The cost of art: Supplies make fine arts an expensive major


Larry Staats is a senior studio arts major who has to purchase most of his art supplies himself. The cost of supplies in just one of his many boxes full of tools adds up fast. “In intro classes you have to buy a tool and then after your intro class is over you’re never going to use it again. That happens a lot,” Staats said.

Alex Kamczyc

When Abby Hermosilla, a senior art history major, takes time to analyze a piece of work, she’s careful with it. She studies the formal elements of the composition and the fine details. What colors were used? What do the brush strokes look like? Are they precise or relaxed?

She studies every corner of the painting, even the context of the space the art is put in, before she figures out what the artist wanted to say with the piece. It’s standard practice for her and a whole lot of others to study art this way.

However, a lot of times the analysis stops there, as often times it goes deeper than that. How much did the materials cost the artist? Did they have to miss a meal to make this?

For art students, questions of finances constantly linger when making projects. Students like those of the Kent State University Art Club know all too well the obstacles that artists face to create the art on display in many of the halls at Kent State.

“A lot of students here can pay for their supplies all at once and they can buy them cheap as well,” said Caitlen Patrick, a senior studio arts major and president of the Art Club. “For me, it’s … a lot of constant struggle, instead of an over and done with thing.”

The School of Art was founded in 1910, not long after Kent State was established. It offers a total of three degrees that focus on a range of fine arts, including ceramics, painting, drawing, glass, print media, photography, sculpture, textile and art history. There are currently 2,369 students enrolled under the school.

An art student’s cost of art supplies generally depends on the concentration. Each major requires something different when it comes to supplies.

“It’s hard because you want your projects to be the best they can be,” Patrick said. “But if you can’t afford the best, a lot of times your project will reflect that.”

On top of the art supplies that students need to buy for their projects, they also have required materials they need to get when they enroll at the school. This list includes paint, high-quality paper for drawing and printmaking and tools like charcoal and fine point pencils.

“You’re always required to buy supplies for intro classes, which is really tough because a lot of those classes you never use again,” said Larry Staats, a senior studio arts major and vice president of the Art Club. “I have all of these supplies that I never use … but you have to buy them at the start.”

The most controversial required material among students is a brand new iPad.

“We use the iPad for one class, which we could have easily used the computers that the school has because we weren’t doing anything too hard (with it),” said Benjamin Gfell, a junior studio arts major. “It’s obviously a useful thing, I just don’t really have a use for it in my major.”

Despite the sometimes costly supply decisions that art students have to face, the School of Art encourages them to stay on course, ensuring that it’s all part of the process.

“Buying art supplies is an investment in one’s creative work and development,” said Michael Loderstedt, interim director of the School of Art, “similar to buying an instrument as a musician or taking time away from work to write a novel.”

Some other supplies that students need to buy are already supplied by the school, like respirator masks and hot glue guns.

“We bought a lot of things that they have a lot of at the school,” Gfell said. “It is good to have that extra item, but I feel like a good percentage of the classes I’ve been in we could have just used what the school has.”

The School of Art does provide many of the supplies that students need to use when working, including ink cartridges used for printing, kilns and heavier machinery needed to construct pieces.

Many of the things provided by the facilities at the new art building are possible because of the class fees and expenses paid before the semester starts.

“We aren’t even allowed to use paper towels in the building if we’re using them in class,” said Natalie Frank, a junior art education major and secretary of the Art Club, in reference to her printmaking class this semester. “Because that comes out of their budget, it’s not something we paid for.”

Some students studying in the School of Art have pursued outside jobs to fund their pieces.

“I’m on campus from 9 (a.m.) to midnight every day,” Staats said. “That includes being at my job. I’m here more than I am at my own apartment.”

Some students have even resorted to scrapping past projects, recycling their components to make new assignments. This makes it difficult to build a portfolio — something essential for landing a job in the creative career.

“I wish I could just buy full sheets of plywood whenever I need them,” Staats said. “Multiple times this semester, I’ve had these ideas for big complicated pieces, but I don’t have the money for that.”

With many obstacles set for students, the school does provide help for them in a few different ways.

“The School of Art has many art scholarships available to help students with their supply costs,” Loderstedt said. “Art students do have expenses … that other majors do not. Keep in mind that students keep and, on occasion, sell their work also.”

The School of Art offers an outlet on campus called the ARTshop that features works made by students that can be sold to the general public.

Despite the many ways for students to ease their financial burden throughout the school year, there is still a general frustration that a lot of times they have to pay out of pocket for their supplies.

“It makes me timid about my artistic process because there are times when I can’t spend the money to make something,” Frank said. “You have to be so careful with your art spending because you have to live too.”

Alex Kamczyc is the arts reporter, contact him at [email protected]