Updated: Feb 8
If you ever feel like you’re not a real artist because you didn’t go to art school, and you struggle to find your place in this big wide art world, or, like me, you have multiple passions and kind of feel like a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, and so struggle to become a success in any one given passion, I thought I’d share my experience as a self-taught, multi-passionate artist in hopes that it might give you a new perspective.
One of the main things I struggle with all the time as a self-taught artist is when people start asking me about my art training, influences, inspiration, or worse, the dreaded question: “Who’s your favourite artist?” I don’t have one. I don’t know enough to form an opinion on any given artist.
But Blair, you’re an artist. Don’t you love talking about art? Don’t you live and breathe art?
Yes and no. I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way, but I do love talking about art… my own, that is. When it comes to anything else, the truth is, I know very little about art, in the traditional sense.
Yep, I feel like I know nothing about art, even though I’ve been making the stuff ever since I was physically capable of doing so.
I think it’s common for people to view an “artist” as someone who’s been trained professionally and is a walking encyclopedia of art history and general art knowledge, but that’s just not the case.
What does it even mean to know about art? Does it mean knowing all the great artists that have come and gone? Does it mean knowing the title, date, style, medium, techniques, and meaning behind all the great works of art that still steal the spotlight today, decades, or even centuries later? Does it mean having high test scores in some art program, judged by one individual who’s teaching what they’ve been hired to teach? I don’t know. I feel like anyone could know these things if they just picked up a book from time to time, without having to go to school.
Sometimes though, I think maybe I should have gone to art school. Maybe I should study art more and learn from the great masters of our time and times past. Learn their styles and techniques. Maybe I should be more interested in the study of art… But then I think, why? I’m not interested in learning how to paint like other people. I know they exist, or existed, and I’m sure they could teach me a lot, but I’m kinda dancing to the beat of my own drum here.
To be completely honest, I don’t really have a passion for the history of art, I have a passion for the future of my own art. I’m like that in many aspects of life. Sure, I'll read up on some art related things from time to time, or watch the occasional artist on YouTube, just for fun, but I like to focus on what I do, or will do, and make up my own style and techniques along the way. Are they completely original? Probably not. Are they similar to or subconsciously inspired by other art? Probably. Maybe I’m doing myself a disservice by living my life this way, but that’s just how it's always been with me. That’s why I declined my acceptance into a college art program at the wee age of 19.
Back then, my life was not that great. I was young, wild, and free. Depressed, drunk, and high. Full of self-doubt, fear, and anxiety. Struggling with who I am, who I will become, and what people will think of me. I didn’t see much worth in my work, nor did I think I was very good at art; I just knew I loved to do it. It was a great way for me to escape the horrors of my life in true teen angst fashion. The fact that I was even accepted into a college art program was kind of crazy to think about and I was so excited about that. I even had an apartment lined up and ready to hit the road and get the hell out of small town life and start over somewhere else; to reinvent myself. But I didn’t. I stayed in the place I hated to be instead.
Then, about a year later, I actually ended up moving to Toronto and attended film school. That’s the problem with me being super passionate about multiple things, I struggle to stick to one thing for very long, and my brain is a vast well of ideas and passions. Writing, art, film, theatre…. They could all fill a lifetime, but I’ve only got one, so I spent two decades bouncing between them all. A little dabble in this and that, but none of them lead to any solid destination because I would shift my focus to another passion, business endeavor, project of mine after a year or two, or months even.
I’ve created a mountain of art over the years. I’ve written a plethora of screenplays, novels, stage plays, TV pilots, short stories, 8 part web-series, blogs... I even wrote a musical and a rock-opera! And I have heaps more ideas sitting in files yet to be started or finished. I’ve started a theatre company, a film company, an art business, a prop and special effects make-up business, and even a zombie rental service... yes, you read that right. I started a business where people could rent zombies for a special event, and we even got hired once by a large marketing firm to spook their employees during their halloween party! I've started several YouTube channels, one of which was a collaboration channel among the largest of it's kind at the time, I’ve made short films. I wrote, directed, and produced a double-bill theatre production. I even wrote, directed, produced, and hosted a 6 week live art competition (which I’d still love to carry on with season 2 here in Muskoka one day).
I've imagined and designed half a dozen or more other businesses like an entire escape room/haunted house, right down to the smallest detail, every lock and puzzle, secret passages and props, how the entire building would be designed... I even started a self-help/coaching program for money management and budgeting, complete with custom spreadsheets, a blog, book, all geared towards helping millennials become free from student debt. I mean, where do I stop? And which thing do I make my "thing"? Maybe I should follow my other business idea... to start a business selling my ideas to business entrepreneurs who don't have business ideas but they have the business smarts. Yes, I said business five times. Sue me.
The point being, I’ve done a lot of shit in my short 20 years of “adult life”, all while working full time in the customer service/tech support industry at a few world leading tech companies (and excelling at it), moving six times within the same city, paying off my student loans, having a social life, dating a handful of duds, fracturing my spine, struggling with alcohol abuse, and trying to figure out who I am as an artist and as a person. What is my future? Where am I headed? How can I become successful like all these other trained artists I see making somewhat of a living on their art? I must not be a real artist then because I'm still struggling to settle into something.
However, through all of that, one thing stayed true: my art. I never gave up on it. Nearly two full decades in and I’m only just beginning to feel like a “real” artist with a budding small art business. And while on the outside I appear to be a successful professional, I still feel I know nothing about art… except what I’ve learned myself or taught myself through years of life experience, experimenting, practice, and of course, what comes naturally to me. I can look at two pieces of art and tell you why I think one is technically better than the other. I can point out flaws in artwork, like composition, colour choices, perspective, technique, and would even be able to offer suggestions or advice on improvement, even though I don’t know much about the history of traditional art techniques. I guess this is part of that whole “natural talent” thing everyone keeps talking about.
I think it will be this way for me forever. I’ll be 80 years old, hunched over a canvas, putting the piece on display somewhere, and when someone comes and asks, “who’s your favourite artist? Who do you get your inspiration from?” my mind will do the thing it always does where it begins to sweat and think, oh no, what do I say? I have no idea. I don’t know anyone, this person is going to think I’m an idiot because I’m an artist who knows nothing about art and other artists. I struggle talking to educated artists, because I don’t know what they know. But I don’t believe that makes any one artist better or worse than another.
And this, my friends, is the struggle of being self-taught, at least for me. Although, after writing all this out, I don't think the lack of art school is my real problem. Haha. No matter how talented I become, no matter how successful my art business gets, no matter how much I learn, I will always feel a bit like I don’t know enough to be placed next to other “real” artists. And this is something I think I always knew, but maybe didn’t realize back in my teenage years, and that is, I don’t need art school or professional training to be a real and successful artist. I’m an artist because art just sort of chose me to do it’s thing. I don’t have any real control over it. The heart wants what the heart wants. There are countless people who go to art school and drop out or fail for a variety of reasons, and still become great talented artists. There are countless more who graduate and also go on to do great things, who take what they’ve learned and twist it into their own unique artistic style, influenced (sometimes heavily) by other artists and what they were taught. And there are many others who come out and all do the exact same thing, the exact same style, and all appear to have the exact same artistic voice, or lack thereof.
All of this is okay. We’re all on our own path. Mine just happens to be a more solitary path where every intersection has fifty routes, not just one or two, and I love it as much as I hate it. I only recently feel like I’ve found my “voice”, my own unique artistic style, and it’s still evolving every day and with every new piece I create. I learn from my former work and discover new ways to put paint on canvas through my experimental abstract pieces, and grow from there, always creating a better version of myself, and no one can teach that. That sort of education and learning must come from within. That’s the kind of force of passion that pulls you from the inside and you feel powerless to stop it, and why would you want to? I love it. I love the feeling of just letting go and being free to do anything I want to do with no boundaries or restrictions that a curriculum would be putting me through. There’s no greater feeling than being in the flow, in whatever creative outlet I dive into. I feel fantastic just writing this blog post at 3am.
In that sense, yes, I do live and breath art… in all its glorious forms of expression.
So next time you are filled with doubt and fear, and asking yourself, “am I a real artist?” The answer is yes, because you say so, not some teacher or some curriculum or a final art exam score. The harsh reality is, no one cares where you went to school, or who trained you, they care about you and what you create and what makes you unique. We were actually told this pretty much on day one of film school. No lie. But most importantly, they care about how your art makes them feel, no matter how “good” or “bad” you think it is.
So go forth, young creator. Walk your own path and just be you… because everyone else is taken.