The Self-Taught Myth

Do you ever check an artist’s bio on their website or Instagram, and see the words ‘self-taught’? A lot of artists describe themselves this way (myself previously included).

But more and more recently I’ve started questioning the term ‘self-taught artist’, at least when looking at my own artistic development.

While I do fall under the generally accepted definition of ‘an artist without formal training’, I can’t claim to have taught myself how to paint, so ‘self-taught’ feels like something of a misnomer, and doesn’t give credit to all the great artists I’ve learned so much from over the years.

I guess the ‘self-taught’ label took hold in a pre-internet time when, outside of formal art education, the only way to learn was through books, which isn’t the most effective way of learning to paint, and does feel like there’s more work required on the part of the student, to interpret the words and images in the book and try to make sense of them on your canvas.

But today it’s becoming hard to find an artist who isn’t offering some kind of workshop/demo/instructional video online, making it much easier to learn the methods and techniques of your favourite artists, directly from them.

And while I’ve certainly been ‘self-guided’ and ‘self-motivated’, most of the actual teaching has to be credited to some of the artists I admire, who have made their knowledge available through the magic of online video instruction.

Teachers of a Self-Guided Artist

I started to make a list of all the different artists I’ve learned from, whether it be via a demo video, online course, or in person workshop, and then I thought what better way to demonstrate how valuable their teaching has been than to paint a portrait of each of them!

I didn’t want to paint anyone without their approval, so I started contacting some of them, not expecting to get many replies, and to my surprise, almost everyone I contacted replied and was happy for me to paint their portrait.

So I’m beginning a new series of portraits: Teachers of a Self-Guided Artist. I’ll try to do them roughly in chronological order of when they ‘taught’ me, and for each one, I’ll publish a post here to show the painting, along with a summary of who they are and what I learned from them, along with links to the places where you can find their instructional content.

Here’s a list of the portraits I’ve completed so far. I’ll keep this updated as I progress through the series.





4 responses to “The Self-Taught Myth”

  1. Anne McCarthy Avatar

    Love this idea and the thoughtfulness behind it.

  2. David Avatar

    Looking forward to it, Dan.

  3. Pamela Wissinger Avatar
    Pamela Wissinger

    Thank you Dan for your serious thoughts about self-taught. I couldn’t agree more and share with you my admiration of both Carol Marine and Richard Robinson. Happy to have found your site and look forward to your outstanding portraits of our mentor-artists.

    1. Dan Avatar

      Thank you, Pamela!

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