Self-taught

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SELF-TAUGHThaving knowledge or skills acquired by one’s own efforts without formal instruction

Mark Twain famously remarked that he never let schooling interfere with his education. But what did he mean by that?

In my humble opinion, especially when it comes to artists, it’s more important to be a student rather than a follower. To learn to think for yourself, to separate what is useful from what is not. This, in itself, is an art.

The self-taught artist is not someone who discards the status quo in its entirety, but someone who understands the importance of his own contribution. He aspires to add something new, different from what those before him did. And this requires that he learn from those before him.

The idea that you have your own style and that you don’t want to learn about other artists in your field, because it’s going to negatively influence your work, is a childish way of admitting you are too insecure to be proven wrong. And stubborn enough to not want to learn from those who are better than you.

All great artists admired first. They had heroes. They aspired to become like those people. In time, they became their own heroes. They discovered their own way of doing things.

Think of it this way: you are travelling down a path. You are eager to find your own way, to explore places no one else has ever been before. But if you don’t follow the path until you know it’s safe to venture away from it, then you’ll just aimlessly wander.

Another explanation: what if you want to write a great novel? But you’re illiterate? How could you go about doing that? What if you can barely write?

Wouldn’t it make sense to read what others define as a “great novel”? To get an idea of what makes  a novel great. You know, how others went about accomplishing such a task.

Of course, you do this thing long enough and you’ll find your own way of writing a great novel.

You can’t build a house without a foundation. Also, you can’t build it without bricks and mortar.

Where do artists get stuck then?

It’s this bizarre balancing act, like most worthwhile things in life are: you have to learn to think for yourself; to know the rules and then decide which ones to break. Not as an act of rebellion, but as a way of creating yourself.

Ultimately, in life and art, this is what makes the difference between people: some want to figure out who they are, and they’ll gladly let others tell them who they are, while others know that they are free to create themselves in any way they like.

 

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