Self-Taught Artists and Professionally Trained Artists: Are There Any Noticeable Differences?

The debate on whether self-taught artists or artists who were formally trained are more impressive has been the topic of conversation for several decades. Especially with many gaining access to the arts, therefore having an increased amount of opportunities to experiment with different forms of self-expression, people have started to perceive art as something that is defined by the artist rather than something that can be learned or studied.


Some see self-taught artists as artists who create art without any thought or consideration for the traditional theory that can provide a foundation for artists. On the other hand, artists that have pursued formal training are criticized for conforming to the mold that art schools deem proper. These stereotypes eventually lead to an endless discussion on who is the ‘superior’ artist.


Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh and Henri Rousseau are all self-taught artist who have had big impacts on the arts.

The art school offers a community in which artists can interact with people from different backgrounds, allowing them to open themselves up to the perspectives of other aspiring artists who each have their unique ways of self-expression. Through art, they get to convey their ideas and experiences to one another. As a result, when giving or receiving criticism, trained artists adopt a more considerate and open-minded attitude.


Knowledge of art history is yet another asset that an art school can offer to budding artists. Learning about the movements, styles, and artists that have helped shape art throughout history is handy when artists want to step out of their comfort zones and try a style they aren’t well-versed in. Early American painters are a great example of this: Their portraits weren't nearly as impressive as compared to Europeans because they lacked the hundreds of years of training that they had. Some Americans even traveled to receive training, but their skills as portrait painters remained fairly poor. They did have one thing, though, at which they excelled, and that was painting landscapes. These artworks represent the scene of art in the United States, where identity and aspirations were intimately connected to its beautiful landscapes.


Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada, California, 1868

Sure, formal art education has its advantages, but is it really a requirement for becoming a good artist? There is an infinite number of well-known artists who would argue that it isn’t. Many would argue that art school stifles an artist's creativity by forcing them to conform to the societally acceptable notion of what an artist should be like by restricting the ways they can display their talents. While not understanding art history has its disadvantages, it does not lessen the creative worth of artwork or label an artist as an amateur.


One of the most influential post-impressionist artists, Henri Rousseau, had no academic training in the arts. He didn't start painting until he was forty. He worked as a clerk for most of his adult life. Despite continual mockery from critics throughout his life, he eventually gained success and recognition for his creations. His most well-known works portray jungle scenes. He stated he had "no teacher other than nature," once again, highlighting that he was self-taught. Other well-known names who have had a significant impact on the arts include Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Bill Traylor.


Due to advanced technologies and the faster dissemination of information, it is difficult to notice the line that separates trained and untrained artists. It doesn't matter if someone is self-taught or trained; as long as they have the will and the determination, they can become an artist.


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