Maybe you have to unlearn much of what academia teaches you in art school in order to start teaching yourself art, in terms of finding your own voice that is.
There is something to that... at least in my instance. What I learned of Art History and drawing the figure I held onto fiercely... but I dug into Art History with far more depth and breadth. I began to explore a wide range of contemporary art and to look at a lot of art that really wasn't part of my formal education: Indian, Persian, Islamic, and Japanese Art, illustration, posters, pulp fiction, pin-ups, Burlesque, comic books, etc... I played around with various approaches to oil painting, acrylics, collage, and assemblage. My experience teaching grade-school children led me to the recognition that my artistic direction might best follow my initial passions for art which were rooted in drawing... especially drawing the human figure. At the same time, I had an overwhelming love of color. This led me to pull out a lot of my drawings from Art School that were done in charcoal and pastel. I had pretty much no formal training in the use of pastel... so I just began to play and experiment with the media. I had no idea that almost no one had ever worked in pastel on the scale I was attempting. My decisions to add acrylic paint and then gold leaf into the mix were all the result of trial and error. I had one artist friend who was adamant that my approach to the use of pastel was wrong... and he set about to try to show me how pastel "should" be used. I was well aware of Degas' efforts in pastel. He had long been a favorite artist. He inspired me to the use of a rough or weathered surface...
But I employed this in my own manner. I also learned a good deal about the use of pastel from the pastel drawings from Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo artists:
I also absorbed ideas from Japanese Art especially the sinuous line, the use of black, and the embrace of the flat graphic image.
From Persian and Islamic Art (as well as Byzantine mosaics) I was led to a love of pattern:
And ultimately, I could not help but recognize two common elements among the work of a good many of my favorite artists: the Japanese screen painters, the Persian and Islamic painters of illuminated manuscripts, early Italian Renaissance painters, Byzantine mosaics, Gustav Klimt, and Alphonse Mucha...
And that was the use of gold leaf and the decorative elements. Again, a good number of my artist friends thought that my use of gold leaf and my unabashed love of the decorative were incompatible with serious contemporary art. One of my closest artist friends thought I had completely lost my mind when I painted two Catwomen with golden halos in my painting Tyger Tyger:
But I think this led me to a realization that whether the work was "good" or "bad" it was something unique... something that was really my own.