“Oh, cool!” is what most other students say when I tell them I’m an art student. But they usually don’t quite understand what it means or know the huge difference between Sam Fox and WashU’s other schools.
One of the great things about WashU classes is that it’s incredibly, incredibly easy to take classes in other schools besides your own. I like to think that I’m a pretty good example of a multi-disciplined student, being a communication design major with minors in psychology and computer science. This means I’ve taken classes in three schools: Sam Fox, Arts & Sciences, and Engineering. In my experience, Sam Fox is, overwhelmingly, very different from the others. I hope this post can provide some insight into that!
Of course, most students from other schools know that art school is infamous for its super-long studio courses; each studio meets twice a week, 3 hours per session. For those of you who can’t even sit through hour and a half classes, it’s not that bad! It’s not a lecture and you’re usually working on your projects, so it’s a very casual environment where you can talk with your friends, grab a snack, etc.
Besides the class time, I think the biggest difference between Sam Fox and the other schools is your relationship with your peers and professors. Most professors in the art school insist that you call them by their first name. It was a little weird at first, calling my professor “John” instead of “Professor Lastname,” but you quickly get used to it. It feels like a good way to transition students into the professional field, where you don’t go strictly by titles and last names. It also means the relationship between professors and students is very easygoing, which is incredibly important if you’re an art student. We constantly get feedback from our professors, and it’s much more to our benefit if we’re not too intimidated to ask questions and if we feel relaxed enough to ask even questions we think are stupid.
The relationship with your peers is much the same. Since Sam Fox is a probably the smallest school, you get to know everyone in your year, and even if you don’t know upper or lowerclassmen, you probably recognize them just from seeing them around. I was part of the International Baccalaureate program in high school with around 115 others, so this kind of environment was very familiar to me heading into college. You’ll also talk with everyone, whether in studio asking for advice, having critique together, or just being in the same room together. Forming friendly relationships with other art school students is not only fun but also important for professional development since our friends will be our colleagues.
In my experience, ArtSci and Engineering have less of a tight-knit feel to them. In my non-art school classes, I tend to be more independent and keep to myself; I can go to lecture, take notes, and leave without ever once talking to another classmate or the professor. They’re still great communities, but they’re nothing compared to sharing studio space and seeing the same faces at 3AM as you all struggle to finish a project on time together.
That brings me to my next point: studio space! In junior and senior year, art students get their own studio space to work and store their belongings. It almost becomes a second home to me. I keep snacks and most of my materials there, along with a fluffy blanket, and I usually spend my nights working in studio. It’s also great little community; if I need advice, I can just look to someone next to me or walk across the room to see them. I myself find it very useful to be able to see what my classmates have done for our current assignment, so sometimes I make a few rounds in studio.
Finally, the workload in art school is very different from ArtSci and Engineering, as one would imagine. ArtSci especially tends to have classes structured so that you will have an extremely light workload for a while before an exam comes along and there’s a week of cramming. Engineering tends to have weekly assignments plus exams.
Sam Fox studios, on the other hand, have no exams, but there is constant pressure to work on your projects. Every class, you receive feedback on what you’ve done, and the expectation is that by next class, you’ll have improved on it. Coming to class with nothing to show is a very big no-no. So while the thought of “no exams” seems very liberating, most students don’t realize just how much daily work art school is. We also have final crits that are essentially our versions of final exams, where we present all of our work from the semester and the professors line up to give you critique.
Each of the schools I’ve taken classes in has a unique atmosphere, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me personally, my ArtSci classes have been more relaxing than my Sam Fox or Engineering classes, though that may just be from my class selections. But Sam Fox stands out against the rest for just being a very different “college experience” than what most people would expect. It has its pros and cons, but so do the other WashU schools, and I wouldn’t give up my experiences in each of them for anything.