When it comes to learning how to paint or sculpt, or really anything artsy, there are different schools of thought about which method is best. You can usually find a class near where you live to learn things like painting, sculpting, even stone-carving. Some are offered through community colleges, others are taught through your city, and still more are instructed by private artists. Lots of artists never had any formal training, while others have advanced degrees in Fine Arts. Some self-taught artists actually learn from other artists by watching their videos on YouTube. A thousand years ago, people watched a guy named Bob Ross paint happy little trees to learn oil painting…in this day and age we have an app for that. You can learn how to draw on an iPad with an electronic pencil now—even the media has changed dramatically.
Frida Kahlo had no formal training. She turned out some pretty amazing art, to say the least. Vincent Van Gogh didn’t take art lessons, either. While his life was rather tragic, he was and remains an incredibly influential artist whose works are timeless and compelling. What would they have learned if they had studied art formally? They were probably already destined to be great artists, but they would have been taught skills like observation, self-expression, and focus in addition to learning about materials and tools, drawing, and other fundamentals.
As mentioned, those who endeavor to become artists may choose to just begin painting one day, using the internet as a resource. There are countless websites, apps, and of course, videos to guide a person through the fundamentals. The rest is really up to artistic expression—something inside us that makes our art truly unique. If you’ve ever attended one of those wine and canvas group painting sessions, you’ll see at the end of the evening that no two paintings are alike despite the step-by-step instruction from the group leader.
There are lots of advantages to getting a formal art education. Students not only learn the fundamentals of art, they learn the history of art, are exposed to the art world in general, and they can meet gallery owners, curators and critics while in art school, which can help them become successful upon graduation. Gaining entry into the art world without a formal training can be difficult; without the network chances are much slimmer that an artist will be widely acclaimed and/or wildly successful. However, there is some criticism of too much art education: some say it can have the effect of mass production, i.e. artwork can look more like homework than something creative and original.
So is there a happy medium between being entirely self-taught or formally trained? Like most things in life, sure, there probably is. There is nothing wrong with taking a few classes here and there to find out where your interests lie or if you should expand them. Watching YouTube videos to learn technique, or color mixing, or other basics is a great way to school yourself when the creative urge strikes but you have a question about how to achieve the look you’re going for. If you decide you’re really serious and passionate about your art, maybe it’s time to start visiting colleges and seeing which one is right for you. Or perhaps you’ll pack up your canvases, brushes, and paints into your tiny home on wheels and travel the countryside, stopping to paint with abandon and becoming famous along the way.