Question: Should I Go to Art School or Self-Learn?

A curious soul recently asked: What is your biggest piece of advice for someone torn between getting a degree or teaching themselves art?

What a big, beautiful question -- one I've been asking since the beginning, as well. Although I certainly have an opinion, I turned to a group of AMAZING artists, some self-taught, some traditionally educated, some both, for advice.

My answer: I am extremely self-motivated and do well in the freedom (and sometimes chaos) that comes with self-teaching, and have been that way since childhood. But I know others who thrive in structured environments. Although I did go to college, and looking back wish I would've majored in something visual, there was no way for me to know I'd end up an artist. Years later when I found art, I could've gone back to school and taken out more student loans, but I weighed my options, got really honest with myself, and knew that self-learning would work for me.

But enough about me. Take a look at what each of these talented artists has to say. Be sure to give their website a visit and follow them on Instagram to show some love!

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David Esquivel, Painter
Education: Self-taught
Instagram: @david.m.esquivel

Even though David is self-taught, he sees some similarities in the process of getting a formal education vs. doing it yourself. 

"I had to first realize what it was I wanted so say with my artwork. And that really came down to who I wanted to be as a person. ... The challenge of finding yourself by yourself is something I think all artists must go through at some point, if you went to school or not."

David says finding his voice as an artist was isolating, a circumstance he views in both a positive and negative light.

"I still know very little about artists and art history -- things I could have accessed to help me when I completely lost creatively. I think that has also helped me. I'm confident in my style and I know it isn't a derivative of someone else's work."


Bec Kilpatrick, Illustrator & Photographer
Education: Formal graphic design education, self-taught artist
Instagram: @beckil

Bec always knew she wanted to be an artist, and going to school for graphic design helped her gain knowledge and expand her skill set in a way that worked for her -- in a structured, disciplined environment.

"[Having an education in Graphic Design] has allowed me to question my practise, experiment and apply my work in different contexts. Having said this, this isn't for everyone, and there are many ways to expand your knowledge as an artist. Going to galleries, collaborating and experimenting in your own time and space can be more beneficial for some people who don't thrive in a more structured setting."

Her advice to new and aspiring artists: "Experiment. Don't be scared to make things you don't like; you might discover a new technique along the way that you love. You're never going to know what you love until you try something."


Liz Flores, Painter & Illustrator
Education: Self-taught with a few high school art classes
Instagram: @lizitto

Liz says not having a formal art education has been a challenge to her self-confidence in the past.

"I felt and sometimes still feel like an unrefined artist who doesn’t know the ropes. When people talk about certain painting techniques they learned at school, or lessons in art history, I can’t relate and it feels challenging."

But as she's grown as self-taught artist, she's found her lack of formal education to have quite a bright silver-lining.

"I’ve started to realize the hidden blessing that is not going to art school, which is simply not having any preconceived rules in my mind of how to create art, sell art or be an artist. Formalities like needing gallery representation to succeed simply don’t exist in my mind, and have helped me carve my own path."

Her advice to new or aspiring artists: "Going to art school or not is your choice and neither is right or wrong. You need to make the right decision for you and your work and remember you are an entrepreneur too – Artrepreneur - so business skills matter. No matter how you acquire your skills and create your art, in the end what matters is the work and getting it out into the world."


Lindsay Hollinger, Artist & Designer
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration
Instagram: @casajoshuatree

Lindsay values and views her art education positively, although if she could go back, she would change a few things.

"I was distracted by being 20 and did not take advantage of the resources offered to me. I didn’t understand their true value or comprehend the amount of money we (my family and I) were spending on my education... If I won the lottery, I would go back in an instant and do it all again. I would take every class, go to every event, and do as much as I could."

She also explains that she hardly learned a lick of business skills in art school, a side to art that is extremely important for aspiring working artists.

"Artists are entrepreneurs," she says.

Her advice for any new or aspiring artist going to art school: I would seek out and create more meaningful relationships with my professors and the graduate students. I would go to more events, join more clubs. I would take the classes that are hard to come by in “real life” without huge investment: metalsmithing, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, weaving, glassblowing, oil painting, film photography. I would work harder, and value my time in the studio as the beginning of a very long journey. Savor the moment and be present.


Nikki Frumkin, Mountain Artist, Painter, Illustrator, Climber
Education: Studied oil painting and art education in the Hudson Valley
Instagram: @drawntohighplaces

Even though Nikki no longer oil paints, she says her art education gave her a foundation and the skills to evolve as an artist.

"In some ways it is a nice balance. I am a self-taught watercolorist which means I am bound to make mistakes, take risks and try new things (because it is all new). But my oil painting background means I have a framework for doing that."

Nikki also sees great value in focusing on the business-side of art while learning.

Her advice to new or aspiring artists: "Teach yourself by practicing as much as you can. Try new things and make lots of mistakes. Take risks. Find a mentor who has been doing what you want to be doing. Develop a relationship with them. Don't give up, you've got this!"


Emily Kelly, Designer & Artist
Education: Formal
Website: Land & She
Instagram: @landandshestudio

Emily stands by her decision to get a formal art education, although she had no idea that she would one day open her own illustration and print-making shop. 

"I was so focused on graphic design that it was hard to see a bigger picture of what might have been possible for me."

Still, art school helped expand her vision and opened her to a range of art forms that she might not have been able to experience without it.

"It challenged me in so many ways, but mostly on how to take criticism and always revise until I can create my best work. It also made me very humbled in the process of making art."


Jamie Smith, Painter
Education: BFA from University of Victoria
Website: &
Instagram: @jamiesmithstudio

Jamie says getting her art degree immersed her in the art world conceptually -- she learned how to think and talk about art, as well as experience critiques. Where it lacked, she explains, is on the technical side.

"I should have been forced to draw and paint all the time. We were left on our own to figure it out. It was very much a conceptual education, which is important to know, but not super useful out in the world."

Her advice to new or aspiring artists: "Take business classes if you want your art practice to feed you... Another important aspect is making really great work, practice and practice and find your voice as an artist and then worry about the education bit or the business bit."

And there you have it. I want to say a huge thank you to all of the artists here who took the time to answer these questions. I hope their collection of answers might help anyone on the brink of making the decision -- to go to art school, or not?

What's your greatest takeaway? Are you in art school now and experiencing some of these lessons? Feel free to comment below; I'd love to hear from you.


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