The uneducated artist

“Where did you study?… A question I get asked a lot as an artist, and when responding with “I didn’t”, it’s often met with disapproving ah ok’s or oh right wow’s, through compelled smiles, quickly followed by tips on my painting technique and methods. Obviously, it isn’t every person I come across, but one thing I have come to understand through my short time of being an artist is that there can be an elitist boldness that encroaches on some with a degree in fine art, although I’m not sure why?

I may not be able to tell a Monet from a Manet, but does that mean my work is any less than someone who has spent 3 years learning? As much as I appreciate the dedication it takes to do a degree, I don’t believe it means an artist’s work is any better than someone who didn’t. Something I hear often is, “You would never guess you didn’t study from your work!”. And I think it’s kind of a shame that someone would even try to guess. Many of the greats were self-taught, Frida Kahlo, Bill Traylor, even Van Gogh for the most part was self-taught. They didn’t go to school and look at them! I could spend £9,000 per year to learn the techniques of some of these self-taught icons if went to art school… It’s ironic, isn’t it?

Over the last couple of years, I have seen many opportunities shared online all aimed at graduates, from residencies to exhibitions to free studio spaces! Brilliant for those who have just got their degree, not so great for the talented sculpture that had a baby at 18 and had to work full-time. Or just those that decided university wasn’t for them. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning, over the years I have trained myself a lot to be able to paint and draw, but just because I’ve been taught in a different way doesn’t mean I haven’t been educated…it’s just a different approach.  To me being an artist is about 2 things – (disclaimer: neither are education)

The first is Freedom – To be able to create anything you want, without consequence, without being told, “this is wrong”. It is literally an expression you are creating; you’re inventing it! I mean, obviously if you’re a hyper realist painter it can go awry –  but you can change your style if you choose to do so. Artists are ever changing and growing, their work evolves over time and of course it will always be critiqued, but again that’s the freedom. To not only allow yourself to have free expression but allow your audience the free expression to judge it too, without that freedom of opinion I wouldn’t be writing this article!

Secondly – for me, art is about preservation. It’s about having an emotion, memory or a vision that impacted you that significantly that had to keep it around forever, it’s a story of someone’s experience. We wouldn’t know much about history without it. It’s one of the first representations of humanity, we can see humans telling stories through drawings almost 50,000 years ago… 50,000 years! Neanderthals and humans walked side by side, woolly mammoths roamed the earth, every day a fight for survival, yet someone still had a moment of inspiration to communicate their experience through art, without a thought if their composition was off or they’d be graded for their efforts, but to just freeze a moment in time forever

See, I think the way we define creativity should have nothing to do with education. Art is boundless and open; anyone can express themselves creatively and everyone should have the choice to do so. I truly believe the next Borgeois could be living within a remote village in the depths of Mongolia, the next Picasso is in a bleakly grey, uniformed building in Pyongyang, never to be discovered.  In my eyes, to define an artist by their education or knowledge contradicts the whole meaning of art. 

Art is something we don’t have to be rich to appreciate or privileged to achieve. So, to anyone out there who questions their worth as an artist because of their education just remember, you may not know the history of art, but you can still become the history of art.

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