The traits of a self-taught artist

Lying in Wait by Maureen Crofts
Lying in Wait by Maureen Crofts

A self-taught artist or an autodidact is a practising artist who hasn’t got an art degree. However, he/she may have an A level in arts or had been attending short courses to perfect their skills. Even though a self-taught artist is often perceived as an amateur, there are many autodidacts out there that are well established in their communities, producing fine pieces, being represented by galleries and having group and solo shows locally and nationally.

There is a continuous debate whether someone can teach themselves how to draw and paint, but in reality, self-taught artists are often creative and skilful, so becoming artists is just a normal consequence of their natural ability. Creating art is a learning process that continues throughout one’s artistic career no matter whether they studied arts at a graduate level or not.

Autodidacts compensate for their lack of training by studying art books and magazines, attending workshops, watching other artists at work and practising different ways of drawing and painting until they get the result they want and what they paint matches their vision. The latter is not much different than what a trained artist would do.

Self-taught artist and naive style

Although there are many self-taught artists with excellent drawing skills or others that create emotional abstract art or beautiful flower paintings, many autodidacts take the naive approach as this style has a history of being adopted by outsiders. The erroneous perspective, unrefined colour and equal accuracy of details in both foreground and background are characteristics of what is referred to as childlike art, specific to untrained artists.

Today, naive art is recognized as a distinctive genre being adopted not just by self-taught artists but by trained artists too. The simplicity of the artwork, the use of pattern and the use of folk elements at times, makes it appealing to a wide audience as it is relatable while putting a smile on the viewer’s face.

Flowers for the Big Day by Suzette Datema
Flowers for the Big Day by Suzette Datema

No formal training didn’t stop Frida Kahlo 

While an art school gives artists a strong foundation and knowledge on perspective, scale, use of colour, art history, contemporary practices, etc, a self-taught artist on the other hand may look at the act of creation with fresh eyes.  Frida Kahlo, Paul Gauguin and Henry Rousseau are just a few famous names of self-taught artists that not only showed great imagination but they established their own distinctive style, influencing other artists to the present day.

There are many reasons why a self-taught artist, despite their talent, doesn’t go to Art College. One is that the perspective of being an artist after graduating, doesn’t give one a “real” job and many talented people are discouraged from pursuing a career in arts. They choose to study something more palpable or get a job straight after school, only to return to arts later in life.

It is enough to read a few artist’s statements today to find out that some artists started painting after raising a family, some after retirement, some after a traumatic event in their lives and others after pursuing it as a hobby for long enough to decide it was time to go professional. For Frida Kahlo however, it was her bus accident that made her abandon her medical studies and turn to painting self-portraits.

Why invest in a self-taught artist?

Early Morning Garden by Nikki Wheeler
Early Morning Garden by Nikki Wheeler


Now, going back to the question why should you invest in a self-taught artist, the first answer is, if you like their work, it doesn’t matter if they are trained or autodidacts. But there are other reasons worth considering when investing in their art:

  1. They may have a distinctive style that caught your eyes, something that you haven’t seen before.
  2. Their style may become mainstream and influence other artists that will follow their footsteps.
  3. Being weary of their lack of formal training, a self-taught artist may price their artwork for less yet the quality and artistry is at the same level of any trained artist.
  4. Supporting an artist you like and believe in despite their lack of formal training, will give the artist a confidence boost and the investor an enjoyable experience.
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