Training as an Artist

Armand Cabrera


All artists are influenced by other artists and to become an artist we need some form of training to get to where we want to go. People who claim to be self-taught usually mean their study was self-guided using museums and books and formulating their opinions and ideas without the direct influence of a teacher.


Most artists are trained by a teacher or teachers over the course of their careers. This could be at a generalized school taking art classes or a more focused approach through a trade school, academy or atelier, concentrated specifically on art. Either way the outcome depends on the student, there are far more students that graduate and have no career in art than students that are successful.


With the rise and renewed interest in realism I see a disturbing trend happening in art schools. Schools no longer train in the just fundamentals but indoctrinate students into thinking that their method is the only path to success. These schools engage in a sort of brainwashing equivalent to EST and all the other quack zealotry that happens in fringe religious groups.


 A lot of schools these days prey on artists seeking knowledge, trying to convince them they must endlessly study under a school or teachers guidance to achieve success. In these situations the teachers and school are giving them only enough information and encouragement to continue forking over their hard earned money. When you feel someone is holding back information from you, find other instruction or take some time for absorption and practice of what has been learned and self-guided discovery.

Remember most academic artists at the turn of the century only studied fulltime for a year or two. Even then summers were spent painting with other students away from the instructor and school. Most of the artists of that time we revere today never completed their studies. This idea now by some institutions and teachers that you need 5 to 10 years or more of study to learn to draw is ridiculous. All a student needs is the fundamentals and some time putting them into practice on their own. Any honest teacher will tell you this.

13 thoughts on “Training as an Artist

  1. Amen, Armand. I never go around "claiming" to be self-taught (as if that is a badge of honor). It has been a point of embarrassment in academic circles if anything. I've always (and always will) admit I have a long way to go, and am an endless seeker and student of painting. Like some religious leaders you mention who claim your dependency for an indefinite amount of time, are after a point only seeking to ensure their own job security.

    Art schools often function the same way. Curriculum should never encroach upon the natural growth of an artists progress beyond a solid foundation of the basics — from there it is a personal journey of discovery.
    Apprenticeships, internships, tutoring, etc. is fine as long as the "master" understands his position is one of 'helps' and not indoctrination. Artists have always been exploited for their craft and taken advantage of for their acute desire of knowledge.

    I believe there is indeed too much to discover in one lifetime, so it is possible to become a life-long student, taking endless courses, but after a short while, you're stunting your own growth and prolonging your dependency upon the teacher, rather than assuming his position (or at least his level of execution and knowledge).

    Young artists never want to hear that it does take a number of years to develop sound skills and achieve what they desire, but most of that is on the job development. The most inventive, celebrated artists in history were self-motivated experimenters who made their own discoveries… Eventually it comes down to you and the canvas — no school can hold your hand forever.

  2. I really don't have enough experience with the various schools and studios around the world to confirm or deny what you are saying. However, historically, pluralism does not seem to be man's natural bent in anything that involves an opinion. Dogmatism, though usually unhelpful, seem to bolster the ego and bring about a certain sense of significance. Ironically, after 200 years or so we will all be insignificant, even forgotten by our future family linage. I say let them rant while we go have a party.

  3. Well said. Once you learn the grammar you need to form Your own sentences. To many schools these days get very good money to teach students how to imitate the master of the school. Sadly few seem to go beyond this>

  4. You're right, and I think of this a lot. I so wish I had gone into art school at least for a while, but now I see a number of people whom one can study with independently and that is very exciting. I'm going to do that. I need it. Up to now I studied it on my own, and was dense for a long time concerning the reaction people have to the self-taught term. It's a loaded description based on who uses it and why, and I definitely don't use it now! Seems like people often use it and perceive it as an anti-establishment pose, or a claim to be Mowgli, raised amongst the wolves with some stray paintbrushes and canvas, or something. I just meant I hadn't gone to art school or studied with anyone.

  5. Eric,

    So true. The best any teacher or school can do is guide you through the basics of craft after that is is up to each individual.

  6. Doug,
    I also missed out on formal training early on. I've tried to make up with good focused instruction since then. Like Eric says its a lifetime of commitment.

  7. Many of the artists we/I revere didn't pass the entrance exams to the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Anyone know what the requirements for the exams were?

  8. Glad someone said it. I actually taught at a fairly well known academy (though I can't say which one) and we were actually instructed to keep students on their Bargue drawings for as long as possible, and not for the benefit of their learning.

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