The Rhode Island School of Design
The Rhode Island School of Design - Comments and Student Experiences|
Because RISD frequently tops the list of best art schools, it is an international magnet for the offspring of the immensely wealthy. During my time there the campus celebrities included a few hollywood actors, a Saudi prince, the children of many famous figures in the art world and a member of one of the wealthiest families in Europe (actually, contrary to my general argument, she was a remarkable talent).
After graduation, and especially in today's struggling economy, what becomes very clear is that the well-connected students will be just fine. Four years out, most have found decent jobs with their parent's support. Since in most creative industries unpaid internships are considered entry-level positions, it important to have some external support while filling that role. Lately, there has been some criticism regarding this with many making the argument that working without pay makes living in the metropolitan areas unrealistic. I can say with certainty that for a significant enough subset of the population, that is not the case. In fact, quite the contrary, the leisure class is perfectly able to fill those positions, admittedly few in number, and thus from a supply side there is really no reason to offer a living wage.
As for the education at RISD, I found it rather frustrating. I belonged to the graphic design department and during my time there the curriculum was stubbornly, stupidly print focused. During my sophomore year, in a class led by a tenured instructor from Switzerland, we spent nearly the entire term designing the cookbooks.
Classes are broken up into two general categories: studios and liberal arts. Studios are typically scheduled in 6 hour blocks with two main components critique and work time. Crits can be rather grueling. The workload at RISD is exhausting with a lot of competition between student to outdo each other. It is common for people to arrive with in progress work or with something finished a few minutes before. In cases where people have scheduled several consecutive days of studio classes, there is simply not enough time to come up with well conceived projects so the feedback is generally inane and useless.
The order of a crit is also significant. Because most people get sick of talking after a few hours those who show their work first get much better feedback than those who wait till the end. Paradoxically, everyone is usually afraid to go first.
Having transferred from a University, my opinion is that the liberal arts courses are generally not very demanding. Most instructors understand that they are catering to a student body for whom academia is a secondary concern and that their employment is rather in service of the school's college accreditation. That said, the liberal arts instructors, particularly the adjuncts, are exceptionally bright and class discussions are often very lively. Occasionally, you do come across faculty who take their material seriously and as a student and RISD this can be treacherous. Since all liberal arts courses are electives you might spend all of your time reading Foucault with a large project in your degree program due the next day. Most students are savvy to this. The course on birdwatching (yes, really) always fills up very quickly, is held in a lecture hall, and has a very competitive wait list.
The best classes are usually held during the winter session term which spans a few of the years coldest months. These courses are usually lead by graduate students and so their subject matter is usually current and the pacing is often sympathetic to the realities of being a full time, self supporting student.
I often look back on my experiences and wonder if they were worth the expense and the time I spent there. Having left the east coast after graduation, virtually no one I might has heard of the school and saying that you went to college at a school for design suggests you spent your early twenties dancing in fairy dust and chasing the moonlight. Nor has my degree guaranteed against long stretches of unemployment. For a certain privileged group, it is a fine option and for everyone else, frankly, i feel for you because there are not many good options.
Perhaps the most redeeming quality about RISD is its student body and the various potential connections a student can make. While there is no doubt that networking is important, if a school's only redeeming qualities can be reaped at a party, skip the school and go to the party. A frank word of warning: In terms of social stratification, RISD is America's own little Versailles. At RISD I was not merely a student there on scholarship--I was a peasant. I was shocked by the comfort with which teachers spontaneously ordered their students to purchase a large amount of expensive supplies during class time with no thought as to whether or not said student has any of these items already at home (off campus, half an hour one way) or (gasp!) does not have the money necessary at hand. I have regularly been forced to decide between buying supplies and food during my time at school, and have still had the unfortunate experience of being singled out by a professor in class for my financial shortcomings.*
For a school that prides itself so much on being able to dole out critique, RISD as an institution absolutely incapable to hearing it. The vote of no confidence from the faculty is not heard, the complaints from the student council are not heard; and in due time, a chipper email will be sent to every student and faculty member reassuring them that their critique has fallen on deaf ears.*I will concede this happened only once, but it was unacceptable professionally and personally just plain dickish.