren't willing to put the work in on your end. There are no magical secrets taught at these places, just a system of drawing and painting that takes time to master and excel at and not all students are created equal. For a rounded education, you should be reading stacks of books about art, supplementing your studies with your own projects, and seeking out other learning opportunities.
In the end, I am not going to make suggestions on where you should or
shouldn't go. Keep in mind my training was eclectic and I never
actually graduated a program because my mumma said I ain't none too