Well, I was reading a few random articles about art recently and, although they were mostly focused on painting, I noticed one or two articles about art school.
This made me think about my own level of artistic skill and the fact that, although I technically have arts qualifications, they’re in creative writing rather than in any form of visual art.
When it comes to drawing and comics, I’ve pretty much taught myself most of what I know.
Now there are probably numerous benefits of studying art formally and this article isn’t intended to discourage you from studying art at school, college, university etc… since there is almost certainly lot to be gained from this and you probably get to learn a wider range of things a lot more quickly than if you teach yourself. Not to mention that studying art formally probably allows you to meet lots of other artists and learn a lot of things about the business of art too. So, studying art formally is not a bad thing.
However, saying that, art school isn’t the only way to become an artist (in the same way that many of the best writers didn’t all have degrees in the subject – although they all, degree or no degree, practiced a lot).
Being self-taught isn’t an alternative to years of learning and a lot of practice, but it is just another way of doing it.
So, without any more disclaimers, here are six of the benefits of being a self-taught artist:
1) Motivation: If you want to be a self-taught artist, there’s no-one else to motivate you to do it. You don’t have any qualifications to aim for, any lectures or scheduled practice sessions to attend on a regular basis and you don’t even get the kudos of calling yourself an “art student”. But, trust me, this isn’t an entirely bad thing.
Because there’s no-one else to motivate you to become a better artist and to practice regularly, this means that you have to do it yourself. In other words, if you’re a self-taught artist who has even a basic level of artistic skill (like myself) and you practice regularly of your own accord without anyone else telling you to, then that’s a sign that you have an innate passion about art. It means that you’re serious about being an artist. You’re motivated.
And, best of all, you have the most effective form of motivation in the world too. Inner motivation. The only person who is driving you is, well, you. If you decide to stop making art, then no-one is going to lecture you about it. But, let’s face it, if you really want to become an artist, then you won’t decide to stop making art. In fact, even thinking about such a thing will probably feel as unnatural as thinking about stopping breathing for a few weeks.
2) You keep learning: If you’re a self-taught artist, there isn’t really an “end point”. Since you don’t get any formal qualifications, you are basically a perpetual beginner and a perpetual student in the eyes of the world and society in general (unless you become really famous).
This isn’t a bad thing because, all artists should continue to learn and practice on a regular basis. In one way or another, all artists should think of themselves as beginners. Not having a formal qualification of any kind is just a reminder of that fact.
3) It’s always exciting and new: Ok, imagine that you’re visiting another country for a few weeks and you are given two options. You can go on a guided tour around all of the country’s landmarks and historical sites or you can pick up a bunch of maps, a pile of money and a form of transport and explore the place for yourself. Which option sounds more exciting?
If you chose the latter, then you’ve just summed up one of the coolest things about being a self-taught artist. Everything is new to you. You get to explore the types of art and artistic techniques which fascinate you. Instead of being shuttled through the process of learning how to draw, paint etc… on a pre-determined schedule, you get to discover it all for yourself at your own pace and in your own way.
Yes, you’ll mostly be reading books and articles by other people and trying out exercises designed by other people. But, to you, it will all be new and exciting. You’ll feel like an explorer or an archeologist, discovering something new and interesting rather than someone being guided around somewhere on a set path.
4) You can focus: This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn general artistic techniques (and I only really have a basic grasp of a few of these and could probably learn a lot about them), but it means that it’s a lot easier to focus on the types of art that you really love if you teach yourself.
The fact is that I love drawing. Whenever I’ve created any art in my life, it has almost always been some form of drawing. Now, one of the things which put me off from even studying art at GCSE when I was a teenager, despite the fact that almost every notebook I owned was filled with doodles and cartoons, was the fact that most formal art courses (including the GCSE course) seemed to focus mainly on painting.
Now, if I’d have gone down the formal path and done a lot of painting, then this could easily have put me off of art for life. But, being an unofficial self-taught student of art has allowed me to keep my passion for art by focusing on nothing but drawing. Yes, there are probably things I’m missing out on by doing this, but I don’t really care that much since, well, I’m only really interested in drawing at this point in my life.
5) A greater range of teachers: Just because you teach yourself doesn’t mean that you won’t learn from any other teachers. After all, how are you going to learn if you don’t read books and articles about artistic techniques?
How are you going to learn if you don’t copy drawings, paintings etc… that you really like in order to learn what techniques the artist used? And, yes, copying other people’s art is perfectly ok for private non-profit educational purposes. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to learn artistic techniques.
Yes, even self-taught artists have teachers. However, they don’t just have one or two teachers – every artist becomes their teacher and every artist who has ever written about art becomes their teacher too.
In other words, self-taught artists have a much wider range of teachers available to them. As such, they can choose the ones who explain things in the best possible way and the ones who resonate with them on a personal level.
If you’re a self-taught artist and you have a teacher you don’t find that inspiring/interesting/informative, then you don’t have to drop out, switch courses or carry on wearily and unenthusiastically. You can just put the book down or close the website and find one that is a lot more interesting. It’s that simple.
6) You’ll feel really proud of yourself: Yes, you should still see yourself as a perpetual beginner and remain humble about your artistic abilities. However, when you work out how to do something (even something as simple as drawing vaguely realistic shadows) on your own, then it feels amazing. Even if you’ve learnt it from a book or copied a few drawings in order to work out how to do it, you still feel like you’re practically an inventor.
If you’ve ever played a vaguely modern computer game with an “achievements” system, then learning how to do something new feels almost exactly like getting an “achievement” but about ten times better.
Yes, you will probably feel this emotion a few times if you take a formal guided course in art. But, well, it just won’t be the same…
Ok, there are more benefits of being a self-taught artist (and I might write another article about this subject sometime) and, of course, there are also numerous benefits to being formally taught too. Formal teaching works for some people and self-teaching works for other people (and bonus points if you manage to combine these two things). They’re just two different approaches which are more difficult than each other in some ways and easier than each other in other ways.
Remember, I’ve only presented “one side of the story” here, so to speak. So, if you are interested in being an artist in any way, then don’t discount art school purely on the basis of this article alone.