In 1939, former slave Bill Traylor was sitting on a box at the side of the road drawing when the artist Charles Shannon rode by on his horse. Touched by the pictures, Shannon supported Traylor and helped him exhibit his work. After his death, Traylor would become a significant figure of American folk and modern art – without a formal artistic education.
The study of art is becoming less common in the UK. Fewer than 19% of fine art graduates go on to work in an art or design-related field, and the number of students studying creative art degrees dropped by 17,000 between 2016 and 2017. Fine art is still a popular degree choice, but as university applications fall and artists showcase their work online, there are more self-taught artists being discovered.
Take Helen Downie, who started painting on a whim aged 48. She is a self-taught artist who gained international fame from social media. “I was actually quite ignorant and didn’t realise anyone would be watching – [Instagram] was just a place to put my paintings,” she says. Downie’s following rose to more than 100,000 in just under two years when she posted her pictures online under the alias Unskilled Worker. She has since produced portraits for renowned international fashion labels, photographers and galleries.
You could argue tuition is necessary for artists to learn the technicality of their craft. But here, too, things are changing. “Today you can learn almost anything yourself if you have the patience for it,” says Ignasi Monreal, a surrealist artist who taught himself how to create digital art. “As a teenager I decided to just learn things on my own. I never studied fine art – but I got curious and started learning how to do graphics, photography and animation. I stayed up until 3am each night after work watching YouTube tutorials on how to do certain techniques.” Read more