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Artists: Self Taught – Formally Trained

Art Lovers | 22 January 2020

Written by Anne-Maree Wise

I recently had an interesting response from a retailer who stocks original artwork from both emerging and established artists. He was evaluating my art and deciding whether it was a “good fit” in his shop.

He spoke about a particular example in the store stating quite proudly that the artist was “self taught” and then enquired how long I had been painting. I described the body of artwork I produced, made a brief mention of post university work up until my current practice ….“so how long have you been painting?” I thought I answered him. Oh and yes I continue to develop, experiment and refine skills utilised over many years of practice. He seemed to lose interest. “Perhaps I could have a check of your work on social media” he said.

This conversation made me think about the concept of “self taught – formally trained” I suspect there is a current preference for the “self taught” entrepreneurial kind of artistic profile – dare I say “insta millennial” quite different to the studio environment I encountered as a young 20 something eager art student thriving on the atmosphere between mentor and student, master and apprentice.

Terese Reclining On Blue 2

I actually think that artists are indeed self taught, self motivated, self regulated and self promoted. Individual endeavour and personal reflection are important parts of the art process, highlighting areas to explore and develop. But it’s a lonely profession. For some the independent aspect is such a god send whilst others enjoy the back and forth banter that fills the studios and art schools.

I am annoyed that one seems to be favoured over the other, particularly by those outside the profession. Artists are lifelong students of their own studio practice, each artwork no matter how small teaches a lesson. A lesson in skill, technique, concept, style and presentation. If we don’t listen to the lesson and learn from it we can’t grow artistically. And history tells us the same… artists dedicated to their work arrive at the same destination having travelled different paths.

Australian artist Charles Blackman left school at the age of 13, as was the norm in 1941. He worked as an illustrator for The Sun newspaper whilst attending night classes at East Sydney Technical School,…but is considered self taught.

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Artist Charles Blackman

His dedication to his art no doubt influenced his social circle of friends and helped sustain his artistic development. He was the recipient of travelling scholarships and lived for a time in Europe where he continued to learn, develop, create and produce artwork. Surely his early tuition and commitment to study maintained his creativity and artistic work throughout his career.

Technically brilliant / parochially inclined. Aesthetically pleasing / conceptually challenging. Self taught / formally trained.
I continue to ponder whilst I wait to hear back from the retailer.


About the Author: Anne-Maree Wise

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“Painting is my first love, my passion and my solace. I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Art Education and have spent over 20 years teaching teenagers Art across Melbourne. Working with students has also taught me many lessons in art, the most important being to explore themes that touch your heart.”



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