Does an Art Education Matter?

Whenever I’m talking to artists about their biographies or resumes, the question of art education, or lack thereof, often comes up. Artists who have completed extensive academic training want to know how best to leverage that training to build their credibility. Artists who don’t have formal training, want to know if it will hurt their prospects for gallery representation and sales.

Both those that have been formally trained, and those who haven’t, are curious to know how much I think art education matters. I suspect, those who went through extensive schooling want to know if it was worth it. Self-taught artists wonder if they should matriculate or face the consequences.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to the question, “Is an art education worth the investment?”

Let me approach it this way – the following list can be advantages to a formal education:

  • Technical Training. For some styles, subjects and media, a formal, academic environment is an efficient, effective way to learn the techniques required to become proficient in creating the work.
  • Structured Learning Environment. Some artists are predisposed to learn best in the formal environment that an educational institution will provide. The academic classroom and atelier, along with the relationships built with teachers and fellow students, can nurture learning and development.
  • Expansion of Horizons. In addition to learning techniques specific to your style, during a formal academic education, you will likely have the opportunity to try your hands at other media, styles, and techniques. This exploration will broaden your horizons and enrich your understanding of your craft. Art students spend time immersing themselves in art history as well, giving them perspective on their work.
  • Credentials. A degree in the arts can help you on many levels, especially if you wish to teach, or take a position in an arts organization.

I also see the downside to pursuing a degree:

  • The Cost. Tuition continues to climb, and you can count on a BFA or a BA costing tens of thousands of dollars or more. Unfortunately, according to AOL Finance, a fine arts degree is one of the ten lowest paying college majors.
  • The Time. Four years spent in art school creating what someone else is telling you to create, instead of creating what you want, can feel like a waste of time to some artists (an expensive waste of time . . .)
  • Stylistic Constraints. I met a gallery owner years ago who said he wouldn’t typically represent artists with degrees because he felt they were too uptight in their work. I think he was probably exaggerating his opinion a bit, and I also think that broad prejudices like this are counterproductive, but it does make some sense that some artists who are trained in academia might be more artistically conservative.

There are certainly many other benefits to both sides of the equation, and I’ll count on you sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

As a gallery owner, however, when the question is put to me, the artist is generally wondering what impact their education level has on my decision whether to represent their work in my gallery.

The truth is, education has almost no direct impact, though it can have an indirect influence.

When I’m evaluating an artist’s work for representation, the key factors are the quality and consistency of the work, the personality of the artist, and the artist’s track record of sales. I can’t remember a time that I asked or thought about the artist’s education.

With that said, there have certainly been artists that I’ve selected for the gallery whose work is of the quality that it is because of an academic background. Some artists can only achieve their vision and their artistic destiny by gaining an academic training. For these artists, an art education is a critical means to an end – it can’t be an end in and of itself, and an education alone doesn’t guarantee artistic or commercial success.

There are other artists who will better spend their time gaining their own education in non-traditional ways.

One final thought. Of my top ten selling artists, four have degrees in fine art, six do not.

How Important Do You Think an Art Education Is?

Do you have a fine art degree? If you do, do you feel it’s helped you? If not, do you feel you’ve been handicapped by the lack of a degree? How much impact do you think an education has on an artist’s career? How much impact do you think it should have? Please share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the comments below.

 

 

 

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63 Comments

  1. I have a degree in fine art although the school at the time wasn’t an accredited or well-known art school. My degree helped me get my first job as a graphic artist, which taught me some much-needed marketing skills. My on-the-job training has given me a lot of resources when it comes to promoting myself and my work.

  2. Jason, I had to smile while reading this. Your response to the question was like a politician tip toeing through a mine field. You did pretty good!
    I am glad I spent those four years being formally trained in art. I know it helped me with developing my own personal style and a greater understanding of principles of design, color psychology, perspective and composition.
    All too often I’ll stand in a gallery and literally knot my eyebrows or scratch my head trying to figure out why an obesely large painting is demanding such an exorbitant price when it’s apparent that the artist either had no fundamental training in art or, if they did, felt their ideas were more important than the experienced and knowledgeable professor. I think, because of our current art market we, as art consumers as well as creators, have been duped into accepting slop for gourmet because of the ‘marketing’ by self indulgent art critics who look at ‘paying your dues’ in formal art education as stifling one’s creativity. I think a lot of this new acceptance of ‘new expressive’ art started with the push of ‘conceptual artmaking’. It was evident then that this new, shall I say movement, opened the door to ‘anything goes if it sells. I admire a successful artist who has had formal training. In my eyes, it shows in their work. I’ll sit back and wait for the tsunami of non-educational debaters.

    1. I agree that there is a lot of slop in the Abstract Expressionist and Mark Making genre of art. It seems to be what the public demands right now and the market is glutted with it. However, I must say that there are a handful of Contemporary Abstract Expressionists who clearly know what they are doing concerning their color theory and composition and are mindful in what they are doing. Sometimes I look at one of these “abstracts” which should more appropriately be called “non-objective” and just shake my head because it is clearly someone just throwing paint around.

      1. I am a “Self-Taught” artist. I have entered Juried shows and felt “looked down upon” by those other artists who entered who have their degrees because I have no degree. However, that does not stop me from going to other people whose art I admireeither onlin or in classes to gain knowledge. And it does not keep me form going to Amazon to purchase books about the people in history whose work I admire most or techniques I might want to try. Just because I did not “go to school” in a classroom for a set amount of time does not mean I did not “go to school”. I just schooled myself in a different time frame as my money and time allowed. Yes, I wish I could have gotten a degree. But finances and 3 kids did not allow that.

        1. While I happen to have had an excellent training and, among other degrees, a Bachelor of Art with a studio concentration (how “straight art” happened to be classified.) I do not know why the education of an individual would have anything to do with entry into a show or a sale, as the decision should rest on the work its self. After all, that is what the public sees. I can sound great on paper, but only one small creative area (ceramic portraiture) and some washes withstand even my own critical review. I might add that a quality education teaches one how to observe, question, and reach decisions. This requires a broader “education” than most majors even come close to offering. Although I struggled to make C’s in Art History coursework, I laughed as those from other majors enrolled thinking “an easy upperdivvision A” but fell by the wayside when required to understand and communicate architecture, politics, psychology, marketing and other financial issues, religion, and cultural norms as they applied to a small slide shown for only a few seconds. While I attained all but the practice teaching in Special Education K-12, a minor in Psychology, a minor in Russion language, and post graduate education leading to twenty years as a forensic psychologist, I believe I may have been aided most by those two C’s in Art History and a nightly dose of Sherlock Holmes.

    2. Thanks Brad – that’s exactly how it feels (a minefield). I appreciate your perspective and perspective of other readers. I’m happy to note that the art world seems to be wide enough to accomodate a vast array of art and artists with different ideas and educational backgrounds. I don’t think we’ll find an objective “answer” to this question, rather each artist and art lover will have to find their own.

        1. I like your comment, Sylvia. I soent my first twenty years as an illustrator pretty sure I was a fraud because I hadn’t gone to art school, then spent more years entering a fine art career with classes, sure that my illustration skills kept my work from being painterly. What I was doing was paying my dues with experience, learning consistency, catching up with skills that I felt kept me from making the art I could envision. I think the only thing I have other than admiration for those that have a fine art degree is that, like musicians playing in the bars, perfection often does not guarantee a connection to the public with our art.

  3. My 9+ years of academic and specialized study were incredibly important to me, as an artist and as a person. The number one benefit, in my opinion, was the great expansion of horizons. Art history classes totally changed my understanding of artwork past and present. New worlds of possibility were opened up to me by experimenting in different media and techniques. I gained confidence through positive feedback and even my non-art classes gave me a far broader level of experience than I ever would have had on my own. I was fortunate that I received lots of grants and scholarships and was able to pay off the balance with a very small inheritance. I worked full-time running a small business while completing my education. It was a life-changing experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it was the main contribution to a lifetime of curiosity and learning. I should note that I was almost 40 when I started. Can one develop excellent artistic skills without formal education? Undoubtedly. And for some personalities the things I gained from education come naturally. But I’m incredibly grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity to discover so much more than I otherwise would have.

    1. I think a college education is about the same as fast-forwarding through life. If you actually live with your eyes open and your brain turned on, you will end up in the same place, only much later.

      I’ve spoken with some college degree holders and I’m astounded with how naive they can be. Life rips the retainer walls down and enlarges the picture. It would have been nice to have the *advantage* of a college degree, but when I was that age, it wasn’t even a choice. So I muddle . . .

    2. I agree with Gail. I was 47 when I received my degree BFA. Not much of a degree to show off but it was a life changing experience for me. Art history taught me that Art reflects culture, the culture of the artist, that it is held in esteem with the history of human kind. For the first time in my life I felt that my talent had value if only to my self understanding. I learned that the visual arts, all the arts, are a means of communication. I was not raised with the idea that art had value. I never saw an art museum until I was 35. I am glad to have the degree and I do continue to use hone my craft, to use my knowledge, to paint my mind even though it may be only for me.

  4. Hoo Boy. What a question. I don’t think a good education can ever hurt an artist. I understand the cost question is very real and often excludes formal training. One can become a really, really good artist without formal training, absolutely. However, it is difficult to replace the discipline, the information, and the exposure to top notch artists that a GOOD art education has to offer. I have seen artists make the same basic mistakes over and over for years that a really good foundation course in color and design would take care of. I have had the good fortune to teach some nontraditional art students who are thrilled to get a nugget of information that they somehow missed along the way. Unfortunately, just about everything in our culture has become a commodity, and as such, the real value has been obscured. Far too often we are seduced by success being equated with sales or notoriety.
    A formally educated artist and a “self-educated” artist have an equal responsibility to grow and learn from people and artwork they respect and admire. Ideally, this goes on throughout the artist’s life. Thank you for letting me throw in my two bits!

  5. I have a Fine Art degree and I am very proud of it and thankful to have had the opportunity to study art. I think it helped broaden my horizons having studied (and loved) art history and having the chance to try out a lot of media helped me understand which one would do the trick for whatever I want to accomplish. Having said all that, I don’t think it helps me sell my art. It helps me, but not my sales. Nowadays, there are so many teachers and great classes on-line that you can learn anything. I think it is all a personal decision; not necessarily a requirement.

  6. I curated two large shows in two different cities which brought in many works of art by artists who were very new to the arts (and were shockingly talented), plus many with a resume of academic credentials pages long.
    Because of the broad scope of artists entering, I didn’t want the shows to be a contest of who had the most education and therefore whose works should be taken more seriously, but and exhibition of talent plus nothing else.
    This didn’t sit too well with the highly educated, until I asked them why they lacked confidence in their own artistic skill? Why didn’t they want to be represented on a level field?
    The work I chose was beautiful and well done, covering an enormous space. There was an excited buzz in the building and “all” the work was admired.

  7. I totally agree with everything Brad has said. I have a Master’s degree in Art Education and it changed everything I did with regard to art. I finished my career as an Art Specialist in a high school. As a painter who spent 13 years previously painting under an artist who was self taught, I had no clue about elements and principles of design for all these years. He would take a group of colours, put them on a plate and we had to figure out whatever colours we wanted to use to do a painting. I am now a co op member of three art galleries in which I work and I now can choose artists whose work we think will fit with the caliber of art we want. Even though my art education was expensive (having gone to another country to study) I would never regret it.

  8. Sculptor Kevin Caron, who has a successful full-time career as an artist, has been told often – inevitably by art educators – that it’s a good thing that he didn’t go to art school. I suspect it is the final reason you note, that it might dampen his remarkable creativity. That being said, now that he has confidence in his creativity, I think it might be good for him to go and gather the other benefits ….

  9. Or could we ask whether we provide adequate art education in schools and colleges to enable societies to engage sufficiently with, and support artists who have been trained to create higher level art?

  10. I do not have a formal degree in art. Even my BS in math and physics was self taught (though I did go to uni for my masters in astrophysics). Some of us learn more effectively taking alternate paths.

    That said, I have availed myself of non-accredited art education. First, just out of high school, at Silvermine (back before they got accreditation), then a few classes at Art Students League and School of Visual Arts (both in NYC). One of these was less than useful but it was not a total waste of funds.

    What I think is useful about taking classes in any art school setting is the chance to explore art forms that one might not otherwise be able to do. What I think is a waste of time, is the fact that most university degrees are a waste of time, effort and money as these institutions more and more focus on their “business models” and less on the point of an advanced degree in the first place.

  11. I do not have a degree in art but I would never call myself self taught. I have sought out art instruction both private and through workshops. I think one difference is my art education is probably that it is not as broad and I have had less exposure to subject matter and mediums than I would get in a more formal setting. I did create some of this exposure myself through workshops.

  12. I feel quite proud of having acquired a formal education in art that resulted in a degree or two. However I learned a great deal more while being an artist as well as taking workshops from artists I felt were inspirational to my own vision and direction. I believe the education was helpful in moulding the person I have become but not essential to being an artist. Often I see work by artists who are so experimental or free that they use materials with no regard for permanence. An example would be an artist who mixes acrylic paint with oil paint and sand. Or as Brad (above) comments that artists who pursue new expressive art think it’s worth so much. In my opinion we learn from those masters who have gone before us and continue the chain through history. I prefer to hope that art has integrity and longevity. Perhaps a message. Otherwise it’s just “stuff”, some that ends up in garages and landfills.

  13. I am self taught and didn’t start painting until late in life therefore my education took me to the computer field. The two things I’m sorry I ddin’t get because of no formal art education was art history and color theory–both of which you can get in most any college by signing up for those classes. I recently was on a jury panel where my two co-judges were academically trained and taught college courses in art. I felt I held my own quite nicely because I’m proud of my ability to see art critically based on my informal education of workshops, critique groups (highly recommended), visiting art museums regularly, and reading. I embrace my self-taught circumstances and have learned not to make excuses as if I am “less than” what they are. The more confident you are the less your background makes any difference at all.

  14. I went to university and got a BFA. The art history courses were extensive and enlightened . But I also took weekend workshops on techniques which I found just as valuable . I think the most valuable thing I did was to take teacher training in high school art. Making up course outlines, examples, lessons and demos were the best things that could have happened to me.

  15. I am a mostly self taught artist. When I went to a community college I had a competent drawing teacher which was nice. The professor I had for painting was not nice. He really did not care for me and I was not able to learn how to paint from him. I did not get any technical advice at all. Most of the students in the class were more advanced and more to his liking so I did not get what I needed. I have suffered for lack of technical expertise which is hard to find and learn on your own. The best teacher I had was at a Parks and Recreation class. It was a life drawing class, he chose excellent models and used them very well. He seemed to be able to reach students and give them what they needed. He was gently in his criticism and spot on in his teachings. I learned more from him than I did in college.

    There have been those who would not even look at my work because there was no degree, it is hard.
    But if you are not learning in college what is the point?

  16. I have an art education but focused on Graphic Design and Illustration (back before computers changed the eintire field) but at a technical college. The drawing, color and composition classes have helped me in both graphic design and for painting. What has helped me grow artistically is taking workshops from other artists. The best instructors in those workshops are ones that have a formal education. Its easy to spot the ones that don’t–they don’t talk “color theory.” I can’t imagine that it helps an artist grow if she says add blue to that shadow without a little more info. Which blue? Cool or Warm? and what does cool or warm mean? When I am asked what to do, I try to explain why I’m picking the Ultramarine blue versus Prussian Blue. I think someone could learn color by trial and error, but why not learn that and then spend your time creating art.

    1. I think you summed it up, more artists need to pass on their wisdom to the up and coming who show interest in their craft, information should be shared freely . Artist are strong when they unite

  17. Having an education in fine arts (or not) can mean different things to different people-never will be a finite answer. Personally, when I began my studies I was very confused expecting to get a grasp on techniques. However, the philosophy of the school was to allow for the various avenues that would lead to the discovery of your unique creativity-creativity being more important than technique which is also very personal. This took me to a whole new level which made a lot of sense. I had to discover my own arsenal of techniques. Now, I can do nothing but enjoy the creative experience. As for who really cares about my educational experiences, I don’t care. I would much rather be judged by my creative output which is my bottom line. Perhaps it’s all about ownership.

  18. My path has been one of growing up in a family of artists. Possibly like you Jason it was all around me all the time. I absorbed many things at home before going to more formal training in unaccredited art schools. I was uninterested in the degree. It was drawing, painting and sculpture all day.
    After two years I felt I had enough to go it without schools. I also had to make a living. So in some part I am a little of both schooled and unschooled. There were some number of years for me to grow out of the schooling and explore on my own. We all must go it on our own and break with what we are taught, knowingly break some rules possibly.

  19. Today’s art schools are very different than most schools years ago. Many schools expect a student to pick their direction upfront and stick to it throughout their studies instead of laying down a foundation and allowing for exploration and growth. Many professional artists who did not have a formal training are better off in some ways, in that they are not burdened with an imposed style which is at times difficult to shake. A schooling background can be beneficial for galleries to help market you, however it is in no way a determining factor in acceptance into most galleries. If your self esteem is the factor, bear in mind that many great artists such as Degas, Van Gogh, Rousseau, Kahlo, Pollock, Dial and Gauguin, (to name but a few) had no schooling. Be honest with your resume, and remember that it is your work which is the determining factor.

  20. I’ll have to say that in my 300 plus art shows, gallery shows, etc. I do not remember one time when I was asked about my art education. Mostly the gallery owner or art show promoter wanted to see slides or photographs of my art and they made their decisions from that.

    1. I’ve never been asked, either. Among the art connections I have, whether one has a degree or not isn’t much discussed. The value in my education is the big picture, (biology, history, English, etc!), as well as it helping me get art industry jobs in and after college. That allowed me to make a living and get lots of practical experience with materials and techniques I would have been unable to afford to do at home.

      We all learn most from doing, whether it’s in class or at home. With books, videos, and workshops, today’s ‘self taught’ artists have actually been exposed to a great deal of instrucuction.

      Tuition is the big hurdle now! If I was just starting out nowadays I couldn’t afford it. When I went it was relatively cheap, and there were more grants and scholarships available as financial aid that were based on need and grades.

  21. I am completely untrained in painting, beyond finger paints and touching on the color wheel in grade school.

    I work to stay that way.

    That would not work if I were a photo-realistic painter, obviously. But painting purely abstract pieces, it frees me from worry about inadvertantly poaching someone else’s work or technique. It is all mine, and any similarities to someone else’s work is purely parallel evolution.

    I have a lot of education in non-art fields, and one insight that has given me is that lots of education does not guarantee good output. That is ten times true for art, where appreciation is purely subjective.

    I do not make my living painting. That also frees me to paint as I wish.

  22. When I was a gallery owner I had several artists come into the gallery. If they started out with I studied with Joe Shmoe and Patty Blagh and I have a degree from XYZ University, the artist is often not very talented. If they feel the classes they have taken or the collage they attended will make them a good artists they are in many cases a legend in their own mind. I don’t care what background you have in your studies of art, you can NOT learn to be talented or creative. I agree if you have the talent you can fine tune it. I use to always tell artists, ” If you are going to take an art class, be sure you like the style of the artist that is teaching you, because you will be influenced by their style. I do see that people want a story about the artist. I am fortunate to be in the entertainment business and have theater friends. The late Joan Fontaine was good friend and a collector of my work, Betty White has a painting of mine as well as Doris Day. Two of my paintings were rented by the property master of Warner Brothers for the movie ” Father Figures “, Unfortunately they never made a scene in the movie. I also had a painting used in the TV Series Pure Genius . It seems people are more impressed by the famous people who collect the artists work than their education.

  23. Nope.The quality of work speaks for itself. No one in 18 years has ever asked to see my degree or credentials; especially not customers and clients.

  24. I never finished my art degree. At age 55 I sat down with my husband to calculate how much it would cost and how long it would take to obtain my BFA. I really wanted it!

    We came up with the proper figures and then he said, “Imagine that you have a diploma in your hand right now. Tell me, what you would do with it?”

    “Well, I’d open an art studio, produce work for galleries and teach adult art students.”

    Lol. I was ALREADY successful at all of those things.

    If I was younger I would have gone for it, but to create a three-year pause for full time schooling at that time would have wreaked havoc on my business model.

    I took the money and used it for workshops, classes, and framing!

  25. Until recently I felt pretty self-conscious about not having a degree when in the company of other artists. I realized I had to stop feeling like that. I took art history and a couple of college drawing classes, workshops, and other courses while pursuing another degree. The rest comes from a lot of practice, books, looking at art, and videos. I keep learning. Like others said, art history opened my eyes and gave me a broader perspective. It helps myself in seeing art differently. I think always being open to learning is one of the most important things. I would have loved to have an art degree, and probably miss out on some things, but I’m happy with where I am now.

  26. I think that this topic is as uniquely dynamic as what makes each artist unique. I think it also depends on what the artist values and where their talents lie. I’ve seen successful artists who have never stepped toe in an institution of higher learning who are millionaires as well as highly-educated artists who aren’t making a living in art. For some, money isn’t the issue.

    I went to the Vincent van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. They had the exhibit organized chronologically. Vincent’s early work was understandably crude, and showed little to no understanding of composition, color theory, perspective, etc. As each room displayed progressively later works, the improvement in technique showed as the artist matured. The work at the end of the exhibit was enough to bring one to tears. Vincent’s formal schooling was limited. But Vincent didn’t make a living painting, and he had issues. Which brings up the topic of charisma.

    I think an artist can make it with or without formal education if their work has charisma and/or the artist has charisma. But who can define charisma? It’s that X-Factor. That quirkiness. That zing. That cause. That sophistication. That kitsch. It’s that “hot” in the hot n’ tot. You know it when you see it.

    I also think that an artist who works really hard at school and earns scholarships/grants and graduates on the Dean’s List from a major university in art stands a good chance of getting looked at more often and taken seriously. I would think marketing those accomplishments can have a positive effect on collectors in justifying paying $20,000.00 and up for a painting. The reasoning might include that the university had enough faith to pay the artist’s tuition because the artist earned it, and the professors graded the artist high enough to earn the distinctions. I don’t think the degree or the distinctions will get the artist out of “paying their dues” or having to create marketable work, as there’s no replacement for time, hard work, and that charisma. I’m wondering if collectors in upscale markets like Aspen and Scottsdale feel an association or confidence in artists who’ve graduated with high honors from major universities? I would love to hear opinions and experience on this subject. Thanks.

  27. I have a bachelors’ degree in Fine Art and also a masters’ degree in Art Therapy. I would not have changed either one if the decision were put to me today! The main advantage higher education has is not the technical, marketing or historical knowledge one receives, it is the development of the ability to be an artist throughout life. Everyone knows that styles, materials and techniques change and go in and out of favor. What is learned, either in a structured academic situation or in non academic interaction eventually has to be molded into personal expression and responsibility for one’s own values. Education helps motivate students by demanding production, offering feedback, mentoring and creating a holding space for learning. Not having a college education demands more self direction but fails to develop other parts of personality. Education is particularly useful in helping students become excellent communicators, able to express themselves in a culturally diverse world and to obtain insight into their own processes. Currently there is pressure upon many schools, colleges and universities to develop curriculums that lead quickly to a specific, financially sustaining job. I think this trend undermines the core asset of a higher education, which is to expand and expose students to a higher quality of living. But, no matter how one achieves the ability to consistently produce new forms of art, it is the art making itself that creates a life worth living, not the money earned by it.

    1. Agree, it’s a big picture thing, not just about art classes. It’s sad that this is financially out of reach for many now. We are better as a country when anyone who wants to and can keep up their grades can get higher education.

  28. I’ve pondered this subject most of my adult life.
    I see young people with their brand new MFA degrees working in basically clerical positions for minimum wage (and a few PhD degrees too) because the number of jobs available is so limited compared to the number of people having degrees. After 6- 8 years of study, I find that very sad.
    I have a teaching degree in Fine Art, double major. Most of my teachers were wonderful but I came away from the university feeling that I couldn’t draw well. When I began teaching high school Art, I often thought the young students came with much more raw talent that I had. Perhaps it was only my own lack of confidence at that early age. But from this point in my life, I say that my “talent” was hard-won by hours and hours of work.
    About 8 years after getting my first teaching job, I had a windfall that allowed me to go to France for a year and I chose to attend art school. Because I had already been an art teacher, the professors didn’t quite know what to do with me. I barely spoke the language. So I sat in my corner of the room and basically did self-directed study, 8 hours a day Monday to Friday, benefitting from the models for life-drawing and benefitting also from the surroundings – a place to put my equipment and drawing board, easels at my disposal for paintings I did, and a person to whom I could refer when I couldn’t see my way out of a painting problem.
    I found I had learned everything I needed in order to create good art whilst I was in University in Canada. I simply needed to understand what I learned and internalize it. But I also got great feedback from comments other artists made about my work.
    One asked, “Don’t you ever consider the effects of light?” I began to think about it. Now light and shadows are one of my keenest interests. Another complained about subject matter – “Women only paint sickly sweet landscapes and flowers”. My angry reaction made me think about other things to paint – (“What are we supposed to do… go and do laundry?” and “Take the advice to writers – “Write what you know” became, in my case, “paint what you know”. I developed my own subject matter and brought deeper meaning to my work.
    I also spent a lot of time in museums and art galleries and in the library seeking out information about other artists and studying the techniques of oil painting, pigments, varnishes and painting media.

    At the end of one year, I found the means to go back for a second and then a third and then a fourth until I got a diploma from the institution.
    All of these things have influenced my work which I have been doing now for almost 50 years.
    My conclusion? I think we need both – some formal training, so that we can speak the language of art – form, shape, colour, texture, pattern, rhythm, composition; and so that we can broaden our techniques to produce works of art that last. But we also need to be self-directed, teach ourselves constantly and learn from others.

    What creates mature work is constant practive. My pieces from my youth are timid, small and lacking in depth. My confidence in my work has evolved over the years and it shows.
    Too much education or only self education and it is evident in the work. Balance is good. I am always willing to learn something new.

  29. I got a degree when I decided what kind of work I wanted to do and wanted a short-cut to get there. The biggest value in an education–besides the exposure to many different kinds of art over history is the interaction between students and faculty. Developing a method of critiqueing work even when the subject matter is not your favorite is invaluable in looking at your own work. Finding a critique group is not easy…particularly when your medium is fiber and is derived from quilting.

    The biggest problem I had with the education is that many students tried to produce work without the basics in handling the materials. Poor craftmanship shouts at me–and I always wonder to what heights the artist could reach if they had spent time learning the basics of their art-form.

  30. Agreed, galleries representation is not based on an art degree.

    For the average artist, art school may help. (As in being a good all round artist.) For the natural genius, art school probably does not help their art.

  31. I have half an art degree. In the 90s in Michigan the curriculum was hyper-focused on the advertising industry, and that put me off. I decided I could “whore” words and preferred to let my visual muse work when she wanted to, rather than learning how to meet a deadline. Quite possibly I could have gotten to where I am now sooner had I continued in art instead of communications. I will say I find myself using the skills i learned in college at surprising times, decades later – but this is also true of what I learned in other courses as well, including writing. I love those a-ha moments.

  32. I think the greatest benefit comes not necessarily from a formal art education though having a degree is most valuable if you want to get a job with an art institution or teach, but becoming a good artist depends first and foremost on strong interest and work at it every day as much as you can, and the more you can associate with and watch and learn from good artists, the better.

  33. An art education can help you in a variety of ways, by helping you network and learn new techniques from people who have been working in the art field their entire lives.

    But I don’t think it is necessary. I got my degree in digital art but after graduating I found myself drawn to more traditional works.

    It is all up to your current circumstances and preferences.

  34. I have a BFA in studio art, and for me it was important as a confidence builder. I think that I needed the degree to feel okay about myself. Then I went back for a masters in education so I would have a steady paycheck. I don’t regret my degree.

  35. It mattered a great deal to me that I went to art school. My degrees represent a recognition of serious focused hard work and a collegial acceptance of my work and me as a practicing artist with a professional outlook. There was a breadth and depth to my time there and valued connections to my instructors and their work. It was an incubator (to use the think tank term).

    I have met and am friends with artists who did not go to formal art school but just started out. They all lack a certain worldliness that is gained from b road exposure, but that was a choice just as my going to school was a choice.
    But here’s the issue that I can not get beyond. We as human beings and as artists all have a series of lessons to be learned. More often than not, there has been an another who has intersected with our learning. Learning is not restricted to a formal classroom and neither are our influencers and teachers. Maybe this is the way it was modeled as I grew up but I have always been more than willing to attribute what I’ve gained from others, to them.

    So, I chafe at the term “self-taught”. Whenever I hear someone proclaim that as some sort of license all I can think is how unkind and ungracious that person is not to acknowledge those who worked with or helped along that person.

    A personal case in point. As an early teen, I was into pastels. I had gotten a starter set as a gift and had pretty much burned through the colors. We had an art supply store in a nearby town and my parents and I went. The clerk took me in hand and spent time explaining what pastels were and the kinds of surfaces one could use. And then, he brought me over to the pastel case and pulled open a drawer. There had to be at east 30 blues. My world exploded. So, I worked on a velour paper with Grumbacher pastels for the first time. I’m not sure where I would be today had that clerk not taken the time for a teachable moment that could make a difference. [I think my parents got a lesson too because they purchased the better materials]

    I really hope there could be a different term to re-place what I see as a kind of arrogance in using “Self-taught” . We all are self-teaching every day we work, and in the midst of that work, no doubt at a rare moment the recollection of one of those “teachable moments” bubbles to the surface.
    Apologies for the length.

  36. I come from a family ( maternally) that values fine art, sports and sciences and a university degree in a career that fits us. I have been photographing since age 8 whilst competing in swimming. I learned from the masters like Ansel and Edward and Brett Weston along with others in my home town by going to receptions as a kid and talking with them. My library had their prints, I was imprinted lol. My career was in medicine as a Physio but I pursued another degree in fine arts and Russian literature. I have yet to hear any gallery tell me my art is not art and when speaking with galleries- will learn to speak plainly and directly as I lost my hearing at birth. Being articulate and knowledgble goes a long way to promote a tactful respect towards all kinds of art and all kinds of galleries who still do not think photography is a fine art.

  37. A non traditional student I graduated from a major art institution at age 51. It changed my life. I am now a full time working artist altho my BFA degree was as an interior designer…and magna cum laude I am proud to say. I mention this bc it included professional skills and the depth of art history and related courses that has become such an integral part of my work. It’s not just about paint and technique.
    I went on to a fifth year of independent study as well. My freshman year was all studio art. I use this broad range of art education every day and feel confident to overlap disciplines as a result.

    As for boosting my career I am not sure. Today marketing skills are also needed to do that. Another field altogether. But for learning to accept criticism, remain objective and understand the research and creative process involved, I am forever grateful for my experience.

  38. My feeling is that one should get the best education available to them. All my life I have loved to draw. I learned some basics from books and artists teaching at galleries, and I drew constantly. I started to learn to paint ten years ago and wish I could have had more formal training to speed up the process, but I have continued to learn through books, videos and workshops from artists who’s work I admire. I’m getting there, but more slowly than I might have with a good art school education. I sell work in shows and have gallery representation, but I continue to hunger, and pay, for more education. I think regardless of whether you want to be a representational artist or an abstract artist, you still need good design skills and knowledge of composition and color theory to put out good work. I also have to ask, is anyone really “self-taught” unless they have been locked in a basement all their lives?

  39. In the country I live in, there is a lot of snobbery over qualifications. It used to be that with no ‘papers’ Nilo gallery or for that matter art fair,vwould even begin to consider you. In the past five years or so though that had started to change a little and now there are alternative venues and art groups that allow indie artists to be part of an alternative scene.

    I did take two two-year part-time courses once, that did introduce me to different media and techniques but did also encounter the problem already mentioned, that I was not really allowed to paint what I wanted, that in fact my earlier work had no validity. Some of that I now suspect was down to the dogmatism of the art theory of the time.

    A the same, I would be delighted if I could ever include my past work towards modes for a degree.

  40. Hi to Lynda Stevens,

    I did get a BA in Fine Arts from Old Dominion University in 1982 when I was 39 yeas old just to finish a cycle of 3 1/2 years at DePaul U. in Chicago. Didn’t ever want to be a gym teacher, my Physical Education program was changed and would extend U years by 2. My fiancée was going to Viet Nam in a year so we opted to get married in 1965 before he went.

    Move on to1980 while he was stationed in Norfolk, VA and I decided to finish my U education but went with art because it was where my heart was. I was able to transfer over 90 hours from De Paul with only a math course needed. Took geometry, enjoyed it.

    What I really want to tell Lynda is that I submitted all of my Batik work info and all of my gem and silver smithing work and got 6 hours more of credit applied to my degree. So think about going back to school and submitting past artwork skills and accomplishments for credit.

    I’m glad I got my degree…I haven’t found it necessary as a working and exhibiting artist, but I have this satisfaction of finishing something I started, but, in the fashion of my choice.

    There was such a joy in taking course after course of practical art classes AND so much art history. I graduated Magna Cum Laude at 39 years of age with 140 credits. It was great. Interestingly, I already had a successful Batik career showing and teaching, before re-entering a U.

  41. I am American and have a Master’s degree from the Royal College of Art, London. The three years that I spent there were life changing. The professors were brilliant minds – one on one tutoring sessions were held once a week in my studio space (which, at that time, was part of the Victoria and Albert Museum building which had been leased to the Royal College for one hundred years). Philosophical, aesthetic, historical, and political discussions were valued over technical skill instruction. And justly so as each artist developed his/her style out of their particular world view. And we were constantly challenged to discover that personal world view.

  42. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were not formally trained musicians. Despite or more likely because of that lack of “education”, they managed to change the trajectory of modern music and Influence future generations of musicians. And commercial success…well their music is still widely used in product marketing. They experimented and achieved great things because they had talent and creativity to spare naturally and in some cases, they didn’t know what they were doing was not acceptable “music theory”.
    I know we’re talking visual art, not music but the parallels are clear. My opinion is that if you have the opportunity to further your education, you’re a fool not to do so but education is the responsibility of the individual in all aspects of life. Read. Be self taught. Observe. Experiment. Never stop learning.
    I am an artist. I always have been. I knew this when I was a child but my life circumstances simply did not allow for a formal college education in anything. That said, after achieving some success in business and working for almost 20 years for one of the world’s largest corporations, I left that job. For the past 19 years, I’ve owned my own business, specializing in interior design with the artist’s touch. I offer a wide range of custom services, including painting of all types. I piece together a living as a working class creative. I do portraits and other paintings by commission. Many of the artists I know are formally trained. Many are not. My observation is that education does not trump natural ability.
    I guess my point is we are not all created equal. Sounds nice but it’s not true. Talent and wealth are not equally distributed among the masses. You play with the hand you are dealt. Mine is a good life.
    Hope yours is too; but don’t look down your nose at Artists that, for whatever reason, take a different path.

  43. Carole Fay Esk’ridge

    These are the questions that these thought-provoking answers have to lead me to ask myself?

    Is being an excellent Artist knowing that being a wise, loving, caring, well-rounded person that makes others happy is the real key to being best-educated Artists?
    Are you educating through self-taught or through university training enough that your art is continually helping you to communicate with others?
    Is working at your craft or art techniques very important to you?
    Are you creating art on a continual basis like two to three paintings a week?
    Have you developed a list of different media with basic square inch prices?
    Often in this old world, it is not what you do but who you know, are you reaching out to the buyers you want to sell to?
    Do You have a plan to find your customers?
    Do you have a passion for communicating what is important to you that reaches out to Kindred Souls?
    How can you focus in on who you want to sell to and finding them?
    Is an outstanding gallery or galleries a good move for you?
    Knowing enough about yourself to know what lifestyle you want?
    Knowing just money can make you miserable is it the first real key to happiness? What will you do with it to serve others?
    Do you take the time to care about others?
    What do you really want to accomplish in your life?
    What do you want to be remembered for when you die?
    Do you care about others so much that it radiates out of your business, marketing, advertising, communications interactions?

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