Self taught

Jane

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Wow! A lot of self taught artists. I’m enjoying seeing all the wonderful work out there. so fresh, daring and imaginative.
 

rodhlann

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Wow this is a great thread! I definitely feel like an outlier in many cases with my 'art education', if you could call it that. I've been drawing ever since I was a little kid, but with long, sometimes years+ breaks in between picking up a pen. A lot of my 'experience' comes from drawing in notebook margins during high school and college courses while I was on the winding road to my computer science career.

Other than some standard high school fundamentals classes, I have never had any formal training. I've never read any books. I've never done any dedicated studies of fundamentals. I just draw the things I like to draw and do my best to improve. An issue that I've always had with the traditional artist's path is my disinterest in drawing things I don't care to draw. I'm not particularly interested in drawing human models, or apples and vases, or perspective cityscapes, but from what I've seen (and assumed?) a lot of classes are mostly focused on that sort of workflow. Those subjects are terribly boring to me. Because of this I sort of just pick the things that are interesting to me, and flesh out an eventual product I am satisfied with through trial and error.

There have been many pitfalls along the way for me, that I may have avoided with art school. The classic "reference is bad" arguments and whatnot. For the longest time I was convinced that I should be able to conjure great art from my imagination, and that almost always led to frustration, and long gaps in my drawing due to anxiety and procrastination. I also don't like drawing things that take a long time because I feel like it shouldn't be taking so long and that makes me antsy and frustrated. Things like that.

I definitely understand that he path to improvement often requires doing things outside of what I would consider engaging or exciting, and that is absolutely something I've been working on, especially recently. Though the next steps I need or want to take are still a mystery to me.

Overall I love drawing and I do consider seeking out more formal education from time to time. There's still a lot of room for me to grow and something I am looking for more than anything formal is a community of artists in my medium who I can share art and get feedback. More than any formal education I need guidance and constructive criticism. And that is where my journey is leading me, I think.

I do hope to one day look at my art and consider it excellent!
 

Artyczar

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@rodhlann Thanks for sharing your story and insights. It's nice to hear all of that and commiserate with some of your views about not working on thing you don't care to make. I have that too, though in the beginning, I did try. I did a lot of portraiture and copied a lot of people out of magazines, mostly fashion magazines because of the pretty girls were at least nice to look at. I also liked the pictures in National Geographic. Lots of interesting people in there too. I'd try to change up their clothing a little, or change the backgrounds and stuff to make it my own. I haven't sold the ones that were exact replicas because I considered them practice.

But I digress. I hear what you mean about the vases and these kinds of things (though I tried a bit of that too). I was bored. I like when other people make that stuff though. Unless it comes out of my imagination, I'm not too excited by it.

I don't think "great art" needs to come from reality, references, or pure imagination. I think it can come from any, or perhaps a combination of all. Even when copying real life, I think that "reality" is still going through the filter of the brain and it's being transferred into two dimensions. Therefore, it becomes somewhat abstracted in a sense. Someone can make something look like a photograph, but not three dimensional. And making something look exactly like a photograph is more about skill and not about imagination, unless you took the original photo. I know amazing artists that photograph their subject matter in very dynamic ways and you'd think they were photos themselves. Even the models have to do a good deal of "acting" for them.

I digress again.

I haven't had enough coffee this morning. I don't know where I'm going with this. :ROFLMAO:
 

rodhlann

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@Artyczar I can definitely see what you're trying to say! It's important to do what you find interest in and are passionate about. It's probably still good to study composition and stuff eventually though 😅
 

Hermes2020

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My formal education was in science: BSc, Honours, and Masters degrees in physics and chemistry, leading up to a doctorate (PhD) in chemistry. During those 8 years of study I bought some oil paints and and my first camera. Painting and photography were hobbies, since there was never time to enrol in any art courses while I was doing research, which sometimes meant sleeping in the lab when I was doing all-night experiments. In spite of all this, I made time to use the facilities of the ceramics department at the local art school. The ceramics professor was a friend; she gave me free reign to make my first ever pots.

I ended up doing post-doctoral research and teaching at the University of London's Chelsea College, which was conveniently located next door to the Chelsea College of Arts (with its Henry Moore sculpture at the entrance) in Manresa Road, Chelsea. I confess that I spent many hours in their wonderful library, to the annoyance of my head of department.

Pottery and painting were hobbies during my whole professional life as a scientist. Most of my leisure reading was on topics like the history of art and art techniques, so I am truly self-taught in the arts. For that reason, I don't think of myself as an artist, or anything I produce as art. I am just an old guy who likes to mess around with different materials. Now that I am no longer working full time, I've been able to try my hand at sculpture, something I was never able to do before retiring. A remnant from my scientific career in academia is a curiosity about techniques and processes, as well as a love of sharing knowledge with other like-minded people. I know I can be annoyingly pedantic, so I apologize for that if I have bored anyone in Creative Spark.
 
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Bartc

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Like most of you, I'm also self-taught. Many in my family were artists on the side, my mother being very skilled in many media. So I rebelled and avoided learning to paint until really mid-twenties and then in earnest at 30. My art form was photography. But I always drew obsessively from early childhood. Did have a couple of art classes in high school, just rudimentary stuff.

I always studied art in museums, books, etc. Had one Art History class in college taught by an over-the-hill English prof with zero enthusiasm! Not a good intro, though I did learn the history.

In my mid-twenties I had the only "formal" studio course I've ever bothered with: a two Saturday informal class in sumi-e painting. That was my grounding with painting media and it was a godsend for me, but I still didn't deign to take up painting until my 30th birthday. Have never put down the brush or pen or pencil or pastel ever since!

YouTube has been fun and a good learning experience. Books were always my standby before then. All the rest has been the result of extensive observation, experimentation and practice (no I am not disciplined, so don't read much into "practice"!)

I have taught others how to draw and paint, though. I avoid the kind of rigid obsessive rules that I see many have to put up with in formal art classes. That is by no means a swipe at good art instruction. Just that it's not my cup of tea, and many others also can't abide it.

This is my joy and my expression. I'm glad to have found it at last, and so far it has lasted more than 40 years for me.

In my early 20s traveling in a VW bus across Europe and Africa, I came across an artist in a campground. Just another guy who had taken up the brush. He was stoned on LSD and I watched him swirl his brush as he painted a Goya-esque work across the side of his van. It was a real eye-opener for me. Seeing figures just like those I had viewed in the Prado as they magically appeared under his brush. OMG! If anything impelled me to consider painting, that was probably the inspiration.
 

Artyczar

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@Bartc If your mother was an artist (even though you "rebelled"), and you had art classes in high school, took Art History in college, and took up sumi-e painting with a studio instructor, all before 30, I really wouldn't say you were "self-taught."

Having the confirmation of some kind of teacher, direction, is one of the fundamental things that a self-taught artist does not have while working their way through it all. This is my firm belief and pet peeve among artists in general who claim the self-taught label. But that's me.
 

Bartc

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@Bartc If your mother was an artist (even though you "rebelled"), and you had art classes in high school, took Art History in college, and took up sumi-e painting with a studio instructor, all before 30, I really wouldn't say you were "self-taught."

Having the confirmation of some kind of teacher, direction, is one of the fundamental things that a self-taught artist does not have while working their way through it all. This is my firm belief and pet peeve among artists in general who claim the self-taught label. But that's me.
Arty, I did not take any lessons from my mother and she never sought to teach me how to paint. The art class in high school was the same rudimentary stuff everyone took in my era, not really what we would call art instruction. Nothing about how to paint. A little drawing and some paper cutting, but I had already taught myself how to draw.

Art History in college consisted of a boring prof showing slides with zero comment on technique nor composition and demanding memorization. He could answer no questions. 2 Saturdays with sumi-e with another amateur artist, not a formal instructor, barely qualifies as a class, and she was the only one who actually ever taught technique to me or gave me direction as you call it. That's maybe 4 hours in a lifetime compared to how many hundreds or thousands of hours of formal classes others have taken.

So while I have a long term grounding in art appreciation and observation, I had nearly nothing in terms of being formally taught how to paint. I think you are over reading into this. All that technique and composition was self-taught, period. And the lessons were hard won, believe me. Nobody looked over my shoulder as I worked and told me what or how to do it, nor gave me any confirmation.

Learning to paint was something I got from reading books, putting my nose up close to paintings, and a lot of hard experimentation. Nobody taught me how to use acrylics, oils, watercolors, wax, pastels nor pencils/pens as an art medium. Nobody else taught me how to select, prepare and use different supports. Nobody else taught me about pigments, binders nor solvents. Nobody else taught me about brushes, pens, sticks, or the like, with the one exception of a sumi-e brush that brief time. Nobody else taught me about composition or color theory.

One doesn't have to start with total ignorance to be self-taught in any discipline. We live in a world surrounded by art; all you need to do to see it is to open your eyes to it, which is not the same as receiving instruction as to how to produce it. Your definition has a loophole in it from my perspective, but you are entitled to define it however you like. While I do take some satisfaction in being self-taught, I do not wear it as any badge of honor nor do I assume it's any better than the artist next to me who has an MFA. It's just my reality.
 

Bartc

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Some of us have an innate curiosity and you can hone that with learning (or teaching) how to observe. Some of us have fine motor coordination, but you can learn that to a degree as well. You can certainly be taught technique and theory. You can be taught how to handle materials and tools.

But only some of us have the greater degree of spatial cognition and manipulation, which insofar as I have ever seen is genetic. You have to learn how to use it, but it starts, IME, with something you inherit. Still, I think you can be taught to create art with the average degree of spatial ability. I have taught folks who swore they had no ability to draw.

You can certainly teach thinking outside your usual box. I've watched experiments in stimulus loading, stimulus deprivation, and other techniques that were hoped would teach creativity. I remain somewhat skeptical that creativity can actually be taught, however. (You CAN remove some barriers to it, though.) There are different forms of creativity used in different realms of endeavor using different combinations of parts of the brain. Visual/artistic creativity appears to involve some less common interaction between brain hemispheres that does not appear to be inborn in the larger population. Yet, how much does the science of all that really "know", and how much is really just a rudimentary explanation for things that are soooo complex? Don't have an answer to that one!

IME, you can teach a lot more people to create some form of art than would ever believe they can. You can also develop it on your own. But none of us is really starting from paleolithic scratch; we're all exposed to existing art forms. And natural visual stimulation is all around us. The genius Van Gogh was certainly mostly self-taught, but his letters and history expose the great degree to which he learned from what he saw others had done before creating something newer on his own.
 
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Artyczar

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I hear you Bart, you are, for the most part, self taught. But "self-taught" came to mean something in the art world, and it aligns with being naïve, and I do not think you were according to your descriptions. That's just my opinion. I now understand your mom never showed you, but maybe she encouraged you, I have no idea. Maybe she was a tyrant, or maybe she was completely indifferent, or maybe she painted in privacy and you never saw her do it. You weren't really exposed to it. She never gave you an idea of context and you never observed her actually making art. Fine.

My opinion, and it's JUST my opinion, I'm only just stating it. I think do observation of looking at other art is self-teaching. I do think reading in books is self-teaching. I do not think observation of making is being self-taught in any context. That is being taught how to DO. Do you understand the difference, at least in my view?

"One doesn't have to start with total ignorance to be self-taught in any discipline."

We are not talking about any discipline. We are talking about art, where the self-taught label is used by artists like a badge of pride. If you're not using it in that way, then ignore my words. I am not saying it better or worse, but I don't think artists can have it both ways.
 

rodhlann

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101
Out of curiosity, would you say that consuming YouTube "instruction" would be considered self taught? You are watching someone draw something in an attempt to learn their process, but the "teaching" is sought out intentionally instead of prescribed and there is no feedback on how your personal output based on the video or series. You still have to be able to decide for yourself whether your result is of similar quality to that being put forth by the "instructor", in that case. I don't personally use YouTube very often for the sake of learning, but as I understand it is a very popular option for what I would consider to be self-taught artists.

There's a lot of stuff that I would never have known how to do or conceptualize without seeing it on YouTube or Instagram or other online sources.
 

Bartc

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Arty, having seen someone doing gymnastics would not qualify me to risk my life and limb tumbling. Having seen someone paint (or paid attention to only a few minutes of hours of a painting) doesn't really qualify in my book as being taught. Your definition of being given concerted direction and confirmation on how to produce it would, IMO, but again it could be a matter of degree.

Did watching Bob Ross qualify in your book as being other than self-taught if you went on from a few episodes to paint? That's kind of debatable in my book, but not a major or concrete line.

As a kid I saw a film of Picasso painting. Didn't make me a painter.

Today I watch a lot of YouTube. Yes, that is instruction in many cases, some of it sort of formal, although not interactive like a live class. If that were my main/only intro to how to produce art, I did a lot of it, and then I went on to do it myself, I could see your point. That was not available when I was growing up, in fact not until I was in my 60s! I'm not really sure how hard I would argue that it is essentially any different (other than being live and animated) from reading a book on painting, which in my estimation is self=teaching. You could argue these points forever, but what would really be the point?

However you come to create, that you DO create is the point for me. That so many consider themselves "self-taught" confirms my experience that far more people are capable of learning how to do it than believe they are. And it's a gift to all of us that we have such good company.
 

Artyczar

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I appreciate you views. If you want, I could address each of your points within my opinions, which is what I am sharing. And I will keep restating that. It's my opinion within the realm of how I see this whole thing, and I am appreciating yours that you feel your are self-taught in art.

1. Gymnastics is not art. There is no such thing as the art term as "self-taught" in the field of gymnastics. It is an ART TERM.
2. A few minutes of watching someone paint probably doesn't count as being trained. That is really exaggerating my point.
3. If someone is watching Bob Ross on TV, they are not self-taught.
4. Watching Picasso painting in a film, again, under an hour of observation, probably isn't my point.
5. YOU watching lessons on YouTube at this point in your life doesn't matter. We didn't have the internet back then. I'm talking about the first 30 years of someone struggling through and learning the craft. You have already learned how to paint--however you got here.

You use the word "arguing" seems hard. I do not feel we are doing that. Aren't we just exchanging views? I only want you, and perhaps others to see the differences, in my view, what these terms could mean.

If someone stated their work was abstract and they were painting kittens and buildings, I would also say it was a pet peeve. (Especially if they stuck that in their Artist's statement to show to the world.) I have even more of a pet peeve when someone says they are an Outsider artist (which is definitely synonymous with a true and pure self-taught artist), just because their style of art looks naïve. One is a description, another is a story about the artist. These are the differences I am trying to point out and fall within my personal opinions. I'm not trying to say anything is "better" or worse. That is NOT my view.

And these are not hard and fast rules or anything, it's just a kind of baseline. We all have a baseline context for abstract expressionism, for "formal" training, for modern art, for aboriginal, what an apprenticeship is, etc.--words that have basic definitions. That is all. :)
 

ZenDruid

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I see a difference between "self-taught" and "outsider" art -outsiders being artists with almost no exposure to pictures or design. I don't think this would include tribal art or regional folk art, those are cultural and generational traditions. Children's art, which fascinates me, should be outsider art until the school takes them over. People making art as therapy, in or out of an institution, are often considered outsiders if they are creating on their own without any art instruction. Also those isolated from society.

Even though we have no academic BFA/MFA, we'd be hard pressed to find anyone on an internet arts forum who has had no exposure to arts education and materials.

Here's a good link that explains everything:

 
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Bartc

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Had never heard the term "Outsider Art". What was I missing? Hmm. Seems the human tendency to label, categorize and explain things has endless variation.

Anyway, Arty, I use the term "argument" not as a pejorative denoting hostility; rather the way we did in debate, as merely your position. Your opinion as you term it. "Self-taught" is anything but confined to art. It has a meaning in the general vernacular as relating to someone who learns a skill largely without formal instruction. Can be applied to athletics, chemistry, art, needlepoint....

Almost NOBODY today can claim to be "naive" (not "naif" as in art terms) about art totally. We do not live in the paleolithic, when art was invented and rare. We live surrounded by examples of art: pictures in many forms, logos, ads, painted objects, etc. We all see art all the time; our environment is loaded with it. Whether one has taken the time to try to understand it may be more to the point. But if done largely on your own, that fits my personal definition of "self-taught". YMMV.

I do not take offense at someone claiming to be an "artist", nor would I take offense (even if I would highly doubt) one claiming to be an abstract artist when painting photo-realism or any of the other pretty obvious contradictions. Neither do I take offense at someone claiming not to be an artist, because they feel they are an amateur or not good enough or create art forms that don't conform. We define ourselves, even as others always define us. Just the way of the world.

Easy to spend endless hours debating such points without having any appreciable effect on creation (either in art terms or the cosmos), IMO.
 

rodhlann

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101
I feel as though we might be approaching a break in the definition of self taught where no one who seeks to improve via external means is no longer self-taught, which seems a little extreme and gatekeep-y to me. I feel like if you have no formal education, but have taken the time to seek out ways to improve and learn how to create art independently then that would be enough to be "self-taught". I absolutely consider people who learned via Bob Ross, for example, to be self-taught because they, again, have no formal feedback system for their work. They are just using his show as a self-education proxy to learn what they might have otherwise been unable to learn completely isolated from art or other artists.

All of that said, I think that this is the healthy sort of debate I'm happy to see on an art forum :) It is interesting to see how artists perceive their backgrounds and skillsets and how they interpret that in the greater forum of art as a whole.
 

Bartc

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Very good points, Rodhlann, and I suspect we agree on those.

Honestly, what gets my back up is all the hardship (emotional, physical or economic) that artists are put through in our society. Whether "amateur" or "professional", it seems we mostly all endure some level of criticism, even from fellow artists. And for those of you who try to make any sort of living from it, our society is anything but supportive! It pains me to see my fellows enduring any or all of that, just because we have creative urges. What a loss to our culture.

Imagine the guy 40,000 years ago who mixed some charcoal with melted fat, took a mouthful, held his hand up to a rock wall, and spritzed an outline of his hand. The world's first "artist" and a graffito at that! Mr. Invented Spray Painting. Imagine his fellow cave dwellers making fun of him or telling him, "That's nice, but you're still on berry picking detail tomorrow." Then the guy who did the same painting stick figures of hunters with his fingers (a major advancement in technique and tools). If he had writing the caption would have said, "Vote Fred Flintstone for Hunter of the Year!" Then the man/woman who took it to another whole level painting game animals he knew well from needing to know them well to survive. Some joker probably told him/her that they had the antlers wrong. And so on. In some cultures artists (like teachers) are revered; in ours, something quite a bit less so. Sigh.
 
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