Firestarter: Why Back to School is for Everyone

Notes on a painting sketch by Edward Hopper. I loved to see this because it reminds me even really good, accomplished artists started their works with roughs.
Notes on a painting sketch by Edward Hopper. I loved to see this because it reminds me even really good, accomplished artists started their works with roughs.

Okay, maybe you are an adult and past school. So you’re not concerned about going back to school. But no matter what your age is or where you are at in life, you are never to a point where you should stop learning. As soon as you stop pursuing new avenues of ideas, stop testing your comfort zone, stop looking for a fresh perspective on things, your work will start to stagnate. Of course, you don’t actually have to go back to school. School is fun, but expensive . Instead, start looking around for alternatives…


Bet you never saw this one coming! Check out local museums, schools and galleries. Even if you have done so in the past and didn’t really like anything that was offered, always check back and see what is new. If you keep skipping over classes because none of them sound fun for you, ask yourself if you aren’t avoiding taking a class out of fear. It’s easy for your inner perfectionist to steer you away from something you may not immediately be good at. Don’t listen to that voice…stretch a bit.


I may get teased for going the old-school route, but check out your area bookstores and libraries. It goes without saying that there are so damn many books out there you could never read them all. You could at least try your hand at something new from a book. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try Indian Cuisine, but you had no idea where to start. Reading about it can be great start because it’s free (or cheap) and you can move at your own pace. And if you get performance anxiety trying new things, you can do them alone. It’s just you and the author, no one to stress you out.


Don’t just look at schools in your area, but museums and other cultural centers as well. Many have regularly scheduled lecture series planned out a few weeks or months in advance. Just look at their online calendars and you could easily plan an entire day of learning fun.

Online videos and blogs

This isn’t really the first place I would recommend to learn new things. Not because there aren’t some great things to learn, but because there is so much else going on. If you find a really cool blog that shows you how to get started life drawing, be careful about getting sucked into a sidebar ad from your favorite clothing retailer. Or even an ad from another blog that may have cool things. It’s great to explore, just make sure you spend some time focusing on reading materials in-depth and get everything you can out of the page you are on.

Have an art night

If taking a class or browsing the library aren’t up your alley, just call up any creative friends you have for an art night. And tell them to each bring a friend you don’t know. Even if all of you are totally different skills levels or work in different media, just the experience of working with others will help expand your mind. And if there happens to be tea, cheesecake or wine, all the better. Nothing makes you want to throw paint like a few glasses of wine.


This is not on the cheap end of the spectrum, but if you find something that is a good fit, it can be a wonderful way to learn a lot. Besides the benefit of a professional teacher, you will be surrounded by like-minded individuals, others who are excited to learn something new. So maybe as you enjoy more inexpensive ways to learn, squirrel away a few bucks here and there and the retreat can be a big treat later on.

No matter what avenue you follow in learning new skills, remember one big thing: stretch. Learn new skills outside your standard set or try new things that make you nervous. If you just work inside your current comfort zone, no matter what it is, there will only be so much you can learn. Bringing an outside influence will affect your perspective and skill set in ways you can’t even imagine. So get out there and learn something. And welcome back to school!


  1. Amen! If people only knew how important it is to keep learning…. (i.e.: greater feeling of purpose, general happiness, bigger contributions, increased brain activity, decreased depression and boredom and slowing of and prevention of wasting brain diseases….) Plus, it’s just plain fun.

    The teacher in me is very happy right now. The eternal student is even more so… I might print this out to hang in my classroom this semester, if you’re cool with that.

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