To some extent, all visual artists are self-taught. Whether he or she spends years in art school or manages only their own lonely study of materials and technique, the artist learns to create through endless practice away from any instructor. They all learn best by doing.
The emergence of self-taught artists is made more prominent these days by the rise of technology and social media. Not only can an aspiring creator promote his or her work online without the constant need for gallery space or PR, there’s always the opportunity to add skills and styles that could improve chances for sales or gallery shows.
The combination of self-promotion and emerging technologies are driving a self-taught artist movement as professionals and aspiring creators alike have access to constantly evolving education and the means to tell the world they exist.
Brooklyn-based Grace Roselli holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and enjoyed solo exhibitions of her work at the Mar Silver Design Lab, the Anita Friedman Fine Arts Gallery and with Pentimenti gallery in Philadelphia. She’s currently documenting the relationship between women and their motorcycles in her Naked Bike Project — an endeavor that forced her to learn new digital art techniques beyond anything she picked up in school.
“When I started my own studio practice — and the urgency of what I had to say through my art went beyond what I knew — I’d experiment, read, talk to other people. I figured out how best to express my voice on my own. I learned Photoshop and other software and technology that didn’t exist in its current form when I first began as an artist.”
“Any artist that’s serious and ambitious about what he or she is making is going to be self-teaching. We’re going to reinvent our media, push and expand perceived limitations, grow and add to the human dialogue. You make and learn the tools to follow your voice, not the other way around.”
Dan Madigan was formally trained as a painter in the Boston area before heading to Los Angeles and a job in the Disney Art Department. However, most recently, he gained attention from buyers and art enthusiasts for his self-taught mastery of collage. He says any artist should avoid limiting themselves to just what they’re taught.
“I think art is intuitive and innate in all of us,” Madigan explains. “For me and my techniques in collage, I learned along the way. Every misstep or mistake is a point on the learning curve. I look back at some of my earlier collages and wish I could go back and change a few techniques and alter a few things. Those mistakes that I see as glaring are sign posts for me to not to follow.”
“I am sure that that some of the finished pieces by the most famous artists weren’t always what they originally envisioned. But, they seldom are. If your piece hasn’t change from conception to completion then you weren’t experimenting and learning enough along the way. It is up to the artists to explore other media or to challenge themselves within their own chosen discipline.”
Madigan believes the concept of a “discovered” self-taught artist can offer an attraction to the art world if there’s an aura of defiance around his or her work.
“Snobbery in the art community will always be there,” he adds. “The trick is ignoring and avoiding the naysayers and self-appointed experts to create what you want to create without having to answer to anyone or explain why you do what you do. You don’t have to create for the masses. Sometimes they the hardest thing is just creating for yourself.”
“The self-taught artist or the outsider does have a leg up in some ways because they have the mystique of being the true ‘free spirited,’ independent thinker. Their art has not been tainted by the homogenized standards established in the academic world.”
The Ox is a Midwest-based artist who uses that pseudonym to distinguish his work in experimental visual pieces from his actual “day job” identity. College educated in a field that has nothing to do with his creativity, everything he knows about art he picked up through his own research and other “unofficial” channels. Now, his work is finally getting a little traction with a few small commissions.
“Art in the 21st century is entirely about self-expression,” he says from his small studio. “I like to say the purpose of art now is to create what has not been created before in a way it has never been created before.”
“I don’t know where my ideas come from, and I don’t want to know — lest they stop coming. It’s up to me then to teach myself through research and experimentation how to execute that idea. I leave the judgement and interpretation of the piece to the viewer.”
“I would continue to create my art even if someone told me I would never sell another piece and never gain a moment’s exposure. I would go on making it. That’s why I teach myself whatever I need to learn to make it. I do it for me, and I think that can give the finished piece the passion and vibrancy needed to catch someone’s eye.”