(Please note: Just one image is NSFW)
What is a self-taught artist?
Free Online Dictionary states self-taught art is “A genre of art and outdoor constructions made by untrained artists who do not recognize themselves as artists.”
I don’t agree with this. I think it doesn’t align with many artists who consider themselves self-taught and proclaiming themselves as “Artist”.
Another definition I’ve seen is one trained or learned by yourself. But, that’s not possible. We’ve all had input from somewhere. If I teach myself how to play the guitar I could say that “I taught myself” but it most likely would be be with the help of youtubers, dvds, or books. “But, what about those who learned through hearing it?” Yeah, I don’t know.
I think a pretty standard idea is that a self-taught artist is one who has no formal training.
Let’s get into this:
I myself am not sure where I fit within this whole idea. I completed one year at the School of Visual Arts before I had to leave in late 2010 due to the financial strain it was having on me. Is that too much to qualify as self-taught? Is that just enough that I then am? Do I care? Not really. I just consider myself an artist. But, I think this is interesting.
At the School of Visual Arts I majored in Illustration, but left shortly after foundation year (foundation year you’re lumped in with all the majors. Your actual major doesn’t matter) which teaches you the basics of well every major so I didn’t learn much. Am I then considered a self-taught illustrator if I call myself an illustrator?
I took A.P. Art classes in high school. Am I not self-taught? 90% of what I know, I learned from drawing and painting on my own for years. Does that time then get eliminated if I choose to take a few classes to hone my skills? I’m sure that many artists have similar experiences of drawing since childhood until finally going to an art-specialized college, or one that had an Art department. But, I think to an extent any artist could think of themselves as self-taught. At least those who have been drawing since childhood.
I think when I think about what it would take for a person to MAYBE not be considered a self-taught artist, one scenario could be one who had after-school classes since they found they had an interest in the arts, or was part of an arts program since childhood and thus most of their art was given a guiding hand.
Maybe, there is no such thing as a self-taught artist if you believe one idea that it requires a person not being influenced by outside forces that are reflected in the way they create art. But, is there such a person? I’d say to an extent. There is maybe portions of work that aren’t influenced and thus are just pure imagination which might explain some of the little girl’s penises in a Henry Darger piece.
Artists like Rory Kurtz, Randy Ortiz, and Charmaine Olivia say they are self-taught and on further exploration of their site, nary a college attended is to be found. And yeah there are angles of a person in Rory Kurtz pieces that sometimes seem slightly off but whose to say that isn’t style instead of the traits of one who isn’t trained? It’s not as if there aren’t references one could use for anatomy in books, or watercolor techniques online or whatever. So, while I’m sure for some artists you can tell, others it’s maybe just style or they’re just not focused on an image looking anatomically correct. But, that could be said for both a self-taught and a formally trained artist.
So where is the line for where an artist has to stop considering themselves self-taught or is trained on some of their skills like say in animation but not in drawing, or in painting but not in sculptor? I guess we’d have to say self-taught sculptor then or self-taught painter or… well you get the jist. Because, “Artist” is very much an umbrella term, and the act of being a self-taught one can mean different things to different people.
If someone decides to take classes or earn a four-year degree years down their career are they not a self- taught artist anymore?
Personally at least, I think there’s sort of a feeling of virtue to being self-taught. Yet, at the same time maybe a stigma to it though I think that’s dying. But, let’s talk about virtue or a feeling of self-importance to calling yourself a self-taught artist for a second. I think one indulges that feeling especially if your work is considered really good, is fairly praised by your colleagues, esteemed organizations or the media. That it holds weight next to someone who has a degree, or is regarded just as highly as said person may give some a sort of satisfaction. But, I think there’s definitely a feeling of embarrassment at least initially when first starting out and people ask you where you went to school and well…you haven’t. I’d say the feeling of embarrassment is present because one might believe in the stigma that not having a “formal education” makes one inadequate.
But, this is all taken from the angle that a self-taught artist means didn’t go to college.
However, me being so young (I’m now 21), I do get asked the question and have felt this feeling of shame when asked what college I go to when some of my work is featured at a gallery.
I don’t want this post to be longer than it already is, but take a look at Grace Pennington’s commentary on What it Means to be a Self-Taught Artist which by her own words is a black&white definition of it. Since she’s stated it that way herself, I’m not sure if I’ll critique it in another post since I have words to say about it and it’s largely in disagreement.
So what does a self-taught artist mean to you? Do you classify yourself as a self-taught artist?
And, if you know any self-taught artists, preferably illustrators, send their links my way. I’d love to see their work.