The Self Taught Artist – Who Isn’t?

11 Jun 2012

Some artists make a big deal out of being self taught, but truth of the matter is, all artists are self taught.

The difference between the two is encapsulated in two questions:

Are you learning oil painting for example only from yourself, just from what you can dredge up from "the artist within"?

Talent alone does not result in a well executed figurative oil painting. Skill, practice, and a background in the fundamentals of how to oil paint are necessary to go beyond the stick figure. Emerald Dreams by Steve Henderson, original oil painting, note card, and miniature.

Talent alone does not result in a well executed figurative oil painting. Skill, practice, and a background in the fundamentals of how to oil paint are necessary to go beyond the stick figure. Emerald Dreams by Steve Henderson, original oil painting, note card, and miniature.


Or are you learning from other people--teachers, writers, other artists both dead and alive, magazine resources, workshops for oil painting techniques, books, the successes of others, the mistakes of others, comments and critiques--basically external sources that you read, analyze, review, try out, and experiment with, internalizing what works and shaping it into that "artist within"?

While art is a talent, it does not grow by itself in a vacuum, and for an artist to reach his or her potential, they need a grasp of the basics, a grounding in fundamentals, and training.

This makes total sense when we're talking about an engineer or a mathematician, but for some reason, when we talk oil painting art, our right brain supersedes the left to the point that instruction gives way to feelings, skill to emotion, proficiency to passion.

One of the key ways of recognizing whether you need work in an area is to determine if you are compensating for your lack of training in it. Ask yourself:

Do I paint noses this way because I want to, or because I don't know any other way of doing it?

If the answer is the latter, bring your skill level up so that you can paint a nose the way you want it to look.

Passion, emotion, and feelings--yes, these are important. But they are not enough without proficiency, skill, and instruction, and the best artists--who are self-motivated, self-disciplined, and truly self-taught, incorporate all six elements, seamlessly, into their work and their being.

--Carolyn

 


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Comments

JapieKl wrote
on 13 Jun 2012 5:42 PM

Agree 100% with you Carolyn, I think a self taught artist is just about the only real artists - the kind that do it with passion and sometimes also the ones that don't make millions. That aside any form of art done with real passion show emotion and mostly also the mind of state of the artist at that time.

Paul Armesto wrote
on 14 Jun 2012 11:48 PM

I totally agree: both the right and the left brain should be put to work together in order to achieve a true masterpiece. The Spanish poet Gustavo A. Becquer (1836-1870) sets it perfectly in his 3rd. Rhyme (Rima III).

KatPaints wrote
on 16 Jun 2012 9:06 PM

Have I met you before? I say and write this frequently. I laugh inside when someone says they are self-taught and wonder if they realize that they are only fooling themselves. If they look a bit more, many many people served as teachers even if it was indirect as a painting in a book.

The fact is that despite my education (BFA) it was still choppy and incomplete.  Those of us who attended art school may have done so at a time when abstraction dominated the "art world." Each "school" simply has their own philosophy that they are trying to teach.  Many realists artists may have majored in illustration thinking that we could at least focus on realism. Much of our learning needed to be pursued on our own. I needed to further my education in order to get a better basic education and I learned much (most) by doing my own research, traveling, reading, maybe taking a workshop, etc.  We all learn from others and it is a matter if we keep working toward improving our skills or expect to be spoon fed.

Self taught generally means "I don't have a formal education or I didn't go to college." Well, unless we grew up in Russia where kids had a 4-5 year long formal art program starting at the age of nine, or we were fortunate to have people hand hold us until we are 25, we all needed to pursue art by searching, looking, and pursuing our interests. People who claim to be self-taught seem to have this idea that people with formal education were spoon fed or something. Nothing could be further from the truth. I needed to undo some of my education...

I recall listening to a podcast of a successful realist artist and she claimed to be totally self-taught --- no books, workshops, or anything. (What a liar or naive artist.) Frequently, we learn by just being near other artists, or watching someone shade an object. I recently met one of those Russian child artists( who also has more higher education) and he gives most of the credit of his success to someone he simply painted outdoors with for many years. At times, our teachers are very unexpected.  It is important to give credit to or acknowledge those who helped us along the way even if it is by indirect exposure. An elementary art teacher once told me to simply start drawing... even open a magazine and draw from it. This little piece of advice changed my entire life and he did not show me a thing.

Enough said... give credit to those who helped you and remember the grass isn't always greener on the formally educated side of the hill.

KatPaints wrote
on 16 Jun 2012 9:09 PM

Sorry for rambling Carolyn. Very good article and nice advice.

freda145 wrote
on 27 Jan 2013 5:48 AM

Hi Kate just wanted to add something to the conversation.

I know some really good artists from both ends of the spectrum - those who have had formal training and education and those who consider them selves "self taught". I have to say I consider myself neither, so there is no bias.

However a have found that a great deal of snobbery and jealousy comes from those who HAVE had formal training and I can understand why - you got to college for over 3 years to learn your craft only to discover that whilst you have accumulated thousands in debt to study, you have also had to "undo" much of the education that you have been taught. A self taught artist on the other hand just follows their passion and has the ability to deliver REAL art which is an expression of their own individual creative identity.

I quote your words Kate "People who claim to be self-taught seem to have this idea that people with formal education were spoon fed or something. Nothing could be further from the truth. I needed to undo some of my education..." Your words not mine!

freda145 wrote
on 27 Jan 2013 5:50 AM

Hi Kate just wanted to add something to the conversation.

I know some really good artists from both ends of the spectrum - those who have had formal training and education and those who consider them selves "self taught". I have to say I consider myself neither, so there is no bias.

However a have found that a great deal of snobbery and jealousy comes from those who HAVE had formal training and I can understand why - you got to college for over 3 years to learn your craft only to discover that whilst you have accumulated thousands in debt to study, you have also had to "undo" much of the education that you have been taught. A self taught artist on the other hand just follows their passion and has the ability to deliver REAL art which is an expression of their own individual creative identity.

I quote your words Kate "People who claim to be self-taught seem to have this idea that people with formal education were spoon fed or something. Nothing could be further from the truth. I needed to undo some of my education..." Your words not mine!