Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You are Probably NOT a Self-Taught Artist...

Go to for more information about the art of "self-taught" artists. Such a cool website, and a very cool museum to visit.
It would probably surprise some of the folks who refer to themselves as self-taught artists that a formal definition for this term already exists, and they are not included in this group of special artists. Type "self-taught artist" into the search engine of Wikipedia for example, and you are redirected to "Outsider Art." This entry contains other synonyms such as art brut, raw art, rough art, naive art, and art of the insane to name just a few. Outsider Art is one of my favorite art genres, and with a short read, you can find out about this incredibly interesting and inspiring art movement.

See: For the purposes of this blog entry, I'm agreeing with the definition set forth there. My point in this blog entry has to do with this quote from the article:
The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the mainstream "art world," regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.
I'm agreeing with that premise, too, although "sometimes" should probably be replaced with "most times". To be polite, I find it confusing when someone refers to themselves as "self-taught." If I weren't going to try to be polite, I'd think the person was ignorant at best, or a pompous ass at worst. Although I guess making stuff and then trying to sell it to make a living does require some sort of ego, I daresay. Generally though, I consider myself a kind person and return to the feeling of confusion and wonder what he or she is really trying to say? And if they call themselves "self-taught" to an editor of an art magazine for example, doesn't that make him or her sound ignorant of an entire named and recognized art movement?

Ironically, true self-taught artists would most likely not realize that they were self-taught, or even call themselves artists at all.

While a small portion of the definition does have to do with education, that is not all there is to it. It seems that this part of the definition has been grotesquely mutated in order for those who use self-taught to describe themselves to take some sort of extra credit that is ultimately unearned. It implies the artist thinks of himself as gifted in some way, because he didn't require any of that pesky directed education in order to do the stunning work he does. But the opposite is true, and in no way does that set the artist apart in any special way whatsoever.

"Self-taught artist" does NOT mean that you practice alone in your studio a lot. It should go without saying that any artist spends a great deal of time honing their craft and communing with the Muses or other higher power (or not) to create something that somebody might one day proclaim as art. (If this hoped-for proclamation is the reason you work, well...uhm-m-m-m...hmm...bigger confusions might exist.)

"Self-taught artist" does NOT mean you lack a college or art school education. And since when is that something to brag about anyway? I mean, where does that get you? Because by misusing the term, you're already illustrating a certain lack of education, whether self-directed or not. I'm not sure I'd want sole credit for that misunderstanding.

"Self-taught artist" does NOT mean you did a bunch of metaphysical research on your own, either. Nobody cares except in how you're able to morph that into your art in some way that speaks to somebody else. Or not. Nobody should care but you.

Think about education, formal or otherwise. Did you watch somebody's YouTube video? Page through their books? Watch a dvd on the topic? See a how-to spread in a magazine? Try and follow a tutorial? Take a class? Watch a demo? Go to college? Go to art school? If you did any of these things, you cannot consider yourself part of the self-taught art movement and you are misusing the term. More importantly, you are not giving credit where credit is due. That's where I tend to get off-track in my thinking and find myself wandering along the pompous ass track.

If you were one of the self-taught artists in the creative vacuum described by the Outsider Art movement, you most likely wouldn't be reading this blog, or even using the term. Another quote, one of my favorites, was coined by the person credited with defining the Outsider Art movement, Jean Dubuffet:
"Art is at its best when it forgets its very name."
I only wish my intentions could be a pure as a true "self-taught" artist. As it is, I'll spend a great deal of the rest of my life trying to attain that goal and put forth great effort. And as the term "self-taught artist" is misused and overused, I'll probably continue to put forth great effort in attempting to understand what the artist using the term -- and making a first impression -- is really trying to say.


Kait said...

having acquired knowledge or skill on one's own initiative rather than through formal instruction or training : a self-taught graphic artist.

--New Oxford American Dictionary

This is why people use the term, and this is what they mean when they do so. I don't see why that's confusing. I even know an art history professor, who used the term to mean "not going to art school."

But I agree, it's an imprecise. Ultimately, yeah, everyone will read books or take courses, or study other people's work as part of their informal education.

That said, I'm going to go do some reading on this Self-Taught-Outsider-Art movement thing. So thank you. :)

Patti Cahill said...

I hope you enjoy Outsider Art as much as I do. FWIW, every artist self-aware enough to consider what he or she is doing as an attempt at art is self-directed and practices under his/her own initiative. But not acknowledging books, DVD's, tutorials, or any other stepping stone provided by another is ungracious to say the least. Except for the Outsiders, who by their very nature don't know they are what they are, the rest of us don't work in a vacuum, and credit must be given where due to keep karmic balance.

Patti Cahill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Asa said...

By your definition you are not artist but you claim to be Glass Artist. Glass work is a craft, therefore you are Crafter, or Craftsperson.

Asa said...

I am self-taught Artist, Sculptor. I taught myself, so as not to copy others work, to be more original. Most art classes I seen were teaching methods of the masters. This results in highly trained copy cats.

having acquired knowledge or skill on one's own initiative rather than through formal instruction or training : a self-taught graphic artist.

--New Oxford American Dictionary

Marike Ackerman said...

i just came across this blog post today and i must say that i COMPLETELY AGREE. i am getting extremely tired with these young artists on social media flaunting the words self taught. you have made some very good points in this post. i applaud you.

-- from a proud non self taught artist