Can You Be A Successful Self Taught Artist?

Hi Guys…although I have been an artist for about 8 years or more and I strated via very simple classes then on my own I pursued other instructors to learn more I now realise that I am now self taught. I do a lot of research as you know and most of my learning more about Art was through the internet. Yes you guessed it…YOUTUBE…I found so many wonderful artist on you tube and via their demo’s O was able to improve certain aspects of my techniques that i was having some problems with.

So yes you can be great and be self taught. in fact some the best artist were self taught and while all artists are selftaught to a degree, selftaught artists are those who don’t go to art school or receive formal training. While they tend to create outside the stereotypical ideas of what makes art “art,” they can get support from museums and foundations that support selftaught artists.

Selftaught typically means someone learning without a formal teacher or program, but access to teaching materials was fair game. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines selftaught as, “having knowledge or skills acquired by one’s own efforts without formal instruction.” I have a bit of formal instruction from at least 3 art teachers but after that I was on my own, but was I at a level where I no longer needed an instructor so I could be labeled an Artist or did I still need further coaching to hone my skills to even better than I was and therefore reach my full potential.

Well I’ll never know unless I decide to pursue a formal degree in Art or some such certification, but although I did consider it I decided to stay with the freedom and spontaneity of learning via the web. Now you maybe considering becoming an Artist or thinking of starting to paint but you know absolutely nothing of the techniques or rules and you don’t even know where to start? The web is your teacher, simply google, research and find an artist that whose work you love and then follow them online.

The same could be said for blogging. When I wanted to start blogging I knew absolutely nothing about blogging but via surfing the net I found all that I needed and now I’m on my way to moving to another level in blogging. the same goes for your Art. Start small and slowly then keep looking for the next step in your journey via a question. So as a beginner Artist your first question would be …How do I start? What do I need to Begin? What Material and tools do I need. You can find that on the web or better yet get my free checklist below.


Now humans have been making art since the dawn of time, often with little education in materials, techniques, or theory, yet the notion of the “self-taught artist” is a relatively new phenomenon. There are many artist who are quite famous and they were self taught. Who are these individuals?

Henri Rousseau a sELF taught Artist

An artist who grew up in the era of the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, Henri Rousseau lacked those artists’ formal training. He only began to paint in earnest in 1884, at age 40. For most of his adult life, he worked as a clerk, earning the nickname “Le Douanier” (“the customs officer”) from critics who sought to discredit the naïve, unschooled painter. Yet it is rumoured that the undemanding nature of Rousseau’s job (he never actually made it to the ranking of customs officer) is precisely what gave him the time to teach himself painting; when he wasn’t moving paper, he made trips to the Louvre to sketch from its collection.

Rousseau developed a following, particularly among artists, for what his advocates saw as the directness and lack of pretension in his work, qualities that broke the mold of academic standards. Best known for his vivid, exotic landscapes, Rousseau created dreamlike scenes defined by crystal-clear outlines, The 20th-century avant-garde recognized Rousseau’s value. By the end of his life, he was exhibiting alongside van Gogh and Paul Gauguin; Henri Matisse and André Derain—and his work was collected by Pablo Picasso, who later bequeathed several of Rousseau’s paintings to the Louvre.

Vincent Van Gogh a self taught artist

One of the most influential artists of the modern era, Vincent van Gogh was almost entirely self-taught. A complicated, taciturn character, van Gogh did not have an appetite for the classroom. Afetr a few failed stints at academic educational institutions, even trying to become a pastor in a seminary, when his brother, Theo, eyed some of his sketches of his impoverished peasant congregation, he implored Vincent to pursue art, resulting in an extremely short attempt at Brussels’s Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in 1880.

For the rest of his tragically short life, van Gogh focused almost solely on painting, looking to examples of Japanese woodblock printmaking and the formal innovations of his colleagues, among other influences. But he ultimately developed an intensely personal style that fuelled a large body of work. While van Gogh fans are quick to point to his emotional turmoil as the analog to his idiosyncratic style, his swirling, energetic brushstrokes and bold, expressive tones are also the hallmarks of a fiercely independent style forged through self-education.

Freda Kahlo

Frida Kahlo’s father, a German photographer, recognized his daughter’s artistic promise when she was a young girl, teaching her photography and recruiting his friend, a printmaker, to give her informal instruction in the graphic arts. When she exceeded the local artist’s expectations, he went so far as to give her a paid position as his engraving apprentice. The young Kahlo, however, had her sights set on medical school. Tragically, both her apprenticeship and her education were cut short when she fell victim to a near-fatal automobile accident at the age of 18.

During her time convalescing, the pragmatic Kahlo considered a career as a medical illustrator that would turn her artistic hobby into something more. She had an easel custom made with a mirror so she could watch herself paint despite her limited mobility, which led to self-portraits and the observation of her own anatomy. Fittingly, as she developed her style, Kahlo found herself drawn not to methods of illustration, but of personal expression. She began to fuse modern formal devices with Mexican folk traditions and the sort of vernacular Catholic imagery produced by untrained artists.

Bill Taylor – self taught artist

Bill Traylor’s talent surfaced suddenly in 1939 when he was 85 and had 10 years to live.” Born into slavery on an Alabama plantation in 1854, Traylor didn’t receive a formal education in anything, let alone an embrace from an art world he was never expected to inhabit. Even after being emancipated at the end of the Civil War, he was forced to remain a sharecropper in the Jim Crow South. He only moved to another farm in 1935 because, as he put it, “My white folks had died, and my children had scattered.”

Forced into retirement by rheumatoid arthritis, Traylor wound up homeless and sleeping in the back room of a funeral parlor by the 1930s. Lacking the means to support himself, he began creating small drawings and paintings with whatever materials he was able to scrounge. When a young artist named Charles Shannon came upon Traylor’s work by chance in 1939, he supplied him with fresh materials, appreciation, and encouragement—fuel for Traylor, who became incredibly prolific, filling image after image with simplified figures of people, places, and other symbols connected to his personal experiences. The body of work he would create in a limited time with extremely limited means is celebrated for its innovative, untutored aesthetic, as well as the artistic window it created into the strictures of black life in the South during the Reconstruction era.

Grandma Moses

Discovered at the age of 78, Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses made art throughout her life, though she received no formal education. A small-town housekeeper-turned-homemaker, she was, according to her New York Times obituary from 1961, “a self-taught ‘primitive,’ who in childhood began painting what she called ‘lambscapes’ by squeezing out grape juice or lemon juice to get colors.” In her young adulthood, she copied scenes from images produced by the American printmaking firm Currier and Ives. As her family developed, Moses’s art grew more domestic, or at least what one might call decorative: a painted scene on her family’s fireboard; embroidered images made from yarn; large quilts; dolls for her granddaughters.

She produced over 1,500 works representing the simplicities of a bygone era in direct, bright, and realistic imagery. Her rise to fame occurred when an art collector found a handful of her works in a drugstore window, playing the unassuming backdrop for baked goods and jams that she also made for sale.

The following year, in 1939, three of those paintings were included in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Contemporary Unknown American Painters” exhibition, and just one year after that, Moses had her own successful solo show. By the time of her death in 1961, she had become the self-taught grandmother of American folk art and was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees, including (ironically enough) one from a college of art and design.

Yoko One

Enrolling in John Cage’s experimental composition course at the New School for Social Research, Ono discovered that her musical background was more than enough to recommend her to the avant-garde community there, which included composer-poet La Monte Young, Conceptual artist George Brecht, and performance artist Allan Kaprow.

It was an environment in which Ono thrived. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) her lack of a formal art education, Ono’s work nimbly synthesizes a wide array of visual components and theoretical ideas, most notably in her performances. And while her art and music career certainly received a signal boost from marrying one of the world’s most famous musicians in 1969, Ono never required his assistance any more than she required formal training in an art academy to become a groundbreaking and world-renowned self-taught artist.

Jack Vettriano

Jack Vettriano’s paintings have captured the public’s imagination but have been sneered at by art critics.

Vettriano is a former mining engineer. His success story began when he submitted two paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy’s summer exhibition, an annual competition open to all artists. Both sold on the first day. Prints of his often erotic paintings are widely available and he has achieved great commercial success. While Vettriano has been described as “the Jeffrey Archer of the art world” and his work as “badly conceived soft porn“, he remains hugely popular. In 2004 his most famous painting, The Singing Butler, sold for £775,000.

Beryl Cook

Another financially successful artist adored by the public is former Plymouth landlady Beryl Cook. Her talent was spotted by a friend who sold some paintings on her behalf. She exhibited locally and then nationally, finding a large audience for her work. Her paintings of plump and bawdy characters became widely available and could be found on stamps, posters and greetings cards. However, critics were famously disdainful of her work and Time Out magazine refused to include her exhibitions in their listings. Following her death in 2008 one of her original oil paintings sold at auction for £69,000.

Acceptance by the establishment

The numerous routes now available for artists to sell their work are making the art world more democratic and less elite than it has ever been.

Self-taught artist Jonathan Yeo rose to prominence with his portraits of celebrities and political leaders. But support from large galleries and figures from the art world can be career-changing.

There is hope for us all but it takes persistence and as I know well, it maybe a case of you have no choice because the Art lives within you and it needs to get out, so let it out no matter what anyone says to you.

Nature or nurture?

Presented by Lachlan Goudie Artist and broadcaster

Being able to paint or draw is one of life’s pleasures. However often only those who believe they are artistic actually pursue this as a pastime. The British artist Damien Hirst once said, “That’s the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice you can make great paintings.”

But many would disagree and believe that, like musical ability, art is a gift – you either have it or you don’t. Is this true? Do you have to be born with natural ability or, with the right help, can we all be artists? Well I believe there is an artist in all of us it just manifests i different ways. I hope you enjoyed the little history lesson on some very interesting Artist who were self taught. See you soon and you beginners don’t forget to get your free checklist. I went overboard when I first started painting. Don’t overspend, get what you need at first then later you can go after the brand name items.


Published by Gail Francis

Hi, I'm a mother of four, one boy and three girls ranging in ages from 26yrs to 22yrs. I own my own business that I run with my husband and we have no pets. We've had a variety of pets from dogs, cats fish etc, but things go wrong when we have pets so we decided that we are not pet people. I'm a creative person and I love to learn and share what I learn. Watercolour painting is my great love. I dream of having my art appreciated and hung on the walls of homes, offices, churches, anywhere that people can view them and start up a conversation about them. So that's a little about me, come peruse more of my site and ENJOY!!!

2 thoughts on “Can You Be A Successful Self Taught Artist?

  1. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you ought to publish more about this topic, it may not be a taboo subject but usually folks don’t talk about these subjects. To the next! Kind regards!!


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