Are You a Self-Taught Artist . . . or Not?

Knowing whether you are a self-taught artist or not is something you may have to decide for yourself. Online, there are plenty of opinions about who really is or is not self-taught, mostly opinions of others who dabble in painting, creating crafts, poetry, and other creative hobbies. While we’ve talked about “outsider” artists on this site, maybe it’s a synonym, or perhaps it isn’t. Ultimately, it looks like each of us as a creative artist has to decide for ourselves whether we are or are not self-taught – but in the end, does it really matter?

Outsider art has been described online by many as artwork of a particular style – that which is “raw” or “primitive,” and often created by individuals who at some point in their lives have been institutionalized. One person claims that all outsider artists are self-taught, however the opposite is not true; while some self-taught artists of today may be outsiders, not all are.

While most artists agree that those who have had formal training in art are not self-taught, another individual who is a self-described lampworker (blown glass jewelry, beads, etc.) has the opinion that anyone who has ANY education in art – watching a DVD or YouTube video, reading through a tutorial, or downloading an ebook on the subject – is not a true self-taught artist.

If all this isn’t enough to leave you confused, yet another artist feel that ALL artists are self-taught in some way. Whether you learned to oil paint solely on your own by dredging up the talent and creativity from within yourself, or learned through workshops, magazines, teachers, and other artists, using these sources to shape your “artist within,” you are self-taught. In essence, not everyone can be an artist; it is a talent some have, and some do not. However, even those who have a passion and true talent for art may need to improve in some area. For instance, an artist may have problems painting a flower that looks realistic, even though all of the other elements of a painting are perfect. Does the fact that the artist searches for information on how to paint a flower mean that he or she is not self-taught? Hardly – quite the opposite, in fact.

The Free Dictionary defines self-taught art as “a genre of art and outdoor constructions made by untrained artists who do not recognize themselves as artists.” Synonyms listed following this definition include naive art, outsider art, primitive art, and vernacular art.

Hmmm . . . seems that anywhere you look, opinions and definitions all differ in regards to who is or who is not a self-taught artist. Maybe the best we can do is decide for ourselves, and put aside what anyone else thinks? Regardless, we are talented, passionate individuals who are driven to create – and do we really care whether we wear a label?

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