Shop Talk

Open Discussion: Is it Better to be Formally Trained or Self-Taught?

"The less you know about a field, the better your odds. Dumb boldness is the best way to approach a new challenge." - Jerry Seinfeld

For this week’s Open Discussion, I’d like to ask a two-pronged question: do you think it’s better for an artist to be self-taught or educated at art school? And secondly, which are you? Are you self-taught or have you been through an artistic course with formal training?

Many self-taught artists I know have idiosyncratic styles which seem to be a result of having private space to develop their own skills and aesthetic. Inversely, I’ve known art school educated artists who have inadvertently created artwork which is a carbon copy of their teachers’ or fallen into a trap of making artwork that looks like artwork, rather than creating original designs.

Being self-taught also allows for a freedom to move easily between disciplines and mediums, without the commitment to a university department. A self-taught art practice, if it’s a hobby or a serious career move, can be energized by the power of not knowing traditional techniques, which can lead to creating something truly special.

Also, when forging your own path, you are pretty much forced to discover that artistic networks and communities aren’t necessarily bound to localities, especially in the way artwork is often consumed online. Now more than ever, being self-taught means finding your own peers (through Redbubble and social media), that you choose – rather than being lumped in with your classmates.

"The aspirant to draftsman" Studio Pouch by pepetto

But, art school educated artists can have a tight community and network of “real-life” people with whom they have a shared experiences. They can be lucky enough to be part of a movement of people from the same school or program, like the Young British Artists (sometimes known as the YBAs) or the Dusseldorf School of Photography artists from Germany. Art school gives you structure, and structure can be a great asset when it comes to keeping up with your creativity.

I did four years at art school and would do it again in a heartbeat. Not because of any perceived prestige or access to resources; but because of the community and networking opportunities it gave me. Maybe it’s better to find a community of peers then try to slog it out alone?

So what do you think of being self-taught or formally educated? Did you go to art school and feel it wasn’t really worth it? Are you self-taught and doing better than you ever imagined? And what are the merits or pitfalls of going to art school versus going it alone?

Let’s discuss in the comments below.

[Source: Austin Kleon]