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Can Art be Taught? - From a Self-taught Artist

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

We lived and learned through 2020. Our experiences will determine how 2021 will look. I was inspired by a friend who is an expert in mental health to do a vision board a few years back. This has been a favorite habit ever since. As an advocate of journaling and vision boards the whole exercise of creating visuals and goals for 2021 helps me set realistic goals that are meaningful. After our lives turned upside down what better time to restart and re-align our priorities.

Somewhere along the exercise the thought of giving back came up. How can I impact people’s lives and their mental health through art. Can art be taught? Do you have to be born with that skill already. Having been a self-taught artist myself I wonder if I would have acquired better skills if I had gone to an art school or had a mentor?

The quick answer is yes, I believe art can be taught for sure. I often say that a large part of creating art comes from inside the artist through artistic intuition and naturally creative talent. These are skills an artist is born with similar to cooking or engineering. Those things may never be taught— so when it comes down to it, if I had to choose between natural intuition to art books, I would choose the former hands down.

However, a lot of the aspects of art including the foundational techniques, principles and tools can be taught. For example, the principles of color wheels and color mixing. This is an important piece of knowledge to acquire. From oil paintings throughout history to modern day abstract art needs a good understanding of hues without which you may not get the desired outcome. For me it was an organic process, from mixing my own palette, learning the names of colors from artists online, making a lot of mistakes along the way and losing precious time learning through experience. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade anything for those challenges and it has shaped my artistic journey big time. However, knowing which tools to use, what techniques help you gain perspective or depth, colors and the story telling can be picked up through structured learning. But going to an expensive art school is not the only option. Given that remote learning is the new norm there are plenty of choices but the key is to find a good self paced learning format that works for you and a passionate instructor.

Broadly speaking below are a few invaluable things you will learn from a good instructor.

- Fundamental tools and medium:

How to choose your medium of choice. What comes naturally to you and what can you pick up as you hone the skills. You will be surprised when you know what innate biases you have towards a certain medium. It's important to know what gets the best out of you so the output is in line with your vision. You will learn about colour theory, how people perceive colour, shadow and light. Objective areas of composition such as positive and negative space, and attention.

- Objective and subjective perception:

How you react to form and color and comparing that to how others react. A big component of this is composition. Learning to compose, create your own work and critique your work as it relates to others work and or articulate it. Human perception is mainly driven by biology.

- 2D and 3D composition:

Learning to create from flat photographs to still life or figurative or plein air. This includes anatomy, composition, drawing and painting.

By the time you complete the course you should have a very good understanding of how your, perceptual system works as well as others, and why, people are influenced by what they see.

- Access to community:

Something that is often overlooked is that through such sessions you share your work through online galleries and social media pages. You can share your practice drawings, struggles, aspirations and experiences with a like minded group of people who are going through a similar journey. In my opinion this is the most significant outcome.

So when you know you are ready to dabble in art find the right online workshop or a self paced course and a good teacher. Remember what I mentioned about artistic intuition? You have a good chance of acquiring that if you do it with a purpose and have a topic you would like to learn?

Share with me!

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