Self-Taught vs Formal Art Education: Pros & Cons
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is Self-Taught Art Education?
  2. Pros of Self-Taught Art Education
  3. Cons of Self-Taught Art Education
  4. What is Formal Art Education?
  5. Pros of Formal Art Education
  6. Cons of Formal Art Education
  7. How to Choose Between Self-Taught and Formal Art Education

If you're standing at the crossroads of deciding between self-taught and formal art education, you've landed at the right spot. This blog will walk you through the strengths and weaknesses of self-taught vs formal art education, providing you with an insightful understanding of both paths. Whether you're an aspiring artist or a curious art enthusiast, this clear, friendly guide will help you make an informed decision. So, let's jump right in!

What is Self-Taught Art Education?

Imagine this: you're sitting in your cozy corner, sketchbook in hand and a world of art resources at your fingertips — YouTube tutorials, art blogs, eBooks, and more. This is what self-taught art education looks like. It's the process of independently learning and honing your art skills, without the structured environment of a traditional art school. It's about exploring, experimenting, and discovering your style and approach to art.

Now, let's break down this path a bit more:

  • Flexibility: One of the major strengths of self-taught art education is flexibility. You can learn at your own pace, in your own time, and in your own space. No strict schedules or deadlines here.
  • Cost-effective: Compared to the hefty price tag that comes with formal art education, self-taught art education can be quite affordable. All you need is the basic art supplies and an internet connection to access a plethora of free or low-cost art resources.
  • Personalized Learning: It's a journey of personal growth and self-discovery. You get to choose what you want to learn, how you want to learn it, and when. You're in control of your artistic development.
  • Experimentation: Without the constraints of a specific curriculum or style, you're free to experiment and explore different techniques, styles, and mediums. This freedom can lead to a unique artistic voice and style.

This path, however, isn't without its challenges. The weaknesses of self-taught art education are just as important to consider. But more on that later. For now, remember, being a self-taught artist is about embracing the journey of learning and growing at your own pace and in your own unique way.

Pros of Self-Taught Art Education

As we've already touched upon, self-taught art education comes with its fair share of perks. Let's dive deeper:

  • Freedom of Exploration: When you're self-taught, there are no boundaries. You can paint seascapes today, experiment with abstract forms tomorrow, or even dabble in digital art. It's all up to you.
  • Build Skills at Your Own Pace: You don't have to feel pressured to keep up with a class. You can take your time to master a technique or a style. Every artist has a unique pace of learning, and this path respects that.
  • Cost Savings: No tuition fees, no travel expenses, and no costly art supplies unless you choose to invest in them. This can be a big plus if you're on a budget.
  • Personal Growth: This journey is often filled with self-discovery. As you navigate the art world on your own, you'll learn a lot about your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. This can be incredibly rewarding.

Above all, being a self-taught artist can be incredibly empowering. It's a testament to your dedication, discipline, and passion for art. And who knows, you might just stumble upon a style or technique that truly resonates with you, setting you apart in the art world.

Cons of Self-Taught Art Education

While being a self-taught artist can certainly be liberating, it's not without its challenges:

  • Lack of Guidance: When you're on your own, there's no teacher to correct your mistakes, guide your progress, or push your boundaries. It's easy to fall into a creative rut and not know how to get out of it.
  • Isolation: Art is often a solitary pursuit, and this is especially true for self-taught artists. You could miss out on the camaraderie, motivation, and inspiration that come from being part of an artistic community.
  • Unclear Path: Without a structured curriculum or clear goals, you might find yourself wandering aimlessly in the vast sea of art. It's easy to get overwhelmed and lose direction.
  • Respect and Recognition: Sometimes, people tend to value a formal art degree more than self-taught skills. This could potentially affect your professional opportunities.

Self-teaching art education is a path that requires resilience, self-motivation, and a fair amount of trial and error. But remember, every challenge is also an opportunity for growth.

What is Formal Art Education?

Formal art education, on the other hand, is an organized method of learning art. This usually takes place in a structured environment like a school or university. Here, you'll have a set curriculum, skilled instructors to guide you, and a structured timeline to follow.

Formal art education can be as diverse as getting a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts, attending art workshops, or enrolling in specialized classes for specific art techniques. This type of education gives you a systematic way to explore different art forms, techniques, and theories — all under the watchful eyes of trained professionals.

Just as with self-taught art, formal art education has its unique set of strengths and weaknesses. It's a journey that can provide a solid foundation for your artistic practice, but it's not without its challenges.

Pros of Formal Art Education

Let's start with the good stuff: the strengths of formal art education. One key advantage lies in structure. The clear, organized curriculum helps you steadily develop your skills. It's like building a house brick by brick: you start with the basics and add on from there.

Another strength is the guidance from experienced instructors. They're there to correct any wrong techniques and provide helpful feedback. It's like having a personal trainer at the gym: they show you the right way to do things and help you avoid injury.

Lastly, formal art education offers a community. You study alongside other art students, which can be a great source of inspiration and motivation. You get to see different art styles, learn from your peers, and even collaborate on projects. Plus, who knows? You might make lifelong friends in the process!

Cons of Formal Art Education

Now, let's flip the coin and look at the weaknesses of formal art education. First up: cost. Art schools can be expensive, and not everyone has the resources to shoulder this burden. It's a bit like wanting to eat at a fancy restaurant but only having enough for a sandwich.

Next, we have rigidity. Yes, a structured curriculum can be a strength, but it can also feel restrictive. You may want to explore new techniques or styles, but your syllabus says you must learn still life painting. It's like being at a buffet but only being allowed to eat salad—frustrating, right?

Lastly, the pressure to conform can be a downside. In art schools, there's sometimes an 'accepted' way of doing things or a 'right' style to adopt. This can stifle creativity and originality. Imagine being a jazz musician in an orchestra— you'd feel a bit out of tune, wouldn't you?

How to Choose Between Self-Taught and Formal Art Education

Choosing between self-taught and formal art education is like picking between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Both have their unique flavors, and it boils down to personal preference. So how do you decide? Let's break it down.

First, consider your learning style. Do you like structure and guidance, or do you prefer to carve your own path? If you thrive on feedback and structured learning, formal education might be your cup of tea. But if you prefer to learn at your own pace and explore your own interests, self-teaching could be the right choice for you.

Next, think about your career goals. If you're aiming for a job that requires a degree—for example, teaching art in a school—a formal education would be essential. But if you're pursuing a career that values skills and creativity over credentials, self-teaching might be a good fit.

Lastly, consider your resources. Can you afford the cost of art school, or would it be more practical to learn on your own? Remember, art is about expressing yourself—no matter how you learn to do it.

In the end, the strengths and weaknesses of self-taught vs formal art education vary from person to person. The key is to choose what best suits your style, goals, and resources. So, are you team chocolate or team vanilla?

If you're considering the self-taught route in your art journey, don't miss the workshop 'Navigating A Career As A Self-Taught Artist' by Maayan Sophia Weisstub. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and tips on how to successfully navigate a career as a self-taught artist, while also discussing the pros and cons of formal art education.