Pros and Cons of Art School vs. Self Taught

Young aspiring fine artists have one common question; ”should I go to an art school, or become a self-taught fine artist?”

Artist Working

To satisfactory answer this question, one needs to look into the pros and cons of both. Is it worth having a formal degree?

How important is art school? If I don’t go to an art school, will I be able to make money? Will there be any knowledge gaps in my fine arts skills if I don’t get a formal arts education? To find the answers to these seemingly simple, but tricky questions, let’s talk about each aspect of art school and the self-taught route.

Pros & cons of attending a fine arts school

Below are some upsides and downsides that come with attending an art school for getting art education.

Key benefits of an art school include:

Opportunities to learn in a structured learning environment

One major benefit of attending an art school is that the environment is structured and appropriate for attentive learning. You get access to a curriculum focused on imparting the know-how of fine arts. You have direct access to professionals and experts in the arts education field.

When you know the curriculum you need to study, it takes off a lot of burden from you because you don’t need to spend hours searching for what you need to learn to be a professional artist. In addition, a structured learning environment keeps you focused on the goal.

Thriving creative range

When you are enrolled in a school for art education, you get opportunities to expand your creative range. An institute has several other forms of media that you can indulge in. You can learn a wide range of classical and contemporary techniques and styles with the help of study materials available in school. Consequently, you can try different things and expand your creative range.

Develop strong communication skills

A major benefit of joining an art school or any other institute that gives formal education is improved communication skills. During your stay at an art school, you’ll interact with aspiring fine artists studying with you in the same class and professional faculty, which will improve your social skills and communication skills. Communication skills are important as they help communicate effectively, resulting in developing better relationships in the line of work.

Academic recognition

Needless to say, when you attend an art school, you get academic recognition in the form of a certificate or degree. When you have a certificate or degree stating you have finished art education in a certain school, it shows that you’re focused and qualified. Having a certificate or degree opens the gateway to several opportunities. If you plan to teach fine arts at an institute or work for an art organization, a degree goes a long in helping you secure the job.

Develop mutually beneficial relations

Studying in an art school will connect you with like-minded people. Some of your classmates and professionals from your teaching staff may become your long-lasting artistic peers, or mentors. It’s something you’ll cherish for most of your life and will help you grow both as a person and professional.

Now that you know the upsides of studying at an art school, here are a few downsides you need to know:

Restrictive setting

Getting into an art school doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the best of the environments. If you’re someone who prefers to learn on his/her own, an art school may not be ideal for you because you’ll be studying in a restrictive setting.

Encounter teaching staff with no experience in practical artwork

Often, art schools have instructors with no real experience creating and marketing their artwork, which is very important for you to learn. If you encounter such instructors in your art school, you’ll bear the long-lasting loss. In an art school, you may also not get much-needed interaction with working artists.

High costs

Attending an art school is not something that comes at a low cost. If you happen to study in an out-of-state/country art school, the expenses may heap up wildly. What worsens the situation even more, is that a fine arts degree isn’t only costly and carries low returns.

Lost time

Though you’ll get a formal education degree, you’ll suffer lost time. For around 4 years, you won’t be creating your art pieces and interacting with the artist’s community, which is certainly required for efficient growth in the industry.

Pros & cons of the self-taught practice

If you’re wondering whether the self-taught practice is the right way to become a fine artist or not, then look into the pros and cons of the self-taught practice.

Some of the upsides that self-taught practice offers include:

Freedom to learn anything you want

One of the biggest benefits that self-taught practice offers is high-end flexibility. There are no limitations on you. Without worrying about grades or preparing for exams, you can keep learning whatever you want.

If you’re someone who’s inspired by a certain genre of fine arts, then formal education isn’t mandatory for you at all. You can pick your favorite genre, learn about it from unlimited resources available in libraries and the internet.

You get absolute freedom on your path to become a fine artist. You can have a day job and learn art at night. You can also work under a professional artist to get in-depth know-how of the fine arts industry.

Certificates aren’t compulsory for becoming a professional fine artist

Several self-taught professional fine artists without certificates with a formal college education are just as successful as degree-holding fine artists. When you display your artwork in an art gallery, you’re not asked whether you hold a degree in fine arts, or not. Another benefit of self-taught practice is that you may develop a distinctive style that gets associated with you. While attending an art school may confine your creative abilities, brainwash you into drawings things in certain way only.

Save money and time

Attending an art school requires you to spend a lot of money and time on developing your artistic skills. The self-taught practice is much more affordable. You save a lot of money because you don’t pay the tuition fees and other college education costs.

No stressful exams and assignments

The self-taught practice is relaxing. You don’t have the added pressure of clearing semester exams and maintaining a healthy GPA. Besides, there are no stressful deadlines imposed on you by your instructors to submit an assignment.

Tailored learning

When following the self-taught practice, you can create your own learning schedule and select styles and techniques you want to focus on. Depending on what intrigues you the most, you can focus on that and pave the way for yourself.

Chances to shift focus quickly

In case you have developed an interest in another genre of fine arts, that wasn’t the part of your current plan. With self-taught practice, you can shift your focus quickly and jump into new things that interest you.

You can join short courses to grow your skillset and become a multi-dimensional fine artist with several skills.

Here are some of the downsides of self-taught practices:

Knowledge gaps

The biggest downside of self-taught practice is unfilled gaps in your technical knowledge. Since you won’t be following a structured curriculum, you won’t know certain technical things taught in art schools. You’ll have to create a curriculum for yourself from online resources, books available in the market, and videos. Even after doing all this, you may have some knowledge gaps, which will go away as you gain experience.

Learning by yourself is hard

Given that you won’t be following the instruction, the self-taught practice might be hard. No will force you to learn things or perform things needed to learn fine arts, so you’ll certainly face a hard time to stay motivated.

Creating your own routine and sticking to it is hard, but it’s certainly doable.

Networking may suffer

Depending on your personality, you may find it hard to socialize and interact with the artists' community. Art schools arrange expos, seminars, meetings, and other similar activities to help students build their artistic peers' network. When on your own, you might not know where to look to join the right groups of people.

The bottom line

So... did the thought of getting into an art school scare you away, or you’re hesitating to after the self-taught practice? I hope you have got a better perspective on both options. My advice for those with sufficient financial resources would be to join a reputed art school; for those who are passionate to learn, but don’t have enough financial resources, become a self-taught fine artist.

Regardless of which path you choose, be determined to learn in-depth knowledge of the arts. Focus and follow your dreams and never give up.

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The Savvy Artist

Starting my artistic journey in 1997, the desire to create art that I attained soon became an unyielding obligation to myself to explore the inner mechanism of my creative consciousness.


From small sketches to large scale projects, my art is a highly-personal reflection of myself.

I’ve been lucky enough to have participated in many collaborative projects, as well as exhibiting in a solo capacity, which has solidified my reputation in the art world.


If you would like to find out more about my process, get in touch.

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