Life as a Self-Taught Artist

"Apprentice" oils, late 1999 and early 2000.

“Apprentice” oils, late 1999 and early 2000.

Life as a Self-Taught Artist or What Did You Study and Whom Did You Study It With?

I’ve always been a real autodidact.  I went to college primarily to teach myself how to teach myself more efficiently.  I wanted to learn how to learn.

Learning  in order to be qualified for a better paying job just wasn’t on my radar at all.  My university studies only increased my status as a “sociable loner.”

It didn’t help much with my speaking skills.  That came later.  My college speech class and an attempt at studying acting both had limited success.  Later, I learned to enunciate and to speak more clearly through putting on puppet shows.  Now if I mumble, it’s usually intentional.

My undergraduate years also didn’t help my other “people skills” much.  I felt like a true outsider and misfit for a really long time.  That period did help to solidify my resolve to live my life as a creative artist and to better figure out just what kind of creative artist I wanted to be.

Much of the education and inspiration which I received came from books.  My reading is fairly intense and obsessive.  It’s also wide-ranging.

I especially loved cultural histories and biographies, especially the ones which studied poets, painters, musicians, filmmakers and surrealists.

I learned a lot by watching other people and by talking with other people.

Working with the Zeitgeist Gallery and Jacques Karamanoukian became a school of sorts.  I really learned a lot by doing collaborative works with other artists. We got together and did this every year, for seven years.  I came up with the idea of calling this series Visual Jam Sessions.

I also learned a lot by drawing large (and in public) on downtown Detroit’s Hudson’s building.

It also was great to go to live performances.    I paid close attention to art that I saw at museums and art galleries.  Observation and study are key.

Most important, though, is to practice, that is to work.  You need to keep at it as best you can.  You need to jump through a lot of hoops to be able to steal time.  Paint, write, perform, dance, sculpt or construct as you will.  Keep swinging, keep plugging away and never give up the ship.

There’s something true about the old idea of learning by doing.  If you can’t or won’t go to school, there are other ways how to learn to do what you love to do.

Once I’d done 10,000 drawings I started to feel that I was going somewhere.

It’s not essential to be a polymath as well, but for me it works.  The rewards outweigh the distractions.  I have many interests, and I like to cast a wide net.



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